Nicole Mitchell

Nicole Mitchell

Chicago, Illinois USA

Nicole Margaret Mitchell has been noted as “a compelling improviser of wit, determination, positivity, and tremendous talent...on her way to becoming one of the greatest living flutists in jazz,” (Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader). A creative flutist, composer and bandleader, Mitchell has been named "Top Flutist 2010" by Downbeat Magazine's Critic's Polls and also placed first as Downbeat magazine’s "Rising Star Flutist 2005-2010. She was awarded "Jazz Flutist of the Year 2010"by the Jazz Journalist Association and ““Chicagoan of the Year 2006” by the Chicago Tribune. The founder of the critically acclaimed Black Earth Ensemble and Black Earth Strings, Mitchell’s compositions reach across sound worlds, integrating new ideas with moments in the legacy of jazz, gospel, pop, and African percussion to create a fascinating synthesis of “postmodern jazz.” With her ensembles, as a featured flutist, and as a music educator, Mitchell has been a highlight at art venues, festivals throughout Europe, the U.S. and Canada. Mitchell has performed with creative luminaries including George Lewis, Miya Masaoka, Lori Freedman, James Newton, Bill Dixon and Muhal Richard Abrams. She also works on ongoing projects with Anthony Braxton, Ed Wilkerson, David Boykin, Rob Mazurek, Hamid Drake and Arveeayl Ra. The first woman president of Chicago's groundbreaking Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Mitchell works to raise respect and integrity for the improvised flute, to contribute her innovative voice to the jazz legacy, and to continue the bold and exciting directions that the AACM has charted for decades. Mitchell is thankful to mentors and teachers including:  Jimmy Cheatham, Donald Byrd, Brenda Jones, Roscoe Mitchell, James Newton, George Lewis, John Eaton, Fred Anderson, Ernest Dawkins, John Fonville, Susan Levitin, Mary Stolper, John Sebastian Winston and Edward Wilkerson.

Mitchell’s entry into the world of improvisation was inspired by trombonist Jimmy Cheatham and flutist James Newton while a student at University of California: San Diego. Her earliest performances were with the Afrobeat band Une Igede, led by master percussionist Nagite Agindotan, a protege of Fela Kuti. After a studying briefly at Oberlin with Donald Byrd and Wendall Logan, Mitchell moved to Chicago in her early twenties. While playing on the street in Chicago, Mitchell met many members of the AACM who would soon become mentors and fellow musicians. Mitchell joined the AACM in 1995, and helped to co-found the AACM’s first all-woman ensemble, Samana.

Nicole Mitchell's music continues the exciting directions in music that AACM has charted for decades. As an educator, Mitchell has done jazz and composer residencies at Vancouver Jazz Festival, University of Michigan: Ann Arbor, University of New Mexico, Cal State University Fullerton, Guelph University, and others. Chicagoan of the Year 2006 by the Chicago Tribune, Mitchell is also a member of the Orbert Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, Chicago Sinfonietta, Anthony Braxton’s 12+1-tet, Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra, and David Boykin Expanse. As a composer, she has won fellowships from Chamber Music America and the Illinois Arts Council and has been commissioned by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, Ravinia, The Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art and the Jazz Institute of Chicago. Mitchell has seven recordings as leader and several recordings as co-leader. Mitchell currently is a Visiting Lecturer at University of Illinois: Chicago, where she directs the UIC Jazz Ensemble, and teaches jazz history. She also teaches jazz at ChiArts, Chicago’s first public high school for the arts.


Recent highlights for Mitchell include being named "Artist in Residence" for the Chicago Jazz Festival 2010, where she is preparing 3 premieres of new music: the "Arc of O" for large ensemble, "Mother Nature Suite" for Black Earth Ensemble featuring harpist Edmar Castaneda, and music for flute and piano, featuring herself and luminary pianist/composer Anthony Davis. At the Chicago Jazz Festival, Mitchell will also be celebrating the release of a new CD, "Sonic Projections: Emerald Hills," featuring herself, pianist Craig Taborn, drummer Chad Taylor and saxophonist David Boykin. In spring 2010, Mitchell was commissioned to premiere her second generation of work inspired by Afrofuturist science fiction writer Octavia Butler, entitled "Intergalactic Beings," a work featuring her Black Earth Ensemble. In 2009, Mitchell was commissioned by the Jazz Institute of Chicago, to create "Honoring Grace: Michelle Obama." In 2007, Chicago's Dept of Cultural Affairs commissioned Black Earth Orchestra to premiere Many Paths to the Sea: A Tribute to Alice Coltrane, and that year she also premiered a chamber orchestra work for Downtown Sound Gallery (Chicago) for Qualities of My Father, a tribute to Mitchell's father. In 2007, Mitchell also premiered Xenogenesis Suite, an award winning sci-fi writer and Afrofuturist, Octavia Butler by Chamber Music America.


Black Earth Ensemble (BEE), founded by Mitchell in 1997, is a forum for her compositions and creative vision.  BEE is a multi-genre, multi-generational celebration of the African American cultural legacy.  Notable performances for Black Earth Ensemble include the Sons d'hiver Festival (Paris), Guelph Festival (Canada), Le Labbre Nude Festival (Rome), Kerava Jazz Festival (Finland), Vision Festival (New York), Santa Arressi Festival (Sardegna, Italy) and Nouve Forme Festival (Verona).  With Black Earth Ensemble, Mitchell has recorded five critically acclaimed CDs with her Black Earth Ensemble:  Vision Quest, Afrika Rising and Hope, Future and Destiny.   Black Unstoppable was Mitchell's debut on Chicago's legendary Delmark Records, and she was the first woman instrumentalist/leader to join their roster in their 55 year history. Her recording "Xenogenesis Suite: A Tribute to Octavia Butler" is available on Firehouse 12. Mitchell also leads Black Earth Strings, an acoustic quartet that brings African rhythms, contemporary sounds and swinging improvisation to a chamber music setting. Delmark released Black Earth Strings debut album "Renegades" in 2009. Her latest project, Sonic Projections, featuring pianist Craig Taborn, drummer Chad Taylor and saxophonist David Boykin was titled "Emerald Hills" and released on Rogue Art records in June 2010.  

Flute Soloist

Nicole Mitchell has performed as featured soloist with the Orbert Davis Chicago Jazz Philharmonic at the Auditorium Theater and at Millineum Park in Chicago. In December 2005, Nicole Mitchell performed a special duo concert with pianist Muhal Richard Abrams in celebration of the AACM's 40th Anniversary in Chicago. Mitchell has also performed as a soloist with composer George E. Lewis and the International Composer's and Improvisers Ensemble (2003) in Munich, Germany. In Chicago, Mitchell has also been a featured soloist with Chicago's CUBE Ensemble, University of Chicago's Jazz X-Tet, and the New Black Repertory Ensemble of Columbia College. Mitchel is also piccolist for the Chicago Sinfonietta conducted by Maestro Paul Freedman and performs for the Joffrey Ballet.

Additional Projects

Mitchell currently directs other projects which include: Tindanga Mama (a multi-generational, all-woman ensemble) and the Aaya Sensation (a group showcasing the talents of Mitchell's teen daughter). In addition to her own projects, she performs with the collective, Frequency (with Ed Wilkerson Jr., Arveeayl Ra and Harrison Bankhead), the Indigo Trio (with Hamid Drake and Harrison Bankhead), the Exploding Star Orchestra (project of Rob Mazurek), the Orbert Davis Jazz Philharmonic, the New Black Reperatory Ensemble (of Columbia College), the Great Black Music Ensemble (of the Chicago AACM), the David Boykin Expanse, and Anthony Braxton's  12tet.  .


Mitchell has done a variety of residencies, workshops and panel discussions in Europe and the U.S. with a focus on composition, jazz and creative music.  Mitchell has also done workshops and residencies at University of Guelph (Canada), University of Louieville, Dartmouth College, Howard University, Amherst College, South Suburban College of Illinois, and University of Michigan: Ann Arbor. In 2009, Mitchell looks forward to doing composer residencies at California State University Fullerton and University of New Mexico. In April 2007, Mitchell completed a residency with forty local musicians in Paris. The project, called Unity Orchestra, featured her compositions at the Banlieues Bleues festival.  She has been a faculty member of the Vancouver Creative Music Institute (Canada) and the Sherwood Flute Institute (Chicago). From 2006-2010, Mitchell worked as a resident artist for the Vancouver Jazz Festival, directing a large ensemble of talented high school musicians and directing their performance at the Vancouver Jazz Festival. Nicole Mitchell currently teaching jazz at University of Illinois: Chicago and at Chicago High School for the Arts.



Nicole Mitchell

"My Powell Conservatory flute is just what I've dreamed of. With its rich, dark sound and fluid mechanism, I can use it in all my worlds--from the orchestra to jazz festivals and beyond."

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