Nicole Mitchell

Doris Duke Artist Award, 2012

Long Beach, CA and Chicago, IL

Nicole Mitchell is an improvising flutist, composer, and bandleader. A founder of Black Earth Ensemble and Black Earth Strings, her recent albums include Arc of O (Rogue Art, 2012), Awakening (Delmark, 2011), Xenogenesis Suite: A Tribute to Octavia Butler (Firehouse 12, 2008), and Black Unstoppable (Delmark, 2007). Mitchell is the recipient of the Alpert Award in the Arts (2011), and has been commissioned by Chicago Sinfonietta, International Contemporary Ensemble, Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the Chicago Jazz Festival, and Maggio Florentino Chamber Orchestra. With contemporary ensembles (from duet to orchestra), Mitchell’s music integrates new ideas with the legacy of jazz, R&B, blues and African percussion. The former first woman president of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Mitchell currently serves as assistant professor in Integrated Composition, Improvisation and Technology at the University of California, Irvine.

  • Photo Credit: Kristi Sutton Ellis
  • Nicole Mitchell and Chicago Composers Orchestra performing Flight for Freedom, 2011
  • Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble performing Where Many Paths Meet the Sea, 2009
  • Nicole Mitchell’s Indigo Trio performing Wheatgrass, 2008
  • Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble performing Black Unstoppable, 2007
  • Photo Credit: Michael Jackson

What fuels your impulse to make creative work?

Endless possibilities! As a child I discovered the magic of a blank canvas and the loaded quietness before music is made. It’s a nothingness, a dream-space, that invites us to create from it anything we dare to imagine. Nature shows us infinite creativity. We are free to imitate or interpret what is real (past or present), or we can manifest something that has never existed. Wow! With visionary art, we can create alternative worlds through sound, images, movement and words. We can make music that may help us to see things differently, or transform our reality towards a positive future. Composers, like scientists, can always discover more. This idea inspired me to find new colors--in my flute improvisations, with my voice. I can search for new ways of expressing emotion. I can tell my story and I can tell stories that may have not been heard. I can bridge the familiar with the unknown and bring people to new ideas. Through an orchestra work I can celebrate American Icon Harriet Tubman. With avant-garde jazz, I can invigorate the ideas of sci-fi genius Octavia Butler. I am hungry to share and to challenge myself. Along with sharing comes the joy with connecting with others. There’s always more to learn!