Jazz flautist Nicole Mitchell was taking a break from college when she started volunteering at Third World Press, a Chicago bookstore and publishing house. That move sparked a lifelong mentorship with the press’s founder, poet and activist Haki R. Madhubuti.
Twenty years later, the two collaborated on a collection of his poems set to music. They’ve performed the material only a few times, and never outside Chicago. That changes Saturday, when they play a New Music Circle concert at St. Louis University.
“It’s a collaboration I think that does work; an intergenerational collaboration that works,” said Madhubuti, 77. “And I’ve always believed that if indeed this country is going to experience greatness, it will come from the new generation.”
In the time since Mitchell and Madhubuti met, she has became an internationally renowned bandleader and composer. He has expanded his legacy as a luminary of the Black Arts Movement and an institution-builder.
Third World Press, founded in 1967, is the longest-running independent publisher dedicated to black-thought and literature. Madhubuti has also co-founded a series of schools on Chicago’s South Side neighborhood dedicated to African and African-American culture.
“A lot of us’ll sit around and complain about things not being right,” said Mitchell, 52. “But [to] actually get your hands dirty and make stuff happen, that’s what Haki is about, and that’s what I think I’ve gained the most from seeing him in action.”
Mitchell has been a builder of musical institutions; she’s been leading one of her boundary-breaking groups, Black Earth Ensemble, for more than 20 years. She was the first female leader of the Association for Advancement of Creative Musicians and was recently named the next leader of the prestigious Jazz Studies program at the University of Pittsburgh.
These two artists came together in 2014 for “Liberation Narratives,” a collection of Madhubuti’s poems set to Mitchell’s music. Saturday’s concert presents a rare opportunity to hear this material in concert. It’ll also be Madhubuti’s first performance of his work in St. Louis since the 1970s.
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If you go
Nicole Mitchell's "Liberation Narratives" featuring poet Haki Madhubuti, presented by New Music Circle
Where: Xavier Hall, St. Louis University, 3733 West Pine Mall, St. Louis
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: Online or at the door