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John Tchicai

John Tchicai

Danish free jazz saxophonist
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Danish free jazz saxophonist
Countries Denmark
Occupations Composer Jazz musician Saxophonist
Gender male
Birth April 28, 1936 (Copenhagen, Capital Region of Denmark, Denmark, Kingdom of Denmark)
Death October 8, 2012 (Perpignan, arrondissement of Perpignan, Pyrénées-Orientales, Occitania)
The details

John Martin Tchicai (April 28, 1936 – October 8, 2012) was a Danish free jazz saxophonist and composer.

After moving to New York City in 1963, Tchicai joined Archie Shepp's New York Contemporary Five and the New York Art Quartet. He played on John Coltrane's Ascension, and Albert Ayler's New York Eye and Ear Control, both influential free jazz recordings.


Tchicai was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, to a Danish mother and a Congolese father. The family moved to Aarhus, where he studied violin in his youth, and in his mid-teens began playing clarinet and alto saxophone, focusing on the latter. By the late 1950s he was travelling around northern Europe, playing with many musicians.

Following his work in New York, Tchicai returned to Denmark in 1966, and shortly thereafter focused most of his time on music education. He formed the small orchestra Cadentia Nova Danica with Danish and other European musicians; this group collaborated with Musica Elettronica Viva and performed in multi-media events. Tchicai was a founding member of Amsterdam's Instant Composers Pool in 1968, and in 1969 took part in the recording of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Unfinished Music No.2: Life with the Lions.

On August 30, 1975, Tchicai's appearance at the Willisau Jazz Festival was recorded and released later that year as Willi The Pig. On this record, he plays with Swiss pianist Irène Schweizer. Tchicai returned to a regular gigging and recording schedule in the late 1970s. In the early 1980s he switched to the tenor saxophone as his primary instrument. In 1990 he was awarded a lifetime grant from the Danish Ministry of Culture.

Tchicai and his wife relocated to Davis, California, in 1991, where he led several ensembles. He was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 1997. He was a member of Henry Kaiser and Wadada Leo Smith's "Yo Miles" band, a loose aggregation of musicians exploring Miles Davis's electric period.

Since 2001 he had been living near Perpignan in southern France. On June 11, 2012, he suffered a brain hemorrhage in an airport in Barcelona, Spain. He was recovering and had canceled all appearances when he died in a Perpignan hospital on October 8, 2012, aged 76.


Detailed discography 1962–2012 see JazzDanmark's homepage:


As leader

  • 1968: Cadentia Nova Danica (Polydor; with Karsten Vogel, Hugh Steinmetz, Kim Menzer, Max Brüel, Steffen Andersen, Giorgio Musoni, Yvan Krill, Robidoo)
  • 1975: Willi The Pig (Willisau; with Irène Schweizer, Buschi Niebergall, Makaya Ntshoko)
  • 1977: Real Tchicai (with Pierre Dørge, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen)
  • 1985: Cassava Balls (with Hartmut Geerken, Don Moye)
  • 2005: Big Chief Dreaming (Soul Note) with Garrison Fewell, Massimo Manzi, Tino Tracanna
  • 2005: Hymne til Sofia – Hymn to Sophia (with Kristian Høeg, Ib Bindel, Frederik Magle, Peter Ole Jørgensen, and others)
  • 2009: In Monk's Mood (SteepleChase) with George Colligan, Steve LaSpina, Billy Drummond

As sideman

With Albert Ayler

  • New York Eye and Ear Control (1964)

With John Coltrane

  • Ascension (1965)

With Johnny Dyani & Dudu Pukwana

  • Witchdoctor's Son (1978, SteepleChase)

With The Engines

  • Other Violets (Not Two, 2013)

With New York Art Quartet

  • New York Art Quartet (1964, ESP-Disk)
  • Mohawk (1965, Fontana)
  • Reunion (2000, DIW Records)
  • Old Stuff (2010, Cuneiform)

With New York Contemporary Five

  • Consequences (Fontana, 1963)
  • Rufus (Fontana, 1963)
  • New York Contemporary Five Vol. 1 (Sonet, 1963)
  • New York Contemporary Five Vol. 2 (Sonet, 1963)
  • Bill Dixon 7-tette/Archie Shepp and the New York Contemporary Five (Savoy, 1964) One side of LP

With Dell Westergaard Lillinger

  • Dell Westegaard Lillinger feat. John Tchicai (Jazzwerkstatt, 2012)
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