A Decade: Completing the Circle and Closing the Chapter
The Third Decade, 1968 by Roscoe Mitchell
When I was fifteen, Skidmore College in upstate New York allowed community members to fill summer radio slots. At the time, I was casually listening to alternative rock.
A week or two after starting, I arrived one afternoon hearing the strangest sounds imaginable to my young ears: The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s (AEOC) “The Bell Piece” from their January 1985 ECM debut The Third Decade. It was a born-again moment. My life irrevocably severed between before and after. I wore out those vinyl grooves and the journey — which continues to this day — began. I sprinted from the AEOC to Cecil Taylor, Morton Feldman to Steve Lacy, John Coltrane to John Cage.
My passion for literature, visual art, theater, film, dance and my commitment to progressive politics are all enduring tributaries flowing from this inexhaustible “organized noise.”
What is music to you? What would you be without music? Music is everything. Nature is music (cicadas in the tropical night). The sea is music, the wind is music. The rain drumming on the roof and the storm raging in the sky are music. Music is the oldest entity. The scope of music is immense and infinite. It is the ‘esperanto’ of the world.
— Duke Ellington
Earlier this year, the inimitable music aficionado and gallery owner John Corbett of Corbett vs. Dempsey offered founding AEOC member Roscoe Mitchell a solo presentation of his paintings. Included in this landmark exhibition and stipulated as acquirable only for a museum was Roscoe’s 1968 painting that bestowed that first record, my first record, its name.
I couldn’t believe it! What were the odds? I assumed it was already in a museum.
The esteemed Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) desired the work. And therefore, through the Foundation, I felt inspired to gift it to them. The ethos of the Foundation states:
What’s my obligation to the music, literature, and art which nourishes me emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually? My answer is earn it and return it.
— Robert D. Bielecki Foundation Mission Statement
Today, The Third Decade resides in the Art Institute’s permanent collection. (It’s only their second acquisition related to the legendary Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) where Muhal Richard Abrams used to take his students to wander, question, embrace and resist.)
And so, after ten years of donating, granting and gifting, I’ve arrived back at the beginning and this part of my voyage feels complete. The Foundation has stopped accepting grant inquiries.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
— T.S. Eliot
My debt to music and art remains inestimable. The fundamental question persists: What’s our obligation?
My dad had an expression. He said, “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”
— President Joe Biden