African-American jazz to juice up 20th celebration of Cape Town’s jazz fest

If the African-American cultural legacy is music to your soul, the ethereal sounds of Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble will surely play your tune.

Founded 21 years ago by creative flautist/composer Nicole Mitchell, her Black Earth Ensemble has performed at festivals and art venues throughout North America and Europe. This music embraces the ancient past and paints visions of a positive future, weaving in swing, blues, avant-garde jazz, bop, African rhythms, Eastern influences and Western classical sounds.

Nicole explains that the name "Black Earth" honours the feminine source that our lives depend on ‒ Mother Earth.  

The group aims to inspire the human spirit with thought-provoking beauty and to present a positive, healthy and culturally-aware image of African-Americans."

Celebrating the African influences of the band’s music will be explored and shared with audiences in the Mother City, when Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble takes to the stage at this year’s Cape Town International Jazz Festival (CTIJF).

As a woman-directed, multi-generational group, Black Earth Ensemble touches a range of emotions among audiences of all ages and backgrounds.  Fans have eagerly supported five critically acclaimed CDs: “Vision Quest” (Dreamtime), “Afrika Rising” (Dreamtime), “Hope, Future and Destiny” (Dreamtime), “Black Unstoppable” (Delmark) and “Xenogenesis Suite” (Delmark).

New York-born and a super-achiever, Mitchell started playing piano and viola in her fourth grade, before graduating to classical training in flute and playing in various youth orchestras as a teenager. In 1997 she began an association with saxophonist  David Boykin, who encouraged her to start her own group that led to the establishment of Black Earth Ensemble.

A music educator for many years, Mitchell holds the William S. Dietrich II Endowed Chair in Jazz Studies at the  University of Pittsburgh . She heads the Jazz Studies department in the  Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and leads the programme offering a  Doctor of Philosophy in jazz. She is also the former chairwoman of the  Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians.

Mitchell received the prestigious Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, worth $75 000, from the California Institute of the Arts in 2011.

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