Famoudou Don Moye was in his early 20s, an expatriate jazz drummer working in Paris, when he got the invitation to join the Art Ensemble of Chicago. With it came a friendly admonition, from the group’s trumpeter and most inveterate trickster, Lester Bowie.
“Lester told me: ‘Don’t even mess with this if you don’t want to be part of history,'” Moye recalls, laughing. “This was early 1970, when I was just coming into the band. Of course I said, ‘Hell, yeah!'”
By 1970, the Art Ensemble of Chicago — a willfully eclectic, wildly experimental collective originally led by saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell — was already a sensation of sorts in Paris. It had a motto, “Great Black Music,” which would soon be appended with a no-less-pointed second clause, “Ancient to the Future.” So Bowie could have meant his comment to register in a few different keys: History was something to be channeled and challenged, as well as made.