The group was founded in 1977 by bassist John Lindberg, violinist Billy Bang, and guitarist James Emery. Though they initially worked on improvisational playing and on their own compositions, they eventually began taking on commissions, as well as doing arrangements of other jazz musicians' works. Their debut album was issued in 1979, and the group maintained the same lineup through 1986, when Bang left and was replaced by Charles Burnham. Burnham was replaced by Regina Carter after his departure in 1991, who then left in the mid-1990s. Diane Monroe then joined the group through 2001, after which Rob Thomas joined.
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