Iconic Chicago musical group formed in 1965 still flourishing

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - Art can often imitate life, and one group of musicians was inspired by what they were experiencing in life.

So, they formed the "Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians" in Chicago in 1965. They were inspired by issues impacting Chicago’s African American community.

The result was some of the most influential art and music ever created in American history.

What’s even more impressive, 50 years later, the organization is still flourishing.

Its impact has been so great that an entire exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art is dedicated to the AACM and the many artists it has inspired over a half century.

"Very few people really know about what was born here in Chicago and its global reach," said Curator of the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art Naomi Beckwith.

The display is called The Freedom Principle, and it’s an eye and ear opening experience, celebrating 50 years of the AACM.

"Here in Chicago, you have musicians experimenting around improvisation,” Beckwith said.

The art of improvisational music is going off script, so the AACM was breaking new ground and changing the musical landscape when they first started.

"How far can I push music, how far can I push the way it's written. How can I make music visual?" Beckwith said.

The freedom principle is more than a showcase for the AACM’s musical impact. The exhibit is also a glimpse into its social impact, past and present, like the fight for minority equality in the 60's and 70's.

"There is a giant flag by David Hammonds, that is a mashup of the American flag and the Pan African flag." Beckwith added.

The exhibit is also a glimpse into the current issues facing Chicago’s Public Schools: like a stage that was created from the ruins of CPS schools that fell victim to Chicago’s funding crisis.

"That work is made of material taken from Chicago Public Schools that recently closed across the city." Beckwith said.

Some of the founding members still call Chicago home, with their work breading a new generation of artists willing to push the limits.

"The exhibition is full of artist who have been inspired by this work," Beckwith said.

Artists like Cauleen Smith.

"It’s called Little Instruments," Smith said. "To talk about the value of what we have, and really cultivate it, and see what's possible with it."

Much like the AACM’s early years in Chicago, Little Instruments is a small group of creative artists who are willing to push the limits and see what was really possible.

"It is a group that created the most radical and experimental music in American history," Beckwith added.

When The Freedom Principle opened in July, almost 2000 visitors packed the museum. The Freedom Principle will be on display until November 22nd.

Get the full AACM experience at the Chicago Jazz Festival this weekend, as the AACM’s group, The Experimental Band, will be performing.