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Muhal Richard Abrams
*Muhal Richard Abrams was born on this date in 1930. He was an American educator, administrator, composer, arranger, clarinetist, cellist, and jazz pianist in the free jazz medium.
Born Richard Lewis Abrams in Chicago, Illinois, his mother, Edna, was born in Memphis. His father, Milton, was born in Alabama. Abrams was the second of nine children. As a child, Abrams was interested in the arts – film, painting, sculpture, and music. In 1946, he started piano lessons with a classically trained church pianist. He studied at the Metropolitan School of Music, which merged with Roosevelt University.
Supporting his studies with a day job at a downtown printing company, Abrams eventually bought a second-hand piano. He also dropped out of his music school and studied independently. Abrams started playing blues, jazz, stage shows, rhythm and blues, and church socials. He worked with Dexter Gordon, Max Roach, Ruth Brown, and Woody Shaw. In the mid-1950s, Abrams became better known as a pianist and composer.
Around 1963, Abrams was part of a trio with bassist Donald Rafael Garrett and drummer Steve McCall. He lived with his wife, Peggy, in a small basement apartment on South Evans Avenue. The Experimental Band had very few, if any, public performances. 1965, Abrams was elected president of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). When the AACM started a school in 1967, Abrams led the classes in composition.
Abrams also played with saxophonists Eddie Harris and other more bop-oriented musicians during this era. In the 1970s, Abrams composed for symphony orchestras, string quartets, solo piano, voice, and big bands, in addition to making a series of larger ensemble recordings that included harp and accordion. He had a successful solo concert at the Montreaux Jazz Festival the following year and toured Europe with the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
He is a widely influential artist, having played sides for many musicians early in his career, releasing important recordings as a leader, and writing classical works such as his "String Quartet No. 2", which was performed by the Kronos Quartet in 1985, at the Carnegie Recital Hall. In 1990, Abrams won the Jazzpar Prize, an annual Danish prize in jazz. Abrams received a 1997 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award. In 2005, the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the AACM, some of Abrams's solo and ensemble pieces were presented by the organization in New York.
In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts announced that Abrams would be one of the recipients of the 2010 NEA Jazz Masters Award. In June 2010, Abrams was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by New York City's premier jazz festival, the Vision Festival. Abrams died on October 29, 2017, at his home in Manhattan at 87. His daughter, Richarda, became an actress and singer.