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A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music 1st Edition

4.8 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226476957
ISBN-10: 0226476952
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Editorial Reviews


“Written with the eye of an ethnographer, the ear of a performer, and the heart of a hometown dweller, George Lewis’s account of the development of the AACM is an engaging story, a romance in which several generations of musicians triumph to create a music that travels around the world, yet is completely unique to their experiences. Reinscribing Chicago as a city of enormous artistic vitality and tough aesthetics, A Power Stronger Than Itself brilliantly redraws the map of jazz and widens the horizon for new and experimental music.”
(John Szwed, author of Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra 2007-03-20)

“George Lewis has outdone himself with this extraordinary volume. His unrelenting intelligence and ear for detail have produced a challenging compendium of late twentieth-century African Americana. This is not only a study of the AACM, it is a hope-drenched encomium to modernist creativity and the oppositional imagination.”

(Paul Gilroy, author of Postcolonial Melancholia and The Black Atlantic 2007-12-11)

“The AACM is one of our great cultural inventions. This extraordinary book embodies its principles, for George Lewis draws on multiple traditions: scholarship, reportage, testament, analysis, theory and criticism come together with virtuosity and scrupulous discipline. A Power Stronger Than Itself remaps the landscape of American experimental music. Academics, critics and musicians will have to reconfigure such terms as ‘jazz,’ ‘classical,’ ‘soulful,’ ‘avant-garde,’ ‘black’ and ‘white.’ Now the past yields unexpected wonders; the future unexpected possibilities.”

(Margo Jefferson, author of On Michael Jackson 2008-01-09)

"A remarkable book, not just for corralling an enormous amount of information—interviews, critical reviews, music charts, news reports (the bibliography runs 35 pages)—but for making the result a digestible and thoroughly entertaining 500-page read.”
(Time Out Chicago 2008-04-10)

"With A Power Stronger Than Itself, Lewis exceeds expectations. For rather than merely recount the ascent of the AACM, he elegantly sets it against the backdrop of cultural, racial and social changes that shook the twentieth century. . . . Lewis unreels this tale with dramatic flourish and scholarly authority, in effect telling the story of not only the AACM but also the city where it’s centered, Chicago."
(Howard Reich Chicago Tribune 2008-04-13)

"Lewis’s landmark book. . . goes deeper into the formation and development of the AACM than any previous history, and as a formal acknowledgement of the group’s enormous importance and influence it’s long overdue."
(Peter Margasak Chicago Reader 2008-04-10)

"This could very well be the most anticipiated book of the year. . . . The long wait is now over and patrience will be rewarded. George Lewis's encyclopedic knowledge, thorough research and in-depth interviews have produced an eye-opening work. . . . Overall, it is a pleasant read, scholarly but not overly academic in tone, covering a wide stylistic range--from essay to storytelling to autobiography."
(Alain Drouot Jazz Notes)

"[Lewis] sets a new standard for scholarly writing about the people who make Great Black Music, or any other kind.. . . . Reading Lewis's book about the AACM makes one want to have been a part of it."

"Simply put, George E. Lewis' new and long-awaited history of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) must be considered among the most important books ever written about creative music. A tour de force of narrative history and analysis driven by a clearly articulated point of view, it draws on a massive body of scholarship and original research that places Great Black Music in its historical, aesthetic, and social contexts. It will certainly shape the scholarly, critical, and public discussion of jazz and creative music for years to come."
(Ed Hazell Signal to Noise)

"Rich and dense and gratifyingly readable. . . . [Lewis] makes a scholarly portrait of a complex community into a ripping good and inspiring yarn."
(Kevin Whitehead Fresh Air)

“In bringing intellectual breadth and what Lester Bowie calls ‘good old country ass-kicking’ to bear on past and present indignities, Lewis has produced a fitting companion to the music he celebrates.”

(Franklin J. Bruno Nation)

“An important book. . . . Mr. Lewis narrates its development with exacting context and incisive analysis, occasionally delving into academic cultural theory. But because the book includes biographical portraits of so many participating musicians, it’s a swift, engrossing read.”

(Nate Chinen New York Times 2008-05-02)

"Very dense but very readable, filled with fascinating stories, capsule bios and rewarding side trips. Lewis has a gift for explaining abstruse ideas without dumbing down. As a reader, I'm torn between wanting to savor it slowly and devour it fast. Two hundred pages in, I've got weeks worth of stuff to think about."
(Kevin Whitehead e-Music)

"An unequaled volume on both its subject and on Black creative collectivity."
(Clifford Allen All about Jazz)

"Lewis' writing is lively, avoiding the trap of sounding too academic and instead creating a story that is compelling in its portrait of musicians dedicated to their art. This is a fine work on an area of jazz that deserves wider recognition and greater understanding."
(Alan Chase The Wire)

"This essential book is music history from the inside. . . . Lewis is telling an interesting and important story here and telling it well. Anyone who is interested in modern serious music will learn from and enjoy this outstanding book."
(A.B. Spellman Chamber Music)

"An illuminating, articulate panorama of a little-examined yet highly influential organization, one whose 'graduates' have permeated every element of modern music."

"The crystalline study is thoroughly engaging. . . . Even the most dedicated improvised music aficionado will find anecdotes, relationships and hitherto unknown performances and biographies laid out in stunning detail. . . . The book is a graceful intertwining of oral history, hard research and insightful scrutiny of a complicated organism."
(Eugenia Bell Frieze)

"More than any other recent new-jazz-studies or improvisation-studies monograph, A Power Stronger Than Itself draws clear connections between the collective history and aesthetics of a community of improvisers and the musical procedures they have employed."
(Paul Steinbeck Journal of Music Theory)

A Power Stronger Than Itself is not only an essential history of the organization but a critical analysis into its place in American art, politics and socioeconomics.”
(The New York City Jazz Record)

About the Author

George E. Lewis is the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University. A recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship in 2002, Lewis has made over 120 recordings as composer or performer, and his publications on experimental music appear regularly in scholarly and popular journals.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 690 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (May 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226476952
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226476957
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,416,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
A fine book about an important organisation the AACM and all of its major artists for over 40 years. Could have included more of in the way of actual musical scores, analysis and compositions by some of the masters like Muhal, Threadgill, Mitchell, Braxton, Jenkins, Air, Art Ensemble et al. Speaking as a graduate of jazz music at the time this book was published there was absolutely NOTHING about these artists in mainstream education, so-called educators ignore this whole development post 1965 to now. Overall it is a vital document to any musician or non musician wanting to understand the contribution of the AACM. Thank you.
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Format: Hardcover

Lewis has done a ton and a half of research. He writes like a dream (with the very occasional exception of some congealed jargon from the humanities). And his analysis is hugely intelligent: you can actually see how some of the most important musical innovations of the twentieth century emerged from a social network. (Yes, sure, the network was chock full of really talented musicians. But it doesn't look as though any one of them could have pulled off these musical breakthoughs alone.) And you see how race and racism have structured the production and reception of music -- not with handwaving slogans, but with the patient analysis of richly detailed history.

So many books about "jazz" -- and I guarantee that if you read this, you'll have to think hard about what counts as "jazz," what as "art music" or "serious music" or "new music" or just plain "music," and why -- are breathless and kinda dumb. This one is emphatically the opposite. It's a fat book, and still it's a delight to read. I put it down wanting more.

George Lewis is of course himself an AACM member and an astonishingly talented trombonist. He does a lovely job inserting himself into the text when he belongs there, with neither ritual self-deprecation nor arrogant boasting.

If you're curious about Lewis's music, I'd start with his work with Anthony Braxton (track down Dortmund '76, a quartet with Dave Holland and Barry Altschul: boy it would be nice to see a reunion of those guys, *not* to do retreads on their amazing work from the '70s, but to explore where they are now musically), John Lindberg's Give and Take, the Black Saint dates under his own name, and, also under his own name, Voyager, with Roscoe Mitchell and a computer Lewis programmed to interact with the musicians.

The guy is a superb author and a superb musician. Wow.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
George Lewis has given us a monumental gift. His history of the AACM is a combination of scholarly work that runs to over 500 pages and 70 plus pages of notes with the best kind of historical narrative. Lewis has written a group biography with the framework of an institutional history. He situates the origin of the AACM within the biographical stories of how the founders and members tried to address issues of resources, education and performance opportunities. He is relating all this within a history of Chicago's black community, a history of creative improv, a history of the struggle to control the definition of what the artists were doing and a history of how the AACM addressed issues of gender, class and race within its own structure and within society at large. He writes as a participant, as a listener, a friend, a biographer, a historian, a sociologist. As a theoretician who is, again, trying to control the definition of what he, his friends and his community were doing. That last sentence is a point that is worth reflecting upon. Lewis' story, I believe is centered around his large theme of the struggle of the black experimental artist to control the definition of what they are doing- what tradition(s) their work came from, what it means and how it is to be presented. He largely explores this theme in a three-sided conversation between the musician's own reflections on their artistic practise, the history of the critical reception of music produced by AACM artists and a metareflection on that history of criticism wherein Lewis unleashes a considerable body of lit and critical theory. Sometimes this results in small brilliant essays like the section entitled, "Beyond a Binary: The AACM and the Crisis in Criticism" (pp353-369).

I also want to emphasize the humanity of the book.
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George Lewis has written one of the great books about music. He interviews virtually every AACM musician of consequence and tells the story of the organization that transformed "jazz" only to be rejected by the jazz police of the 80s and 90s. As a Chicago native who followed this music from my first exposure to it in the early 70s, buying records, attending concerts, reading interviews, etc., I was astounded, upon reading this book, to discover how much I did NOT know about the AACM. These days, Threadgill, Braxton, Wadada, etc. are accorded elder statesman status, time having vindicated their musics, while Nicole Mitchell and others are making exciting new music. This book plays a major part in that vindication. Be warned: it's length is epic, as befits the story.
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Format: Hardcover
Fred Anderson has died. The Chicago tenor saxophonist was a stalwart of the AACM from its earliest days, performing at the organization's first concert on August 15, 1965. I heard Fred many times in Chicago in the 1980s at the Underground Fest and other events. He will be missed.

George Lewis -- trombonist, AACM member, composer and scholar, now Professor of American Music and Director of the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University -- has written the definitive history of the AACM, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, founded in early 1965 in Chicago by Richard Abrams (piano), Jodie Christian (piano), Phil Cohran (trumpet), and Steve McCall (percussion). It is altogether appropriate that the 500-plus page book is published by the University of Chicago Press, one of the finest academic publishers in the country, as the campus is on the South Side near the beginning of the events chronicled. Though Lewis joined the AACM in 1971, and headed the organization briefly, he does not rely only on his personal experience for the book. Instead, he uses primary sources and extensive interviews. This is a rigorous, thorough work of history.
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