Nicole Mitchell Gantt

  • William S. Dietrich II Endowed Chair in Jazz Studies (on leave)
  • Professor, Director of Jazz Studies
  • Director of Creative Arts Ensemble

My creative work as a composer and improviser interacts freely between the realms of jazz, creative music and Western new music, mostly through the creation and performance of music composition for contemporary ensembles of varied instrumentation and size that incorporate improvisation and a wide aesthetic expression. Each composition is its own world with its own set of parameters, ranging from soulful to extremely experimental. In unwrapping the rich topic of contemporary African American culture, I am compelled to explore subtopics such as diversity, coexistence, inclusivity, Black identity, mystery, and the amplification of women’s voices in my creative work, teaching and service.

For 20 years, my Chicago-based Black Earth Ensemble (BEE) has been my primary compositional laboratory. As a woman-led, gender-balanced, intergenerational and multicultural institution, it has operated flexibly in stylistic approach, instrumentation and size, depending on the project, having hosted over forty members. I’m deeply interested in using music as a symbol to model diversity, through the actual embodiment of a “band” and the interaction of its members, but also through diverse sonic dialogue. Can Black gospel music converse with Japanese court music? Can a theremin swing? My work explores the idea of creating compositional spaces for the meaningful coexistence of contrasting musical identities. My mission as a creative flutist has been to model a new language of improvisation, as I have long valued the importance of developing one’s own distinctive voice on their instrument. Developing the flute’s improvisational language was also the original impetus for me to compose music, as the development of new flute approaches also called for new environments that challenge my sonic exploration. Much of my creative work has been inspired by literature and narrative, with a special interest in Afrofuturism. This direction has been informed by the work of award-winning author Octavia Butler’s compelling utilization of science fiction to raise questions on social justice. In addition to composing for improvisers, my work also extends to classical musicians utilizing a minimum to no improvisation for chamber ensembles and orchestra.

As a faculty member and Chair of Jazz Studies, my intent is to facilitate creativity, independent thinking, and to increase intercultural understanding. I offer students my perspectives on the importance of community and social responsibility as artists, while facilitating the expansion of their work. I seek to help students reach beyond their comfort zones in their creative approaches to composition and improvisation, while valuing and forwarding the rich tradition that jazz has given us.

Recent Courses

  • Sounds of Resistance: Black Music and Social Justice
  • Hip Hop Philosophy
  • Jazz History
  • Creative Arts Ensemble
  • Message Music Composition

Selected Honors/Awards

Distinguished Mid-Career Award for Research, University of California Irvine (2019)

Champion of New Music Award. American Composers Forum (2018)

Top Jazz Flutist, Downbeat Critics Poll (2010-2018)

Top Jazz Flutist, Jazz Journalists Association (2010-2018)

Doris Duke Artist Award (2012)

Herb Alpert Award in the Arts (2011)

3Arts Award in Music Composition (2011)

Selected Recent Commissions

Intuition, Newport Jazz Festival (2018)

EarthSeed, Art Institute of Chicago (2017)

Art and Anthem: For Gwendolyn Brooks, Logan Art Center, Chicago (2017)

Maroon Cloud, John Zorn Commissioning Series (2017)

Bamako*Chicago Sound System, Hyde Park Jazz Festival (2017)

Inescapable Spiral, International Contemporary Ensemble (2017)

They Witnessed an Unfolding, International Contemporary Ensemble (2017)

Mandorla Awakening: Emerging Worlds, Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art (2015)

Moments of Fatherhood, French American Jazz Exchange (2015)

Liberation Narratives, Jazz Institute of Chicago (2014)

When Life’s Door Opens, Anthony Braxton Tri-Centric Orchestra (2013)

Harambee: Road to Victory for Choir and Orchestra, Chicago Sinfonietta (2012)

Cave of Self-Induction for Two Flutes and Percussion, International Contemporary Ensemble (2012)

Intergalactic Beings, Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art (2010)

Honoring Grace: Michelle Obama, Jazz Institute of Chicago (2009)

Selected Recordings

2018 Maroon Cloud, Nicole Mitchell, FPE (Chicago)

2017 Mandorla Awakening, Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble, FPE (Chicago)

Liberation Narratives, Nicole Mitchell & Haki Madhubuti, Third World Press (Chicago)

2016 Moments of Fatherhood, Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble + Ensemble

Laborintus, Rogue Art (Paris)

2014 Secret Escapades of V. Anderson, Nicole Mitchell's Sonic Projections, Rogue Art


Intergalactic Beings, Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble, FPE Records (Chicago)

2013 Aquarius, Nicole Mitchell's Ice Crystal, Delmark Records (Chicago)

Engraved in the Wind, Nicole Mitchell, Rogue Art (Paris)

2012 Arc of O, Nicole Mitchell and the An Arche Ensemble, Rogue Art (Paris)

2011 Awakening, Nicole Mitchell Quartet, Delmark (Chicago)

2010 Emerald Hills, Nicole Mitchell’s Sonic Projections, Rogue Art (Paris)

2009 Renegades, Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Strings, Delmark (Chicago)

2008 Xenogenesis Suite, Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble, Firehouse 12 (New York)

2007 Black Unstoppable, Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble, Delmark (Chicago)

Education & Training

  • MM, Northern Illinois University

Faculty Groupings

Core Faculty
Ensemble Faculty

Main Department Affliliation