Black Studies, Books for the News, Chicago, History, Music

Kelan Phil Cohran and Chicago’s mecca of the avant-garde

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The latest edition of Time Out Chicago is running an article about Kelan Phil Cohran—whose notable work as a jazz composer and multi-instrumentalist once landed him a spot in Sun Ra’s Arkestra and, more recently, a central role in George E. Lewis’s new book A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. Lewis’s book is the definitive history of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, an important and influential Chicago jazz collective which Cohran helped to found in 1965. But as Time Out‘s Jake Austen notes, Cohran not only played an important role in organizing the association and establishing Chicago as a mecca for avant-garde jazz, but continues to be a major force in the jazz scene today:

After settling in Chicago in the mid-’50s, Cohran became an integral part of the South Side’s cultural fabric during the next half-century, forming the AACM and turning a Bronzeville movie house into the Afro-Arts Theater (home base of Cohran’s Artistic Heritage Ensemble, Oscar Brown Jr. and Gwendolyn Brooks, among others). He also became a fixture in public schools, teaching and demonstrating his musical ideas from 1965 until the ’90s.… But Cohran is best known for his stint with Sun Ra’s Arkestra from 1959 to 1961.…
Yet what makes Cohran’s work so compelling to contemporary audiences may be the ways he veers away from Sun Ra and his AACM colleagues. While Ra explored the spaceways, Cohran… studied his own planet.… Cohran’s interest in folk, as well as an activist’s desire to serve the people, makes his music more populist than most experimental sounds. “My music is an expression of my community,” he says. “That’s why it lasts: because it wasn’t for me.”

And tonight starting at 6:30 you can catch Cohran at the Pritzker Pavilion in downtown Chicago where he headlines a concert titled “Made in Chicago: Kelan Phil Cohran and the Legacy of Sun Ra.” To find out more about Cohran, his stint with the Arkestra, and the role he played in forming the AACM, check out this excerpt from Lewis’s book. To find out more about the show navigate to the Time Out Chicago website.