Roscoe Mitchell, Jazz Iconoclast, Bids the Bay Farewell With Intimate Gigs

Saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell listens to a solo on stage during the "Jack DeJohnette's Made In Chicago" performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, Rhode Island, on Aug. 1, 2015.  (Eva Hambach/AFP/Getty Images)

In his last local performances before leaving the Bay Area, Roscoe Mitchell appears twice next weekend at Mission District arts space The Lab.

The renowned saxophonist and composer's professorship at Mills College in Oakland, where he was an essential draw of the storied music department, is coming to a close after eleven years. He plans to return to Madison, Wisconsin.

The Dec. 7 and 8 quartet dates, with Ambrose Akinmusire, Junius Paul and Vincent Davis, promise a rare look at one of the world's premier improvisers and ensemble leaders in an intimate setting. A cofounder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, Mitchell has been at the vanguard of free and composed music for more than 50 years.

Yet last year, amid celebration of his stirring Bells for the South Side, Mills administrators marked Mitchell and other faculty for dismissal in light of a budget shortfall. The plan prompted international outcry, and the college reversed course, but it only secured Mitchell for another year before his contract expired.

Hoping to avoid deeper cuts, Mills music fixtures Maggi Payne and Chris Brown also agreed to retire early. As Brown said of Mitchell's departure last year, "It could cut the heart out of the department.”

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Mitchell's position at Mills, the Darius Milhaud Chair in Composition, has been held in the past by artists including Anthony Braxton and Pauline Oliveros.

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