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 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. On August 30, 1975 his 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' 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 8 October 2012.
Saxophonist John Tchicai returned home to Denmark in 1966 after four years in New York, where he had made himself one of the most prominent members of the avant-garde movement that had become known as the New Thing. He then formed the Cadentia Nova Danica ensemble with young Danish musicians who were already playing together: Tchicai assumed the role of mentor for the experimental group, who learned to navigate the unorthodox technical demands and wild emotions of the controversial new sound. Tchicai also allowed band members Karsten Vogel (who later formed Burnin’ Red Ivanhoe) and composer Finn von Eyben to add their own compositions to the repertoire, thereby helping them establish the foundation of their musical careers which soon flourished.
On this live recording, they prove themselves worthy as conceptual and creative equals of their most advanced contemporaries in other European countries. The music they played on this first public appearance radiates passionate honesty and intense humanity. Richard Williams’ liner notes explain: “
Although in some respects very characteristic of its era, [the music] communicates its raw and heartfelt beauty across the decades with undimmed strength, still reaching out in hope to an unknown future
”. Cadentia Nova Danica’s 1966 concert is a wonderful gem and, finally, no longer a hidden one.