Lest We Forget:

Malachi Favors (1927-2004)
By Ken Waxman

Trickster to the end, when bassist Malachi Favors Maghostut died of pancreatic cancer in early 2004, his daughter revealed that he had actually born 10 years earlier than his previously accepted 1937 birth date. In a way that concluding jape was perfectly in character for the versatile bassist who from the mid-1960s until his death was a vital component of the Art Ensemble of Chicago (AEC). The quintet proved that theatricism in the form of face paint, costumes, so-called “little instruments” and stylistic turns could be the source of profound and searching modern jazz – or if you prefer Great Black Music Ancient to the Future.

Fittingly Favors, whose most common rejoinder to inquiries about his age was that he was “older than dirt”, was born in Mississippi, one of the centres of jazz history, and brought up in Chicago, another important jazz location. A bass player by the time he was 15, after an army stint during the Korean War, Favors studied with local heavyweight bassists such as Israel Crosby and Wilbur Ware, and worked regular club gigs with pianists Andrew Hill and King Fleming. Searching for something more, he played briefly with Sun Ra, joined pianist Muhal Richard Abrams' Experimental Band by 1961, and was a Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) founding member.

A subsequent meeting with saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell led to him joining the reedman’s band which eventually evolved into the AEC. Favors, who also played banjo, zither, bells, gong, harmonica, melodica and percussion is generally credited with introducing “little instruments” to the AACM and AEC, the idea for which came from playing with Sun Ra and observing visiting African musical groups.

Besides his 35 years as a stabilizing force in the AEC, the bassist also recorded and played in a variety of contexts in Europe and North America with other advanced players such as saxophonist Archie Shepp, trumpeter Dennis González and drummer Sunny Murray. Internationally, he was part of trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith’s Golden Quartet. Home in Chicago, from the 1990s, Favors was with saxophonist Ari Brown, a valued member of percussionist Kahil El’Zabar’s Ritual Trio, showcased on many Delmark CDs; and played in ensembles with fellow bassist Tatsu Aoki, with whom he recorded a duo disc for Southport. His only CD as combo leader is a RogueArt session with fellow AACMers, saxophonist Hannah Jon Taylor and drummer Vincent Davis.

Unassuming in his actions except for his exceptional bass styling, Favors sometimes added the suffix Maghostut to his name, explaining that Maghostut was an ancient African word meaning “I Am the Host”. The timeless and mystical connection of this name fit perfectly with the profound, tradition-extending musicianship he displayed throughout his life.

— For All About Jazz New York February 2011