In his first college teaching job at Wilson Junior College during the early 1960s, trumpeter Dick Wang encountered a cadre of exploratory young Chicago musicians who would soon form the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). He encouraged them.
He introduced Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman and Malachi Favors, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, Ari Brown and others to the writings of Paul Hindemith and Arnold Schoenberg; he instituted weekly a “head-knocking” jam sessions for these players, and cheered on their efforts to meld fixed composition and unfettered improvisation, which they pursued as inspired of Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane, Eddie Harris and Richard (not yet “Muhal”) Abrams — a local pianist and savant with whom Wang would work to co-found the local Friends of Duke Ellington.
The FoDE organized a free concert in Grant Park, leading to the resurgence of the Jazz Institute of Chicago, which, while Dick Wang was its president, launched the free annual Chicago Jazz Fest. Until his death at age 88 on Oct 10, 2016, heremained a constant presence, upbeat supporter and wise advisor to musicians, journalists, historians, organizations and fans of music new or traditional, especially jazz.
Dick spoke to me briefly about composition and improvisation, students of his early days, Hindemith and Schoenberg and the AACM today, prior to a performance of Renee Baker’s “Brass Epiphany” at the Museum of Contemporary Art in November 2010. Sorry about the background noise, but I hope this five minute video captures something of Dick’s knowledge, breadth of experience and personal warmth. He will be missed. but his legacy endures: A decade ago the Jazz Institute established a scholarship in his name, given annually at the JIC’s fund-raising gala (coming Oct. 27) to an up-and-coming Chicago musician, perhaps an Abrams, Braxton, Brown, Jarman, Mitchell, Threadgill in the offing.