Nicole Mitchell, Musical Professor

Among the many offices of the Music and Media Building lies room 113, the office of award-winning American Jazz flutist Nicole Mitchell.

Professor Nicole Mitchell has been at UC Irvine for a little over a year, teaching various improvisation classes as well as the Integrated Composition Improvisation and Technology program.

Decerry Donato | Photography Intern

Decerry Donato | Photography Intern

Her passion for the arts germinated within her family. Her mother was a self-taught artist and her brother played classical and rock guitar. It wasn’t until the age of 14, though, that Professor Mitchell started playing the flute.

“When I heard the sound of the flute, I knew that was me, so I really had a passion to play that instrument. I didn’t know that I wanted to be a musician necessarily. I just knew I wanted to play that instrument. It actually took about four years to convince my parents to get me one. I never gave up until I got one,” Mitchell said.

Originally from Chicago, Professor Mitchell had a project in mind and was on the lookout for musicians to take part in it. In 2005, she met a vibraphonist Jason Adasieciwz from the Exploding Star Orchestra.

“When I heard him, it basically sealed the deal of creating Ice Crystals. Ice Crystal,” Professor Mitchell explained, “comes from the sound that flute and vibraphone together create, it’s like a color that’s very liquid-y and clear.”

Ice Crystals is a quartet which consists of drummer Frank Rosaly; bassist Joshua Abrams; vibraphonist Jason Adasieciewz; and last but not least, flutist Nicole Mitchell. The group Ice Crystals was founded in 2007 and based in Chicago. Just recently, Ice Crystals performed in Edmonton, Canada.

Professor Mitchell does a lot of work in Chicago, which calls for her to travel often. Ice Crystals hasn’t performed in California, but she hopes that they will. Aside from Ice Crystals, she also has a group called Sun Dial Ensemble based here in Los Angeles. This month, Sun Dial premiered at their first concert in the Angel City Jazz Festival in Los Angeles with another UCI Professor, Michael Dessen, on trombone.

Classical flutists Jean-Pierre Rampal and James Galway and jazz flutists James Newton and Hubert Laws were her influences at the time. Now, so many things inspire her music.

“I have this idea of embracing everything that I have been influenced by, so my music is, I guess you can say, multidirectional. It’s definitely been defined within the context of African American music, creative music, legacy and also jazz, which there is the influences of the blues, R&B experimental music, classical music.”

This year, Professor Mitchell was awarded the Flutist of the Year Award for the 4th consecutive year in a row and named “the most important jazz flutist of her generation” by the Jazz Journalist Association.

“I am very honored to be named that but I know that there are a lot of really amazing flutists all over the world and so many approaches to playing the flute. So I know that there is still so much more to learn so I don’t let it get to my head,” she said.

When asked about any other awards, her face lit up as if the award that she was about to discuss was just handed to her. The Doris Duke Foundation’s first award was presented in 2012 and Professor Mitchell was the very first recipient of this award.

Whether she’s playing on a Bundy or a Muramatsu or a Powell, Professor Mitchell has captivated the music world by her talent and passion for the arts through the use of her instrument.

“As a musician, I think the more open you are — to be able to do your music and maybe in a platform that you may have not thought of, or to be able to learn something that you don’t know how to do so well — opens the door for other possibilities with your music.”