Paul Steinbeck

Paul Steinbeck

Associate Professor of Music
Head of Theory and Composition (On leave Fall '18)
PhD, Columbia University
BA, University of Chicago
research interests:
  • Improvisation
  • Intermedia
  • The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM)

contact info:

office hours:

  • By appointment

mailing address:

  • WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY
  • CB 1032
  • ONE BROOKINGS DR.
  • ST. LOUIS, MO 63130-4899
image of book cover

Paul Steinbeck’s research focuses on improvisation, intermedia, and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). He has written extensively on the Art Ensemble of Chicago—the AACM’s flagship group—and on Fred Anderson, an original AACM member. Steinbeck is also a bassist, composer, and improviser.​

Paul Steinbeck is an associate professor of music at Washington University in St. Louis. His research focuses on improvisation, intermedia, and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). With Fred Anderson, he is co-author of Exercises for the Creative Musician (2010), a method book for improvisers. Steinbeck’s latest book, Message to Our Folks, examines the history and performances of the Art Ensemble, one of the most influential groups in jazz and experimental music. Message to Our Folks is available in English from the University of Chicago Press (2017) and in Italian from Edizioni Quodlibet (2018). His next book, Sound Experiments: The Music of the AACM, is under contract with the University of Chicago Press.

Steinbeck holds degrees from Columbia University (PhD) and the University of Chicago (BA). He is also a bassist, composer, and improviser. He studied bass with Harrison Bankhead and composition with Ari Brown. His compositions and improvisations are documented on thirteen recordings. He performs with a number of ensembles, including the experimental trio Low End Theory, co-led with former AACM president Mwata Bowden.

“Improvisation and Collaboration in Anthony Braxton’s Composition 76”  Journal of Music Theory, 62/2

“Improvisation and Collaboration in Anthony Braxton’s Composition 76” Journal of Music Theory, 62/2

This article examines Anthony Braxton’s Composition 76, a landmark work for three multi-instrumentalists. The score for Composition 76 employs graphic techniques (colors, shapes, and codes) as well as traditional notation on five-line staves. Original transcriptions of two studio recordings illustrate the strategies that the performers use to realize Braxton’s complex score, uncovering the structure of a composition previously thought to be resistant to analysis. The article also sheds light on the diverse influences that can be seen in the graphic score—and heard in the performances—from John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen to the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians.

Talking Back: Performer-Audience Interaction in Roscoe Mitchell’s "Nonaah"

Talking Back: Performer-Audience Interaction in Roscoe Mitchell’s "Nonaah"

Many music scholars, particularly in jazz studies, have investigated performers’ real-time sonic interactions with one another. Very few, though, have asked how musicians interact with their audiences. The following article examines a performance that demands this kind of analysis: a 1976 concert in which saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell is confronted by an audibly hostile audience.

Listening to Voyager

Listening to Voyager

In this introduction to composer, musician, and interdisciplinary scholar George E. Lewis, music theorist Paul Steinbeck, a former student of Lewis’s at Columbia, sheds light on the intertwined histories of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and Voyager, the computer system with which Lewis and Roscoe Mitchell will perform at CTM 2018. As he argues, Voyager, like all Artificial Intelligence, is not a neutral system but rather reflects the aesthetic values and experiences of its human creator(s).

Grande Musica Nera: Storia dell’Art Ensemble of Chicago

Grande Musica Nera: Storia dell’Art Ensemble of Chicago

Raccontare l’Art Ensemble of Chicago significa attraversare buona parte delle esperienze artistiche più innovative del secondo Novecento. Senza mai allontanarsi dalla cultura afroamericana in cui si sono formati (la musica delle chiese nere, quella delle comunità locali, le bande dell’esercito, il jazz di ogni epoca), i suoi membri hanno saputo influenzare l’arte performativa di tutto il pianeta, sintetizzando nel concetto di Grande Musica Nera ciò che la diaspora africana nel mondo ha regalato alla cultura contemporanea. Fin dalla metà degli anni Sessanta, sul palcoscenico i membri dell’Art Ensemble creavano un irresistibile intreccio di esperienze spettacolari, suonando centinaia di strumenti, recitando poesie, dando vita a episodi teatrali, mascherandosi e usando costumi d’ogni provenienza. Emerso dal formidabile calderone espressivo della Chicago nera degli anni Sessanta, il gruppo si è affermato in una Parigi che era stata appena attraversata dai fermenti del Sessantotto e ha poi trionfalmente conquistato il pubblico di tutti i continenti.

In questo volume Paul Steinbeck esplora nei dettagli la storia dell’Art Ensemble of Chicago. Unendo l’analisi musicale alla ricerca storica, propone un’approfondita interpretazione che ne lega insieme tutte le innovazioni: i diversi modelli d’improvvisazione, l’ampio repertorio di composizioni, la dimensione intermediale e quel concetto cooperativo di interazione sociale che ha permesso al gruppo di attraversare con successo i decenni. Nonostante infatti la dolorosa scomparsa di due fondatori, Lester Bowie e Malachi Favors, e il ritiro di Joseph Jarman, il creatore del gruppo Roscoe Mitchell lo guida ancor oggi assieme a Don Moye, caso più unico che raro nella storia della musica. L’avventura dell’Art Ensemble continua.

"The Inner Sleeve" The Wire, 404

"The Inner Sleeve" The Wire, 404

Paul Steinbeck discusses the artwork of the Art Ensemble of Chicago's album The Third Decade.

Message to Our Folks: The Art Ensemble of Chicago

Message to Our Folks: The Art Ensemble of Chicago

Message to Our Folks is the first book about the Art Ensemble of Chicago, one of the most influential groups in jazz and experimental music. Unlike many texts in jazz studies and improvisation studies, Message to Our Folks combines musical analysis with historical inquiry. The book offers a detailed history of the Art Ensemble, from its 1966 founding on Chicago’s South Side to its final performances in the 2010s. But the book’s greatest contribution to music theory (and a range of other disciplines) may be its analyses of the Art Ensemble’s performances. Message to Our Folks proposes a new theory of group improvisation that explains how the Art Ensemble members are able to improvise together in many different styles while drawing on an extensive repertoire of notated compositions. The book also examines the intermedia dimensions of the Art Ensemble’s performances, which integrate music with poetry, theater, costumes, and movement. Additionally, Message to Our Folks investigates the connections between the group’s performances and its distinctive model of social relations—practices of cooperation and personal autonomy that the group members adapted from the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), the Chicago collective from which the Art Ensemble emerged.