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Nicole Mitchell : CACP 10 Questions

Nicole Mitchell is a creative improvising flutist, composer, and educator. A member of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), Mitchell is a DownBeat Magazine Critic’s Poll Rising Star Flutist (2004).  She leads Black Earth Ensemble, Black Earth Strings, and is the founder of Tindanga Mama. She has worked with George Lewis, Hamid Drake, David Boykin, and Ed Wilkerson, among many others. Listen to her music, catch her live performances, because Nicole Mitchell is the real thing—a truly original artist with something new to say.

Nicole Mitchell performed on Thursday, January 27th at Luna in DePere, Wisconsin as part of the CACP (Center for Artistic Collaboration and Performance) Winter/Spring 2005 schedule. This is the first CACP 10 Questions feature, which we plan to ask of all improvising artists who perform here. The same ten questions will be asked each time.

Interview conducted and edited by Mark Patel and Nick Utrie of CACP, January 27, 2005.

1) What have you been listening to lately?

Well, it’s kind of embarassing, but my daughter’s CD is in my CD player. The Aaya Sensation, her name is Aaya. What else am I listening to... I’ve been listening to Mos Def [laughs], and I’ve been listening to a lot of Charlie Parker.

2) What is your most memorable live performance?

I think it was last year in Lebanon, I played in Beirut, and that experience was just really awesome, but then the last night I played I was playing with an artist from there, you know, I brought him up and we were doing some duets with flute and guitar, and he was really nervous. We started playing, and as soon as we started playing, the lights went out. So we had to play, and everyone started panicking, you know, so we started playing and as soon as the song finished, the lights came back on. So it was really kind of magic.

3) What is your most memorable concert-going experience?

I would say, I went to this place called Unity Temple in Chicago, it was really in a park, and Frank Lowe was playing. That was really awesome.

4) Who is the one musician with which you would most like to play?

I think Geri Allen. Yeah. These are nice questions, because they are really short answers [laughs].

5) Who is your biggest non-musical influence?

I would say Benet Luncion, who was my mentor. He’s in his late seventies, and I met him in Cuba. He was really active during the civil rights movement. He’s also a reverend and a doctor, a retired priest, and a wheatarian. He was super, super healthy, and just like a really good example of a person who stands by his principles.

6) What is your first musical memory?

What I hear is first memory, and then I have this image of me as an infant being bathed in the sink... and having to take a poop and not knowing how to talk and looking at my mom, like aahhh, aahhh [laughs]. Oh well, it happens. First musical memory, [pause] it’s funny, ‘cause all of my memories, like, I think of sound before I think of music. My first real sound memory was hearing the cicadas, you know, and being like fascinated with that sound and wanting to see what was making that sound and looking, looking, trying to find and never seeing the thing that was making that sound.

7) When did you know that you wanted to be an improvising musician?

I guess when I was 19 and I took a class with Jimmy Cheatham, the trombone player, and, yeah, when I started doing that, that was the beginning. He took a little piece of paper and wrote the words “Eric Dolphy” on it and sent me to the library.

8) What is your ultimate goal as an artist?

That’s a hard question, because there are a lot of answers to that. Like one would be to be self-sustaining. I mean I’m self-sustaining as an artist, but that’s artist-slash-teacher and there’s still some things that I would like to be focused on, as a composer and as a musician. So that would be one of my ultimate goals. To have my stuff prioritized so that I’m just playing and writing, and I’m educating, but it’s like a good balance. I haven’t found a good balance yet. I’m doing all of it, but the balance isn’t that great yet. And then as an artist, to make a difference. For people to be moved by what I do, maybe healed by what I do.

9) If music was banned tomorrow, what would you do?

Write, because I also write.

10) Can music save people, and if so, how?

I think it can. Because I think it’s food [laughs]. I think music is nurturing and people need it. The type of music they listen to kind of holds their reality together.