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Nicole Mitchell and her Black Earth Ensemble Tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks

With 100th birthday tributes to Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and Thelonious Monk, has there been a better year for jazz centennials? And with a tribute to Chicago treasure Gwendolyn Brooks on June 9 (she would turn 100 on June 7) at 7 p.m. at Columbus Park Refectory located at 5701 W. Jackson Blvd., the year gets even better.

Brooks, of course, was a poet - one of the greatest to come out of Chicago, Illinois and the USA. But her work drew inspiration from jazz's edgy improvisations in works such as "We Real Cool," with its much-discussed term, "Jazz June." And her poems, in turn inspired many jazz musicians, including the extraordinary flutist and AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) luminary Nicole Mitchell, who will lead her Black Earth Ensemble in a blissful collision of jazz and poetry.

Co-commissioned by the Jazz Institute of Chicago and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago, Mitchell's Gwendolyn Brooks: New Art and Anthem is a suite of new music performed by her Black Earth Ensemble featuring selected poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, read by Chicago poets. The poems, curated by Quraysh Ali Lansana, artistic director of OMB (Our Miss Brooks 100), illuminate Brooks' as a major thinker of Chicago's Black Arts movement.

The Black Earth Ensemble, founded in 1998, mixes swing, blues, avant-garde jazz, bebop, African rhythms, Eastern modes and Western classical sounds to "paint visions of a positive future." The ensemble for the June 9 installment of JazzCity (which is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary) includes Nicole Mitchell (flutes, composition), Miguel de la Cerna (piano), Alex Wing (bass) and Avreeayl Ra (drumset) and features poets CM Burroughs, Kristiana Rae Colon, Roger Reeves and avery r. young.

If Brooks had an overriding mission as an artist it was, in her words, "to find the extraordinary in the ordinary." Said Lansana, a Brooks protégé and leading authority on her writings, "I believe her powers of observation, her ability to distill black life, in all its various hues, is what makes her work timeless and special."

But, he added, "She's woefully understudied. A big important part of all of this for me is to reintroduce her."

Brooks was a profound voice for poor and working-class African Americans during the civil rights movement and beyond. During these trying times, the positive, socially minded reflections of great poets like Gwendolyn Brooks, and those carrying on her legacy, like Quraysh Ali Lansana, couldn't be more welcome.

About JazzCity

JazzCity is a free concert series initiated in 1997 by the Jazz Institute of Chicago in collaboration with the Chicago Park District now in its 20th season of bringing people together from across the city to listen to Chicago's top jazz musicians. JazzCity is sponsored by WDCB 90.9 FM and WHPK 88.5 FM Radio and supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. For more information visit or call 312.427.1676.

About The Jazz Institute of Chicago

Founded in 1969, The Jazz Institute of Chicago promotes and nurtures jazz in Chicago by providing jazz education, developing and supporting musicians, building audiences and fostering a thriving jazz scene. For more information on our programs, visit

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