Friday, June 6, 2014

Yuri Kochiyama, 1921-2014: Iconic Human Rights Activist, Teacher, Community Organizer, Friend and Colleague of Malcolm X

Yuri Kochiyama, Rights Activist Who Befriended Malcolm X, Dies at 93
JUNE 4, 2014
New York Times
 Yuri Kochiyama, in 1999, hosted activists in Harlem. Credit Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

Yuri Kochiyama, a civil rights activist who formed an unlikely friendship with Malcolm X when he was still promoting black nationalism and later cradled his head in her hands as he lay dying from gunshot wounds in 1965, died on Sunday in Berkeley, Calif. She was 93.

Her granddaughter Akemi Kochiyama confirmed the death.

Mrs. Kochiyama, the child of Japanese immigrants who settled in Southern California, knew discrimination well by the time she was a young woman. During World War II she spent two years in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans in Arkansas, a searing experience that also exposed her to the racism of the Jim Crow South.

A few years after the war, she married William Kochiyama, whom she had met at the camp, and the couple moved to New York in 1948. They spent 12 years in public housing in Manhattan, in the Amsterdam Houses on the Upper West Side, where most of their neighbors were black and Puerto Rican, before moving to Harlem.

The couple had become active in the civil rights movement when Mrs. Kochiyama met Malcolm X for the first time at a Brooklyn courthouse in October 1963. He was surrounded by supporters, mostly young black men, when she approached him. She told him she wanted to shake his hand, to congratulate him, she recalled in an interview with The New York Times in 1996.

“I admire what you’re doing,” she told him, “but I disagree with some of your thoughts.”

He asked which ones.

“Your harsh stand on integration,” she said.

He agreed to meet with her later, and by 1964 Mrs. Kochiyama and her husband had befriended him. Early that year Malcolm X began moving away from the militant Nation of Islam, to which he belonged, toward beliefs that were accepting of many kinds of people. He sent the Kochiyamas postcards from his travels to Africa and elsewhere.

One, mailed from Kuwait on Sept. 27, 1964, read: “Still trying to travel and broaden my scope since I’ve learned what a mess can be made by narrow-minded people. Bro. Malcolm X.”

The following February, Mrs. Kochiyama was in the audience at the Audubon Ballroom in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan waiting to hear Malcolm X address a new group he had founded, the Organization of Afro-American Unity, when there was a burst of gunfire. She ran toward the stage.

“I just went straight to Malcolm, and I put his head on my lap,” she recalled. “He just lay there. He had difficulty breathing, and he didn’t utter a word.”

A powerful photograph of her holding him accompanied an article about the assassination in the March 5, 1965, issue of Life magazine.

Mrs. Kochiyama was born Mary Yuriko Nakahara on May 19, 1921, in San Pedro, Calif. An outgoing student in high school, she played sports and wrote for the school newspaper. She said in interviews that she was mostly unaware of political issues until her father, Seiichi, was taken into custody by the F.B.I. shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Although ill, Mr. Nakahara, a successful fish merchant, was held and interrogated for several weeks before being released on Jan. 20, 1942. He died the next day. By the spring, the rest of the family was among the 120,000 Japanese-Americans sent to internment camps across the country.

In the 1980s, the Kochiyamas sought government reparations for Japanese-Americans who had been interned. In 1988, Congress approved a plan to pay $20,000 to each of the estimated 60,000 surviving internees.

Besides her granddaughter Akemi, her survivors include a daughter, Audee Kochiyama-Holman; three sons, Eddie, Jimmy and Tommy; eight other grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Another son, Billy, died in the 1970s, and a daughter, Aichi, died in 1989.

Her husband died in 1993. He had been interned in Arkansas before he joined the all-Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which became one of the most decorated units in American military history.

In the 1960s and ’70s, the sofa in the Kochiyamas’ apartment was regularly occupied by activists in need of a place to sleep. Years later, Mrs. Kochiyama helped organize campaigns to free activists and others whom she believed had been wrongly imprisoned, including Mumia Abu-Jamal, the former Black Panther and radio journalist sentenced to death in the killing of a Philadelphia police officer in 1981. In 2012, his sentence was reduced to life without parole.

Mrs. Kochiyama, who never graduated from college, read constantly and widely. On Tuesday, her granddaughter Akemi opened for the first time a journal of favorite quotations that Mrs. Kochiyama had collected and given to her several years ago.

“There were so many different writers and thinkers,” said Akemi Kochiyama, who is pursuing a doctorate in cultural anthropology. “It’s Emerson, it’s Keats and Yeats and José Marti. It’s political thinkers. It’s Marcus Garvey. It’s everything.”

Mrs. Kochiyama was an inspiration herself. For its 2011 album “Cinemetropolis,” the Seattle hip-hop group Blue Scholars composed a song about her. The refrain: “When I grow up I want to be just like Yuri Kochiyama.”

Yuri Kochiyama
(b. May 19, 1921--d. June 1, 2014)

Yuri Kochiyama, ’60s civil rights activist and friend of Malcolm X’s, dies at 93
By Elaine Woo
Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times
5, 2014

A Life magazine photograph from 1965 shows Malcolm X lying on the stage of a New York City ballroom moments after assassins had shot him down. One of the first people who rushed to his side was a petite Asian woman in glasses who is seen cradling his head in her hands.

A hotbed of black liberation was an unlikely place to find a middle-aged Japanese American mother of six who had grown up teaching Sunday school in a mostly white section of San Pedro, Calif.

But history’s twists had turned Yuri Kochiyama onto an unexpected path.

Mrs. Kochiyama, who straddled black revolutionary politics and Asian American empowerment movements during four decades of activism that was just beginning when she met Malcolm X, died June 1 at 93 in Berkeley, Calif., her family said. No cause of death was announced.

The daughter of Japanese immigrants, Mrs. Kochiyama experienced the hardships of a World War II internment camp in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack.

She married a Japanese American GI she had met during the war and in 1960 moved with him to Harlem, where she raised a large family and joined her poor black and Puerto Rican neighbors to fight for better schools and safer streets.

Radicalized by her friendship with Malcolm X, the fiery Nation of Islam leader, Mrs. Kochiyama plunged into campaigns for Puerto Rican independence, nuclear disarmament and reparations for Japanese American internees.

“I didn’t wake up and decide to become an activist,” she told the Dallas Morning News in 2004. “But you couldn’t help notice the inequities, the injustices. It was all around you.”

Known as “Sister Yuri” in a wide circle of African American activists that included the firebrand poet Amiri Baraka and ’60s radical Angela Davis, Mrs. Kochiyama also became an advocate for prisoners, organizing supporters across racial lines to press for reconsideration of charges many considered politically motivated.

She was born Mary Yuriko Nakahara in San Pedro on May 19, 1921. Her father owned a fish and marine supply business and was prominent in the Japanese American community.

Mrs. Kochiyama was a model of assimilation. She wrote a sports column for the San Pedro News-Pilot and was a Sunday school teacher at the local Presbyterian church.

She went on to study journalism at Compton Community College.

Being of Japanese descent never seemed to be a problem — until Dec. 7, 1941.

That day, she was at home with her father when FBI agents knocked on their door and arrested him.

He was among hundreds of people of Japanese descent, most of them American citizens, who were wrongly accused of espionage and sent to prison after the bombing at Pearl Harbor. Although he had just undergone ulcer surgery, he was denied medical care in prison and died six weeks later.

Mrs. Kochiyama and the rest of the family were sent to an internment camp in Jerome, Ark., where she organized other young women to write letters to the thousands of Japanese American GIs who were serving their country during the war.

She was released in 1944 to help run a USO center for the soldiers in Hattiesburg, Miss. That is where she met Bill Kochiyama, a member of the highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team made up almost entirely of Japanese American soldiers. They married in 1946 and moved to New York.

Mrs. Kochiyama’s apartment in Harlem became Grand Central for the left. In 1963 she was among several hundred people detained at a protest over discriminatory hiring practices. While she was awaiting arraignment at a Brooklyn courthouse, Malcolm X arrived to lend support to the arrestees, most of whom were African American.

When the crowd surged toward him, Mrs. Kochiyama hung back.

“I felt so bad that I wasn’t black, that this should be just a black thing,” she recalled on the news show “Democracy Now” several years ago. “But the more I see them all so happily shaking his hand and Malcolm so happy, I said, gosh darn it, I’m going to try and meet him somehow.”

At an opportune moment she called out, “Can I shake your hand?” After a brief exchange, he stuck out his hand and a friendship was born.

She did not see eye-to-eye with him at first: She believed in racial integration, not separatism. But she began to study his ideas and joined his Organization of Afro-American Unity; she also became a Muslim for a short time. In 1964 the charismatic leader came to her apartment to meet survivors of the atomic bomb blasts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

On Feb. 21, 1965, she went to hear him speak at the Audubon Ballroom, acutely aware of the threats against his life. When the shots rang out, she crawled toward him and “picked up his head and just put it on my lap. I said, ‘Please, Malcolm ... stay alive,’” but he was dying.

Over the next decades, she campaigned against the Vietnam War and in 1977 was arrested with Puerto Rican nationalists at the Statue of Liberty. Her prison work intensified.

“She was known for writing along the bottom of her Christmas cards ‘Save Mumia! Save Mumia!’ ” said Johanna Fernandez, a Baruch College professor involved in the campaign to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is serving a life sentence for killing a Philadelphia police officer more than 30 years ago although he claimed innocence.

Mrs. Kochiyama moved to Oakland, Calif., in 1999 after a stroke to be closer to her family. Survivors include four children; nine grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Her husband died in 1993. Two of her children died following car accidents.  
— Los Angeles Times

Yuri Kochiyama dies: activist got reparations for interned Japanese
by Meredith May
June 3, 2014
San Francisco Chronicle

Yuri Kochiyama, at her Oakland apartment in 2005, was "one of the most prominent Asian American activists to emerge from the 1960s." Photo: Penni Gladstone, SFC

Yuri Kochiyama, whose activism led to reparations for Japanese interned during World War II, and who cradled Malcolm X's head as he lay dying from an assassin's bullets, died in her sleep Sunday in her Berkeley home. She was 93.

Her path to social work had just begun in 1965 when Mrs. Kochiyama, seated in the front row of the Harlem Audubon Ballroom, rushed the stage and held the 39-year-old civil rights leader's head in her lap as he died of multiple gunshot wounds.

The moment was immortalized in a Life magazine photo showing Mrs. Kochiyama worried and peering at Malcolm X through her trademark cat-eye glasses. It was a crystallizing experience for the budding activist, whose family had been interned during World War II.

The parallels she saw between the treatment of African Americans in the Jim Crow South and Japanese Americans during World War II inspired her to become one of the few Asian Americans who, early on, forged deep bonds with blacks in some of their most important struggles for equality.

She was "one of the most prominent Asian American activists to emerge from the 1960s," according to Diane Fujino, an associate professor of Asian American studies at UC Santa Barbara who wrote a book about her, "Yuri Kochiyama, Heartbeat of Struggle."

"She operated on two levels simultaneously," Fujino said. "She cared very much for the person in front of her, and she also worked to fight against the structural racism and imperialism in society."

A mother of six who took to revolutionary causes, Mrs. Kochiyama brought her children to protests and was arrested for occupying the Statue of Liberty to draw attention to the struggle for Puerto Rican independence.

In 2005, Mrs. Kochiyama was among those nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by a group of international organizations dedicated to promoting female peace workers, "1,000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize."

She stood up for revolutionary causes for more than half a century, becoming a mentor to generations of students and a pen pal to hundreds of imprisoned activists. The student cultural center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is named after her.

Mrs. Kochiyama also wrote a memoir, "Passing It On," in which she describes a childhood in San Pedro, a small coastal community in Los Angeles. Her parents were well-educated immigrants. Her father owned a successful fish store, and she and two brothers were raised in a custom-built house in the white section of town.

Mary Yuriko Nakahara, as she was then known, was popular - she and twin brother Peter were school class officers. Full of energy, she loved teaching Sunday school, organized drives for the poor and even started writing about sports for the San Pedro News-Pilot.

This life was shattered after Pearl Harbor, when her father, a well-known community leader, was arrested and imprisoned briefly. He had just undergone ulcer surgery before his arrest, and died shortly after being released.

The family, along with 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, most of them American citizens like the Nakahara children, were then forced into internment camps during the war.

The trauma of internment and her father's death would be themes in Mrs. Kochiyama's later activism.

At camp, she met and fell in love with a handsome nisei from New York, Bill Kochiyama, who served with the legendary, all-nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

After marrying and settling in New York City, the Kochiyamas began raising a family. But soon, their little apartment became a meeting point for visiting former nisei GIs and San Pedro friends.

When her children were old enough, they protested, alongside their mother, against the Vietnam War. Mrs. Kochiyama lost two children in early deaths, one by suicide and the other in a car accident.

In the 1980s, she and her husband pushed for reparations and a formal government apology for Japanese American internees through the Civil Liberties Act, which President Ronald Reagan signed into law in 1988.

Her continued dedication to social causes inspired younger generations of activists, especially within the Asian American community.

Her husband died in 1993.

She is survived by four children, Eddie Kochiyama and Audee Kochiyama-Holman, both of the Bay Area; and Jimmy and Tommy Kochiyama, both of Los Angeles.

Meredith May is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: Twitter: @meredithmaysf

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Tribute To Oliver Nelson, 1932-1975: Renowned Musician, Composer, Arranger, and Orchestra Leader On His 82nd Birthday

(b. JUNE 4, 1932--d. October 28, 1975)

Jazz Profiles
Focused profiles on Jazz and its makers

Saturday, April 10, 2010


© -Steven Cerra. Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

I have long thought that had he not died so tragically young at the age of 43 in 1975, Jazz saxophonist, arranger and composer Oliver Nelson may have produced a body or work to warrant consideration as “the Duke Ellington” of the second half of the 20th century.

Given his brief life, Oliver’s arranging and composition talents were prolific, by any standard of judgment. More importantly, his music is exciting and interesting and always fun to listen to, especially in a big band context.

The editorial staff was particularly pleased to be granted copyright permission by Michael Cuscuna of Mosaic Records to use Kenny Berger’s insert notes to their reissue of Oliver Nelson: The Argo, Verve and Impulse Big Band Session [MD6-233] as a September 24, 2008 feature on JazzProfiles.

And subsequently, when John Cobley contacted us and offered his permission to post the following interview with Oliver that he conducted three years before Nelson’s death in 1975, needless to say, we now had reason to become doubly pleased.

John lives in British Columbia. We’ve never met in person, only coming together via the Internet as a result of our common interest in Jazz.

He has had a successful career as a professional writer. In addition to Jazz, another of John’s interests is running. He used to work as a track and field writer. Not surprisingly, then, he is currently “… working on a ‘book’ on running, great runners, coaches and famous races.”

Here’s what John had to say as by way of background to his interview with Oliver:

“Going over it after all these years, I was surprised how well it went and how much Oliver Nelson [ON] opened up to me (a humble student). His frustrations with the "scene" come over quite strongly. I was quite moved by his comment about his black brothers. The first part is rather long (about jazz education),…. Still I think that overall the interview will give those interested in Nelson some useful insights.”

© -John Cobley. Reprinted with the permission of the author; copyright protected; all rights reserved.


In the spring of 1972, Oliver Nelson visited Salt Lake City to work with the University of Utah jazz program. I attended one of his sessions with the university big band. At one point he got out his alto and began a solo; however, after a minute he stopped abruptly, apologizing that the thin air at 5,000 feet was too much for him. (In retrospect, this might well have been an indication of the heart condition that was to end his life three years later.)

After the session I approached Oliver Nelson for an interview. I introduced myself as a third-year student from BYU who had a weekly jazz program on KBYU-FM. He agreed to meet me later at his hotel. Arriving on time, he commented on some “weird looks” he got on the streets of Salt Lake City because of his color. After the interview, he talked to me personally and, giving me his home address, said he would welcome any ideas that I might have for projects he could work on.

Q: First of all, I’d like to ask you about jazz education. I believe you’ve been greatly involved in it for the last few years.

ON: The University of Utah jazz program is only three years old. In that three-year period, enrolment has gone up constantly, to the point that the jazz curriculum is one third in terms of student numbers. And the school felt that they should find some way to merge jazz and the regular music department. However, the regular music dept has nothing to do with the jazz department, and they are worlds apart in concept. Of course, jazz theory and harmony are quite different from European classical theory and harmony. North Texas State’s program is 25 years old and it has been successful for 25 years. But even there they are finding resistance to the jazz program.

Q: Could you define what you mean by successful?

ON: When I went to Washington University in St Louis, we could not even mention the word jazz. So I got a very good classical background—in 16th century harmony. Then in 1966 they invited me back to start a jazz program. It’s as if they are finally seeing that jazz is an important art form. If you are going to teach it, you can’t just pull out an educator and say “Teach jazz.” You have to get people who have been professional musicians, who have traveled. I’ve played with Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Quincey Jones, Louis Bellson, so they said that the logical person is a former student who has gone out and been very successful in the world. It was an honor for me.

Q: Do you think that this gulf between classical and jazz education is getting any narrower?

ON: Jazz programs are bringing a great deal of pressure upon music schools. For instance, emphasis is now on improvisation. As a student, I had a professor at Washington University who said that any music that is improvised is not art. I raised my hand and said, “What about the troubadour songs with mandolins and lutes? Troubadours would go all around Europe singing and improvising. It’s codified in one large book. How do you account for this?” He just told me to see him after class. I got a D in that course. So communication is a big problem because all the heads of music departments have no real knowledge of jazz. Their only option is to bring in professional people to teach it. But professionals like Dizzy Gillespie have the experience but no degrees after their name. So the heads say, “Why should we pay someone like Dizzy Gillespie $25,000 a year to teach when he doesn’t have a Ph. D.?” Well, he doesn’t need one. So lines have to be clearly drawn.

Q: Would you say then that jazz programs have become embarrassingly popular?

ON: That’s right. And that makes it very difficult for the classical part music departments. In one of the reports concerning Dr. Fowler’s resignation here at the University of Utah, the words “domination by the Jazz Department” appeared. Well, that’s a strange word, domination. The University of Utah stage bands have been consistent winners in the festivals; that’s great publicity for the school. You’d think the school would be very happy about it, but somehow they feel very nervous and threatened.

Q: There has been some cross-fertilization between jazz and classical music—Stravinsky for example. Do you think that this cross-fertilization will develop into one musical form?

ON: I think so. Recently there was a review of a piece of mine that was premiered by the Eastman Orchestra at Rochester. It’s a 15-minute piece. And the reviewers didn’t know where it belongs. You can’t tell where the jazz stops and where the classical music begins. So that’s what I’ve been working for in my own career—to try to cross-fertilize. I find it’s happening more and more because of the exposure the jazz musicians are getting and the exposure to rock. They also have to take classical courses, and somehow it rubs off. It goes back and forth. I think it will be a natural thing. And it’s going to take years before we can really see the truth of it. But I hate this resistance that you get in a music department where the classical people don’t speak to the jazz people. It’s wrong, you know.

Q: There is an aloofness to any kind of exuberance in classical music.

ON: Oh, yea. One good example is this. Zubin Mehta of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. They did a piece of mine maybe two years ago for full orchestra. Zubin was very concerned. He said, “Why is it that you don’t see any black faces at these concerts at the Music Center?” I said that I’d thought about it. So he said, “Why don’t we have the whole symphony orchestra play the high school in the so-called ghetto area of Watts?” And we did this piece of mine there. They also played the first part of The Rite of Spring. And the black kids loved it. So he said, if they won’t go to the Music Center, let’s take the music to them. He’s also changing his program, doing less say of Mozart and Bach. And he will have one concert featuring the music of Lalo Schifrin and Frank Zappa. He’s trying to reach a new audience.

Q: We had him here at Provo. In our interview he seemed concerned with the image of classical music. But most of those involved in classical music don’t seem concerned. They feel people have to rise up to their level. We feel that Mehta has almost been ostracized for his attitude.

ON: He comes down to the grass roots level and tries to reach the people. He says the programming of a normal symphony orchestra is usually bad. People aren’t coming out to hear things that they’ve heard before. So he’s putting on a great deal of new music, and they are giving him a hard time for that. He’s bringing jazz composers into the Music Center to do things with the orchestra; he’s getting problems with that. What’s happening in the universities is almost a parallel with what’s happening with symphony orchestras. Q: So what advice would you give to the heads of university music departments?

ON: To recognize that they will have to deal with it sooner or later. My son, Oliver Junior, who will be 17 soon, is asking where he should go to school and what he should take. I tell him, “You really do need a good classical background, beside what you are going to find out about jazz and everything else. You still need a good basis. I recommended he study classical harmony and theory. But he should also be free to elect to take jazz harmony courses and not have the feeling that the two are separate things. He’s content now to get a good education, one that will give him the best of both worlds.
At the Eastman School of Music, the students decided: they wanted jazz to be taught. And they started the program there two years ago. The students got the head of the music department to resign. The students will have a lot to do with the future. They know what they want. They’ve looked at the world their fathers have given them and said, “The world doesn’t work.” The students will decide that jazz will be taught in the music departments; they may even decide who will teach it. And I think this is a good thing—as long as they don’t burn the place down!

Q: I recently did a talk on the problem of soloing with a big band as opposed to soloing in a small group. Do you have any opinions on this?

ON: I personally prefer small groups. I’m using a synthesizer now and an electric piano. And maybe an electric bass, though I always feel the need for the upright bass. I find that with three good players I can make more music than with a 20-piece orchestra that’s hard to handle because you have to conduct and play at the same time. A large orchestra sort of hems you in. So when I work with a large group I always write places inside the piece where I can play with the rhythm section. And then at some point I’ll scream, “Let’er in” or something, and the orchestra will join me at that point. But I do prefer small groups.

Q: With college bands the ensemble sounds fine, but there is often a letdown when the solos start.

ON: They aren’t developing soloists like they should. They’re developing ensemble groups. This problem has been on my mind. I was at a festival where I heard 80 bands in three days, and I don’t think we heard one outstanding solo. It bothers me because this means that improvisation is not being taught the way it should be in the colleges.

Q: I’m wondering whether it might be better for big-band soloists to have some sort of solo worked out beforehand.

ON: No. Just let it come right off the top of your head.

Q: Even at the college level?

ON? Yeh. I think the blame falls mainly on the educators. The 80 bands were all white bands—very little integration. They had some Orientals and Spanish-speaking kids. But they were playing mostly rock not jazz. Since this was a jazz festival, this was very puzzling to me. When I talked with the band directors, their attitude was that they were trying to play the music of the kids’ generation. Improvisation is not part of their teaching process. So you hear ensemble after ensemble--but no outstanding soloists.

Q: Can you give any comments on the problems students have when they first start composing for jazz orchestra?

ON: First they need to know theory, instrumentation/orchestration. You need to know how to handle all the instruments because not all of them are transposing instruments. It puts a burden on the young composer just to copy the parts because the orchestra is so large. I would personally select smaller ensembles first and then work up to the larger groups.

Q: How did your own career develop?

ON: I started out with piano when I was four and with saxophone when I was 11. I was working professionally when I was 12, touring with a territory band when school was out. After that I went with Louis Jordan’s big band, and then I had to go in the Marine Corps for two years. Public Law 550 provided me the means to get an education so I went to Washington University from 1954 to 1958 and then Jefferson University in Lincoln City, Missouri. Then I got married and went to New York. My first success, I would say, was an album I did for ABC Paramount, Blues and the Abstract Truth. On the basis of that one record, I had created my own sound. It only worked for me. If other people used it, guys would say, “You sound just like Oliver Nelson!” And then I went on to do an album with Jimmy Smith, Walk on the Wild Side. That was a start. After that I was writing more than I was playing. I stayed in New York almost ten years, bought a house on Long Island and had to fight that traffic every day. Then I said, “I think I want more out of life than this. I think I’d like to write for films.” So we moved to California, where I’ve been writing for feature films: Death of a Gunfighter, Zigzag, Skullgduggery.

Q: How did you find satisfaction doing that? I hear that Quincy Jones is giving it up.

ON: He needs money. Well, he’s starting to go very commercial now. That’s what Hollywood can do. So now I’m involved in film writing I do music on a regular basis for Longstreet, for which I created the theme, and do underscores for Ironside and a show called Night Gallery. But I find that’s not enough. I get the feeling that this year is going to be critical because I’ve decided to make my own music available to schools and colleges. I think I am going to do less and less of the other and do more and more in education.

Q: On this album (Leon Thomas in Berlin) I noticed a change in your playing. It seemed to be cathartic, terribly powerful emotionally.

ON: (Laughs) I was having a wonderful time in Berlin, and I guess it shows up on that record. And I don’t play that often. When I do play I just take my saxophone right out of the bag and put it together and play it. I don’t live with it every day. The reason that I can pick up my saxophone and play it is that I am always thinking about it.

Q: We had Don Ellis here recently, and he was talking about Gary Burton, how he practices…

ON: In his head. Right. Same thing. But that album—you’re saying my playing is different. There was a period when my playing was one way and then my playing changed almost over night. I have a Japanese Yamaha saxophone that they gave me in Tokyo three years ago. And then I have a German mouthpiece which has an adjustable chamber inside. The Japanese instrument is so good that it enables me to go outside the well-tempered whatever. I can play as high as I want. My French Selmer saxophone wouldn’t allow me to do that because it was too good. It’s like owning a Rolls Royce, but you wouldn’t enter it in a race.

Q: But there’s a purity in your playing in that recording. I don’t know whether it’s a change in your style….

ON: I think it’s happened inside me.

Q: …as though you felt content within yourself and confident that you had no need to prove yourself. Could you make any comments on this album?

ON: Leon Thomas is also from St. Louis. He’s always talking about “Back to Africa.” And I’ve been to Africa, and I’m saying Africa is not where it is. He has never been there, and he’s talking about the Mother Country! The one thing that I found out about Africa is that it was not alien in the true sense. But there’s such a difference in the cultures that I said that the place to start thinking about making a living is in this country, America, although Africa was very nice to visit. Maybe that has something to do with my playing on this album too. It gave me a chance to focus on things I hadn’t thought about. As you can see I had on a dashiki for the occasion. But that’s not the normal way I play. It used to be suits and ties, but I can’t do that anymore.

Q: What do you think about this African movement in Jazz—Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane—although their music is perhaps more North African and Indian?

ON: Well, it’s the same thing I’ve mentioned earlier. They’ve never been there. I thought that in going to Africa we would find some black faces and we would be able to exchange things musically. But in the major portion of my tour there, in the capital cities, we didn’t find one person who could play any jazz. And then I started to think about it: was American slavery the catalyst that was needed in order to make this music? Why did it only happen her and nowhere else? It didn’t happen in the Virgin Islands. It didn’t happen with the Africans who went to South America. Why did jazz only happen here? Maybe slavery was the answer. The records of Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane are very commercial. And when I say commercial, it’s that people are now trying to identify with something. So Pharoah Sanders sells quite a few records. But I don’t know if that’s how he really feels about it.

Q: I have a theory which I’d like to put to you. I’ve read that rather hysterical book by Frank Kofsky (Nelson laughs, “Oh, Frank”) and the rather better one by Ben Sidran, Black Talk….

ON: I don’t know that one.

Q: …and it seems to me that through the history of jazz the black musician has created a style and the white man has come along and copied it.

ON: That’s true.

Q: And each time that has happened, the black musician, to keep his individuality, has to jump to something different.

ON: This is very true because one of the things I ask young players when I meet them is, “Have you ever heard of Charlie Parker?” They say no. Then I look at the band instructor and wonder how the hell he can teach jazz. Another man, who will remain nameless, if I would say Charlie Parker, he would say Lee Konitz. If I would say Duke Ellington, he would say Stan Kenton. If I would say John Coltrane, he would say Stan Getz. He didn’t realize that he was trying to have a complete division, saying this was white jazz, cool jazz. Of course, what Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were doing, that was black jazz. And I hate to think of jazz being that kind of music. As long as politics can stay out of it, I think music in this country will be very, very healthy. If I were white composer, I would have been totally famous and a millionaire by now. But it takes me longer. I have to prove myself every time I write a film score. Every time I stand in front of an integrated orchestra, I’ve got to know what I’m doing. Whereas you can get other people—Chuck Mangione, I don’t know if you’ve heard of him--he’s a big success because of some album he did with the Eastman Rochester Orchestra. There’s no music there. But you hear Chuck’s name on the radio constantly, that he’s gonna be the man of the future. Someone said that everyone is still looking for the great white hope. I hate to think of music in those terms.

Q: In Europe we respect you for what you are.

ON: In Europe it’s different. Why do you think I go to Berlin and have such a wonderful time? Because of the music, first of all. I can write anything for a German audience. I know I can extend my thoughts and do this and that, and I don’t have to be commercial.

Q: Why is there a difference then?

ON: I don’t know. It’s a complete reverse in Europe. Phil Woods, he goes to Europe and he feels he is being discriminated against because they think of him as a good white saxophone player. He says all the black musicians over there get drunk and they can’t play, but everybody leaves them alone because of their contribution to music. Over here Phil Woods was sought after, but in Europe….especially in France…they said before he died Sidney Bechet would play so badly some nights because he was sick, but people loved him just the same. He didn’t have to prove himself; he’d done that years ago. But Europe is lovely. I haven’t been to London yet. I always stop there to change planes. I can’t work there because British musicians would have to go to the States. In a country like Finland they play very, very good and play jazz as close as they can play it. I’m going to Norway this summer. Music can speak in an international way to all people. But over here we have Shaft. Everybody’s saying that’s the way all movie scores should be written. I don’t agree. You have to write for the picture. Now the Shaft fad has taken Hollywood by storm. This country is very faddish. I somehow come through it all. I just go through the whole period, and I don’t change my style and I don’t change my ideals of what music should be. As a result I hear people say I’m one of the few who have not sold out yet. And they’re waiting for me, waiting for me to sell out.

Q: Do you feel bitter?

ON: No, I just feel that the music business in this country is geared to the lowest common denominator. Do you know what they call me, my black brothers? They call me a white musician. They call me a white composer. It’s because I’m always trying to do something. I couldn’t stay with Shaft just to prove how black I am. So I write all kinds of twelve-tone music. I write from my experiences through my education, and now I’m putting together my own thing. And if it goes outside their spectrum, they say, “You’re thinking white.” You should see my last score; I showed it to Gerald Wilson this morning. It’s Berlin Dialogue. He said it looks like a road map! I said exactly what it is. I just give players places to start and stop. Driving from here, you have to take directions and know what turn-off to take. This is the way I think about improvisation. I don’t want to tell a player what to play, but I give him certain road maps and signs, and he can do whatever he wants as long as he is does it during this period. And he says you’re giving him too much freedom, but I say that every time we play this piece it sounds pretty much the same. And that’s what I wanted. I didn’t want everybody just playing anything they wanted to play; I wanted to control it just a little—enough to have the same performance time and time again.

Q: At a certain point jazz suddenly became serious. I wondered if you knew why.

ON: They were trying to make it respectable. It started with John Lewis and the Third Stream. It was because most of the musicians were going back to school, and they were studying with people who were saying, “In order to make a good piece you have to go about it in this manner.” And it came out sounding serious. When jazz musicians write for a jazz orchestra—saxophones and trumpets-- they write one way, and when they have a chance to write for a symphony orchestra--strings--they write in a completely different style. And then you wonder why. Is it because respect for the symphony orchestra makes you write that kind of piece? My piece for Zubin was very rhythmic and I left a place inside the piece for me to improvise. The only thing I did was use the larger orchestra. When I write for a symphony orchestra, I think about the piece and what I want to do. But I only go about it in a bigger way. I don’t get serious about it. My music comes right off the top, you know.

Q: There is another kind of seriousness, which is almost a religious seriousness. Coltrane for example.

ON: John Coltrane approached his music from that standpoint. He was very serious about it, but serious in that sense doesn’t mean pretentious. Maybe he knew he was going to die. Towards the end he was getting more and more involved in thinking about life. And then he dies, and that was the end of it. Pharoah Sanders has this quality also—music as a religion. Eric Dolphy was like that too—always serious about his work. I understand what you mean by seriousness that takes on a spiritual quality.

Q: I wonder if it started earlier. Lester Young had his religious conscience nagging him.

ON: Listen. I have a religious conscience nagging me.

Q: But why didn’t it happen in the twenties?

ON: Well, everybody was having such a good time. It’s almost like if you go out and get drunk, the next day you feel like you’ve committed a sin—especially when your head hurts and you feel rotten. And you probably did commit a sin because you hurt your body. But John Coltrane was a very nice person, and he had a great deal of respect for other people’s work. Pharoah Sanders called me a couple of months ago to do an album for him. That’s one of the projects I hope to be working on soon. I don’t know what kind of project it will be. With him, his music is not ordered in a sense but is ordered, and with me working with a large a group over which I have to have some control, how do we put Pharoah Sanders in the middle and have it come out meaning something? It’ll be a project to work on.

Oliver Nelson Septet  "Stolen Moments"
Composer: Oliver Nelson


Freddie Hubbard (trumpet),
Eric Dolphy (alto sax, flute),
Oliver Nelson (tenor sax, arranger),
George Barrow (baritone saxophone),
Bill Evans (piano),
Paul Chambers (bass),
Roy Haynes (drums)

From the legendary LP 'THE BLUES AND THE ABSTRACT TRUTH'  (Impulse Records), 1961

Oliver Nelson
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Oliver Nelson
Born June 4, 1932
St. Louis, Missouri
Died October 28, 1975 (aged 43)
Los Angeles, California
Genres Bebop, hard bop, post-bop, jazz fusion
Occupations Musician, composer, arranger
Instruments Tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet
Labels Verve
Flying Dutchman

Oliver Edward Nelson (June 4, 1932 – October 28, 1975) was an American jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, arranger and composer.[1]


1 Biography
1.1 Early life and career
1.2 Breakthrough and afterwards
2 Discography
2.1 As arranger
2.2 As sideman
3 References
4 External links


Early life and career

Oliver Nelson's family was musical: his brother was also a saxophonist who played with Cootie Williams in the 1940s, and his sister sang and played piano. Nelson began learning to play the piano when he was six, and started on the saxophone at eleven. From 1947 he played in "territory" bands around Saint Louis, before joining the Louis Jordan big band from 1950 to 1951, playing alto saxophone and arranging.

In 1952 Nelson underwent military service in the Marines playing woodwinds in the 3rd Division band in Japan and Korea. It was in Japan that Nelson attended a concert by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra and heard Maurice Ravel's Mother Goose Suite and Paul Hindemith's Symphony in E Flat. Nelson later recalled that this was the "First time that I had heard really modern music, for back in St. Louis I hadn't even known that negroes were allowed to go to concerts, I realised everything didn't have to sound like Beethoven or Brahms...It was then that I decided to become a composer".[2] Nelson returned to Missouri to study music composition and theory at Washington and Lincoln Universities, graduating in 1958. Nelson also received private tutoring from composers Elliott Carter, Robert Wykes and George Tremblay.[2] While back in his hometown of St. Louis, he met and married Eileen Mitchell; the couple had a son, Oliver Nelson Jr., but soon divorced. After graduation, Nelson married Audrey McEwen, a union which lasted until his death; they had a son, Nyles. Audrey was a native of St. Louis, Missouri.

Nelson moved to New York, playing with Erskine Hawkins and Wild Bill Davis, and working as the house arranger for the Apollo Theater in Harlem. He also played on the West Coast briefly with the Louie Bellson big band in 1959, and in the same year began recording as leader with small groups. From 1960 to 1961 he played tenor saxophone with Quincy Jones, both in the U.S. and on tour in Europe.

Breakthrough and afterwards

After six albums as leader between 1959 and 1961 for the Prestige label (with such musicians as Kenny Dorham, Johnny Hammond Smith, Eric Dolphy, Roy Haynes, King Curtis and Jimmy Forrest), Nelson's big breakthrough came with The Blues and the Abstract Truth, on Impulse!, featuring the tune "Stolen Moments," now considered a standard. This made his name as a composer and arranger, and he went on to record a number of big-band albums, as well as working as an arranger for Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Johnny Hodges, Wes Montgomery, Buddy Rich, Jimmy Smith, Billy Taylor, Stanley Turrentine, Irene Reid, Gene Ammons and many others. He also led all-star big bands in various live performances between 1966 and 1975. Nelson continued to perform as a soloist during this period, though increasingly on soprano saxophone.

In 1967, Nelson moved to Los Angeles. Apart from his big-band appearances (in Berlin, Montreux, New York, and Los Angeles), he toured West Africa with a small group. He also spent a great deal of time composing music for television (Ironside, Night Gallery, Columbo, The Six Million Dollar Man and Longstreet) and films (Death of a Gunfighter and he arranged Gato Barbieri's music for Last Tango in Paris). He produced and arranged for pop stars such as Nancy Wilson, James Brown, the Temptations, and Diana Ross. Less well-known is the fact that Nelson composed several symphonic works, and was also deeply involved in jazz education, returning to his alma mater, Washington University, in the summer of 1969 to lead a five-week long clinic that also featured such guest performers as Phil Woods, Mel Lewis, Thad Jones, Sir Roland Hanna, and Ron Carter. Nelson died of a heart attack on 28 October 1975, aged 43.


Prestige Records

1959: Meet Oliver Nelson
1960: Taking Care of Business
1960: Images
1960: Screamin' the Blues
1960: Soul Battle
1960: Nocturne
1961: Straight Ahead
1961: Main Stem
1962: Afro/American Sketches
Impulse! Records
1961: The Blues and the Abstract Truth
1964: More Blues and the Abstract Truth
1966: Oliver Nelson Plays Michelle
1966: Sound Pieces
1966: Happenings with Hank Jones
1967: The Spirit of '67 with Pee Wee Russell
1967: The Kennedy Dream
1967: Live from Los Angeles
1968: Soulful Brass with Steve Allen
197_: Three Dimensions (a compilation album)
Flying Dutchman Records
1968: Soulful Brass No. 2
1969: Black Brown and Beautiful
1970: The Mayor and the People
1970: Berlin Dialogue for Orchestra
1970: Leon Thomas In Berlin with Oliver Nelson
1971: Swiss Suite
1974: In London with Oily Rags
1975: Skull Session
1976: A Dream Deferred
Other labels
1962: Impressions of Phaedra (United Artists)
1963: Full Nelson (Verve)
1964: Fantabulous (Argo)
1966: Leonard Feather's Encyclopedia of Jazz (Verve)
1966: Leonard Feather Presents the Sound of Feeling and the Sound of Oliver Nelson (Verve)
1967: Jazzhattan Suite (Verve)
1975: Stolen Moments (East Wind Records/Inner City Records)

As arranger

With Air Pocket

Fly On (1975, East Wind Records)

With Gene Ammons

Soul Summit Vol. 2 (Prestige, 1961 [1962])
Late Hour Special (Prestige, 1961 [1964])
Velvet Soul (Prestige, 1961 [1964])
With Count Basie

Afrique (Flying Dutchman, 1970)
With Mel Brown

Chicken Fat (Impulse!, 1967)
With Ray Brown and Milt Jackson

Ray Brown / Milt Jackson (Verve, 1965)
With Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis

Trane Whistle (Prestige, 1960)
With Art Farmer

Listen to Art Farmer and the Orchestra (Mercury, 1962)
With Jimmy Forrest

Soul Street (New Jazz, 1962)
With Etta Jones

From the Heart (Prestige, 1962)
With Ramsey Lewis

Country Meets the Blues (Argo, 1962)
With Carmen McRae

Portrait of Carmen (Atlantic, 1967)
With Shirley Scott

For Members Only (Impulse!, 1963)
Great Scott!! (Impulse!, 1964)
Roll 'Em: Shirley Scott Plays the Big Bands (Impulse!, 1966)
With Jimmy Smith

Bashin': The Unpredictable Jimmy Smith (Verve, 1962)
Hobo Flats (Verve, 1963)
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Verve, 1964)
Monster (Verve, 1965)
Peter and the Wolf (Verve, 1966)
Jimmy & Wes: The Dynamic Duo (Verve, 1966) - with Wes Montgomery
With Wes Montgomery

Goin' Out of My Head (Verve, 1965)
With Billy Taylor

Right Here, Right Now! (Capitol Records, 1963)
With Frank Wess

Southern Comfort (Prestige, 1962)
As sideman[edit]
This section requires expansion. (March 2011)
With Manny Albam

Jazz Goes to the Movies (Impulse!, 1962)
With Mundell Lowe

Satan in High Heels (soundtrack) (Charlie Parker, 1961)
With Etta Jones

Something Nice (Prestige, 1960 [1961])
Hollar! (Prestige, 1960 [1963])
With Quincy Jones

The Quintessence (Impulse!, 1961)
With Johnny "Hammond" Smith

Talk That Talk (New Jazz, 1960)
^ Allmusic
^ a b Johnson Publishing Company (November 1968). Ebony. Johnson Publishing Company. pp. 118–. ISSN 00129011. Retrieved 6 November 2012.
External links[edit]
Oliver Nelson — AllMusic biography by Scott Yanow
Oliver Nelson — brief introduction from the Jazz Files
Oliver Nelson — introduction from Impulse! Records
Oliver Nelson: A Discography — Douglas Payne's site, including discographies of Nelson's work in different genres, reviews, etc.
Oliver Nelson Published Big Band Arrangements and Compositions

Wednesday, June 4, 2014



(Originally posted on June 5, 2013):

Wednesday, June 5, 2013
(B. JUNE 4, 1945)

"Going Outside the Categories That Are Assigned To Me": The Profound & Visionary Life, Art, and Work of Anthony Braxton (b. 1945)-- Musician, Composer, Philosopher, Teacher, Artist, and Public Intellectual

"I am viewed as the Negro who has gone outside of the categories assigned to me."
--Anthony Braxton

"I am interested in the study of music and the discipline of music and the experience of music and music as an esoteric mechanism to continue my real intentions."
--Anthony Braxton

"I'm seeking to have an art that is engaged as a way for saying, 'Hurray for unity'."
--Anthony Braxton

“For me the most basic assumption that dictated my early attempts to respond to creative music commentary was the mistaken belief that western journalists had some fundamental understanding of black creativity—or even western creativity—but this assumption was seriously in error.”
― Anthony Braxton, The Tri-Axium Writings

"I know I’m an African-American, and I know I play the saxophone, but I’m not a jazz musician. I’m not a classical musician, either. My music is like my life: It’s in between these areas."
--Anthony Braxton

"All great artists are beyond category"
--Duke Ellington


The aesthetic, social, and cultural history of music generally over the past century in the (so-called) 'Western world' not only represents an enormously complex, complicated, and contentious creativity and innovation but is rooted in and deeply dependent upon a vast array of generic and idiosyncratic styles, traditions, genres, idioms, methodologies, and expressive identities. These structural, spiritual, and analytical modes of music making encompass a very broad and expansive territory of human concerns, issues, and expectations within the larger society, as well as profound individual emotional and psychological needs and desires that are simultaneously embodied and represented by these (creative) musical acts in public concert and collaboration with others (both like-minded and opposed). These conscious and subconscious attempts to engage, enhance, critique, celebrate, and transform society and culture via the immense environmental forcefield and sustained focused power of sonic intervention and expression in all of its many permutations and elliptical methods (whether they be encrypted or encoded in the formal "traditional/conventional" vocabularies and systems of melody, harmony, and rhythm or via other paths of producing and reproducing sound constructs), constitute what is "meant" by the term "music" in our time (zone).

Thus the 'classical' and 'popular music' traditions, styles, conceptions and forms of composition and improvisation (be they described/defined by the imposed advertising and thus commercial labels of "Jazz", "blues", rhythm and blues", "pop", "gospel", "funk", "hiphop" etc. et al) have served as a largely deceptive yet accepted means of identifying and classifying what sound formations can and "should be" used to convey these powerful sonic messages within the institutional structures and strictures established by the self appointed arbiters of musical taste and consumption. However there has always been throughout this highly volatile, contradictory, and conflicted history a significant number of sonic pioneers, adventurers, and creative activists who have openly challenged this status quo and have educated us all to the power, beauty, and necessity of asserting alternative notions of what we can and choose to do with our collective (and individual) sonic legacies and inheritances. No matter what specific or general "fields" these 'planters of sound' happen to harvest we not only know their names (they are indeed legion!) but we absorb, inhabit, embrace, and greatly benefit from their creative and visceral gifts embodied in the art and science of their sound. In the U.S. and beyond they have come from every cultural, "ethnic", spiritual. and gender enclave on earth and have been instrumental (get it?) in openly confronting and transforming our very lives. Many sterling examples abound: Armstrong, Ellington, Coleman, Ives, Stockhausen, Henderson, Morton, Schoenberg, Monk, Glass, Stravinsky, Stitt, Gordon, Silver, Washington, Holiday, Basie, Sinatra, Hendrix, Parker, Sun Ra, Fitzgerald, Vaughan, Carter (Elliot, Benny, and Betty), Franklin, Mayfield, Marley, Fela, Jackson (Mahalia and Michael), Partch, Varese, Gershwin, Hindemith, Bartok, Dylan, Wilson, Cowell, Prince, Berry, Davis, Coltrane, Powell, Rollins, Blakey, Shorter, Tatum, Webern, Copland, Hancock, Williams, Stone, Webster, Young, Robeson, Gaye, Wonder, Taylor, Robinson, Warwick, Johnson, Bacharach, Wolf, Hooker, Hopkins, Waters, James (Elmore and Etta), Khan, Mitchell (Blue and Roscoe), Smith, Abrams, Ayler, Mingus, Dolphy, Gillespie, Xenakis, Cage, Kirk, Brown (James and Clifford), Shepp, Roach, Lincoln, etc. et al...

Thus it is no surprise that one of the major names in this grand pantheon (and has been now for nearly 50 years!) is Mr. Anthony Braxton who tirelessly works and creates within an immense omniverse of influences, inheritances, and legacies culled from a colossal living archive of sound in all its many dimensions and in all the worlds he and we inhabit and live in. We owe Anthony and his many legendary forebears, contemporaries, colleagues, and peers a very deep and lasting debt that can only truly be repaid by listening...Happy birthday Mr. Braxton and to the rest of us: ENJOY...



Braxton is recognized as one of the most important musicians, educators, and creative thinkers of the past 50 years, highly esteemed in the creative music community for the revolutionary quality of his work and for the mentorship and inspiration he has provided to generations of younger musicians. Drawing upon a disparate mix of influences from John Coltrane to Karlheinz Stockhausen to Native American music, Braxton has created a unique musical system that celebrates the concept of global creativity and our shared humanity. His work examines core principles of improvisation, structural navigation and ritual engagement—innovation, spirituality and intellectual investigation. His many accolades include a 1981 Guggenhiem Fellowship, a 1994 MacArthur Fellowship, a 2013 Doris Duke Performing Artist Award and a 2014 NEA Jazz Master Award.

Tri-Centric Foundation

The Tri-Centric Foundation is a not-for-profit organization that supports the ongoing work and legacy of Anthony Braxton while also cultivating and inspiring the next generation of creative artists to pursue their own visions with the kind of idealism and integrity Braxton has demonstrated throughout his distinguished career.

The term “Tri-Centric” derives from Braxton’s three-volume collection of philosophical investigations, The Tri-Axium Writings. Braxton believes creative thinking cannot be reduced to dichotomies, but must embrace multiple perspectives. For instance, music is not only composed or improvised, but also includes intuition. We must not only consider the past and the present, but also the future. It is not always this or that, it is often the other.

Tri-Centric exists to vigorously advocate for the crucial role risk-taking art plays in maintaining the health and vibrancy of our culture. Through a commitment to innovation, self-sufficiency, and artistic ambition, the organization looks to create a new model of artist empowerment and offer a supportive community to those in pursuit of “trans-idiomatic” creativity.
Board & Staff

Artistic Director:  Anthony Braxton (Middletown, CT)
Executive Director:  Taylor Ho Bynum (New Haven, CT)

Chris Jonas (Santa Fe, NM), president
James Fei (Oakland, CA), vice president
Jon Piper (Chicago, IL), secretary
Jean Cook (Brooklyn, NY), treasurer

Hugo De Craen (Antwerp, Belgium)
Jason Guthartz (Chicago, IL)
Chris McIntyre (Brooklyn, NY)
Nicole Mitchell (Chicago, IL)
Jonathan Piper (Chicago, IL)
Carl Testa (New Haven, CT)

Kyoko Kitamura (Brooklyn, NY), Director of Communications
Amy Crawford (Brooklyn, NY), Administration
Ben Heller (New Haven, CT), Web Design



While doing personal research on this extensive tribute and retrospective in honor of Anthony Braxton's 68th birthday on June 4 I ran across this very good news item (see below). So hearty congratulations are due Brother Braxton who is not only an outstanding multi-instrumentalist, musician and composer but a very fine person as well. For once the well worn accolade/cliche "it couldn't happen to a nicer or more deserving guy" actually applies in a number of different ways. To say I'm sincerely happy for him and all that he has thus far accomplished in an extraordinary career and life would be an understatement. Well done Anthony...


The Tri-Centric Foundation is a not-for-profit organization that supports the ongoing work and legacy of Anthony Braxton, while also cultivating and inspiring the next generation of creative artists to pursue their own visions with the kind of idealism and integrity Braxton has demonstrated throughout his long and distinguished career.


Wesleyan University’s Anthony Braxton Wins $225,000 Doris Duke Artist Award

Filed in Honors and Awards on May 17, 2013

Anthony Braxton, the John Spencer Camp Professor of Music at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, received a 2013 Doris Duke Artist Award. The award program, established in 2011, supports performing artists in contemporary dance, theatre, jazz, and related interdisciplinary work. The award comes with a $225,000 honorarium.

Professor Braxton is a composer, saxophonist, and educator. He won a MacArthur Foundation genius award in 1994. During his long career, he has released more than 100 albums.


This is a great piece about "Jazz"/Jazz if only because it actually forces the reader to THINK for a change and to REFLECT about what the music is, has been, and could be--a process known historically as "listening to the music" ...Just like Anthony Braxton (and every other great and innovative musician IN the "Jazz"/Jazz tradition) ya really gotta love that truly creative impulse in ALL of its (multi)dimensions (in another parallel context the legendary Amiri Baraka identified it as "the Changing Same")... WORD!


Braxton & Jazz: IN the Tradition
by Kevin Whitehead

[Lightly adapted from a talk given at Wesleyan University, 16 September 2005, as part of “Anthony Braxton at 60: A Celebration”]

Today I want to talk about Anthony Braxton’s relationship to the jazz tradition, a loaded topic which calls for a few disclaimers up front.

The “Braxton at 60” concert series, concentrating on his compositional output, makes it clear his interests stretch well beyond jazz, which barely figures in the programming. As Braxton once said to Steve Lake, “Jazz is only a very small part of what I do.” He prefers his music to be looked at in totality, and not separated into discrete genres.

By talking about him in a jazz context I don’t seek to discount or ignore his activities in other musical areas, or reduce him to a jazz musician only. I accept Ronald Radano’s view that Braxton has developed his music along twin paths as a jazz-oriented improviser and experimental composer, two areas that frequently overlap. Musical genres are convenient handles for talking about tendencies, but to think any music must conform to a single clear-cut category is to confuse the handle for the suitcase. As Braxton would say, don’t confuse the “isms” for the “is.”

As some jazz watchdogs have given him a frosty reception at times, let’s start by reviewing the cases of other musicians who’ve found themselves in similar predicaments, starting in 1943. Duke Ellington had premiered his suite Black, Brown and Beige on a program at Carnegie Hall, and critic John Hammond slammed the concert in the pages of Jazz magazine. A compressed version of his comments: “During the last 10 years [Duke] has... introduced complex harmonies solely for effect and has experimented with material farther and farther away from dance music. … But the more complicated his music becomes the less feeling his soloists are able to impart to their work. … It was unfortunate that Duke saw fit to tamper with the blues form in order to produce music of greater significance. By becoming more complex he has robbed jazz of most of its basic virtue and lost contact with his audience.”

Now, it’s a bit shocking that John Hammond couldn’t hear any blues content in Black, Brown and Beige, but he wasn’t the only one to have difficulty with Ellington’s suites. Few commentators perceived any cohesion in them, and the jazz literature had to wait 30 years for Brian Priestley and Alan Cohen’s analysis of BBB which highlighted its thematic unity on several levels. (You can find their article, and Hammond’s review, in the Duke Ellington Reader, edited by Mark Tucker, an excellent sourcebook on Ellington’s expansive art and its problematic reception. By the way that anthology also makes it clear that Duke had his critical supporters from the beginning. The myth of critics always missing the point needs deflating, but not here today.)

Ellington’s response to such criticism typically took one of two forms. The first was to sidestep the whole issue by taking jazz out of the equation: as in his famous retort, “There are only two kinds of music, good and the other kind.” Or, “I don’t write jazz, I write Negro folk music,” which is not much of an evasion.

His other response was to argue for a broader view of jazz than his critics applied. In a 1947 interview found in the Reader, Ellington calls jazz “The freest musical expression we have yet seen. To me, then, jazz means simply freedom of musical speech! And it is precisely because of this freedom that so many varied forms of jazz exist. The important thing to remember, however, is that not one of these forms represents jazz by itself. Jazz simply means the freedom to have many forms.”

This was a more constructive rejoinder, I’d argue, if only because Duke’s frequent appearances at jazz festivals and album titles like Jazz Party in Stereo make it clear he never really broke with jazz. Indeed a key part of his musical mission was to expand the resources available to jazz improvisers, and to composers seeking to harness their energy.

The jazz-watchdog files also contain cases where musicians who made a reputation in jazz are criticized just for playing other kinds of music. The way Herbie Hancock’s ‘70s funk was assailed by jazz fans as treasonous is a good example. As I’ve said before, for some folks jazz is like the mafia: once you’re in there’s no getting out, and don’t ever go against the family – as if jazz existed to restrict rather than expand a musician’s creative options.

In extreme cases, the minders of jazz purity may simply cancel the offending musician’s jazz credentials. (We’ll get back to this.) In this regard there are striking parallels between the Dixieland revival of the 1940s and the rise of neo-bop neo-conservative musicians in the 1980s. In both cases, recent developments in the music were discounted as outside the scope of the Real and True Jazz, and said musicians went back 15 or 20 years in search of appropriate stylistic models – even if ‘40s Dixieland doesn’t sound much like King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, and Wynton Marsalis’ fine early quintet with its pre-plotted rhythmic change-ups misses the daring of the spontaneously mutating arrangements of Miles Davis’s mid-‘60s quintet.

Faced with charges of stylistic illegitimacy, some musicians retreat from the battle, just to avoid a fight. Charlie Parker told Down Beat in 1949 that “‘bop is something totally separate and apart’ from the older tradition.” Which is a funny comment from a guy who liked to quote the classic “High Society” clarinet solo all the old New Orleans players knew.


Anyone who’s followed Braxton’s reception in jazz will recognize the thumping parallels laid out here: a broad-ranging and ambitious musician is accused of being unfaithful to jazz principles or his African-American roots.

But in Braxton’s case there’s a new wrinkle. Here we have the singular case of a musician widely perceived as a driving force behind jazz in the 1970s, recognized as a leader in every sense, who a decade or so later was branded a heretic, without having changed the basic thrust of his music in the meantime. It’s a case of moving the goal posts after the receiver has spiked the ball.

As Braxton told me in 1993, and has told many others in similar terms, “I’m not a jazz musician. I could not have done my work without the great continuum of trans-African music, the restructural music, all the way up to Ornette Coleman.” But: “By 1979, or even before, I started to move away from that term, when I began to understand that they were redefining the music in a way that would not include me. So I accepted it, because I was tired of the controversy. I only wanted the right to do my music.”

Fair enough. But today I want to reintegrate Braxton into the jazz continuum. I mean, I’m a jazz person, and I want him for us. Why not? He still plays jazz when he wants to, and jazz has been enriched and influenced by his contributions, so it’s a no-brainer.

Jazz is after all a good fit for his musical appetites, for instance a strong desire to improvise with others. It’s part of what he sees as music’s function, to bring people together in a socially positive context.

Braxton is a superb free improviser, thanks in part to his ability to remember what his collaborators play and to develop it as thematic material. (Listen to his duets with German pianist Georg Graewe – Duo Amsterdam ‘91 on Okkadisk – to hear him with another musician who can play that game.) Still, Braxton’s drawn less to unstructured play than to the idea of “navigating through form,” mostly cyclical forms of his own devising. And jazz is a perfect vehicle for mediating between the impulse to improvise and to compose, on cyclical frameworks. And given that Braxton is an African-American from the south side of Chicago, where jazz musicians were handy role models for creative youngsters, you can understand the attraction.

One obvious point of departure is the album of jazz standards In the Tradition, recorded for SteepleChase in 1974 when Braxton was hastily recruited to replace Dexter Gordon on a quartet date with Gordon’s swinging rhythm section with Tete Montoliu, NHØP and Tootie Heath. It was Braxton’s decision to play standards for ease of communication – a strange thing, back then, for a musician who already had a rep for being the outest of the outcats (although he’d recorded a couple of standards already). Braxton showed it was possible to honor bebop phraseology while approaching it from a direction you didn’t expect – for example wailing (and swinging) through the Charlie Parker vehicle “Ornithology” on contrabass clarinet.

One important aspect of Braxton’s personality and musical persona is, he’s a very funny guy. His pieces, and his use of extremely low and high-pitched instruments often carry a whiff of breezy jocularity that’s easy to overlook in serious discussions of his music. (And of course that jocularity is something he shares with such American masters as Armstrong, Fats Waller and Dizzy Gillespie.)

Anyway, the album In the Tradition was a pacesetter. Its title became a catchphrase for experimental improvisers honoring and testing themselves on classic jazz material; Arthur Blythe made one such record that even had the same name. And Braxton himself has returned to standards programs often since then, including programs targeting specific composers like Monk and Andrew Hill.

“Ornithology” is credited to Bird on the LP sleeve; it’s more often credited to trumpeter Benny Harris. So like Miles Davis’s “Donna Lee” it’s one of those typical Parker tunes attributed to someone else – that is to say, built around Parker’s language as an improviser. For Bird, as for Monk, or Steve Lacy, the composition and the improvisation should make a tightly integrated package – you don’t just play the tune and ignore it when you solo over the chords. Or to put it another way, new sorts of written lines will inspire improvised responses that address those written heads on their own terms.

And Braxton has always been interested in material that spurs improvisers into new ways to be creative, and integrate the composed and improvised. You can look in vain in his five books of Composition Notes published in the late 1980s for any mention of a tune’s chord changes – the usual means of organizing improvisation on a jazz theme. Generalizing about his composing is tricky, given the hundreds of pieces he’s written, but it’s safe to say Braxton’s pieces for improvisers focus more on the shape of the line than an underlying harmonic scheme.


When commentators reach for adjectives to describe Braxton’s music, the first word that comes up is “angular,” that is to say, sharp-angled, that is to say, often characterized by quick sequences of wide intervals. A classic example is “Composition 6F” (aka “73 degrees A Kelvin”) recorded a couple of times with the Braxton/Corea/Holland/Altschul quartet Circle in 1970. As Braxton’s detractors have helpfully pointed out, this approach parallels certain tendencies in 20th century composed music; one might hear kinship with, say, the short last movement of the Webern “Concerto for Nine Instruments (Opus 24)” from 1934.

But “Composition 6F” doesn’t really sound like that, and the ear tells you why immediately. Even when Webern adopts a peppy Stravinskyian beat, there’s none of the propulsive rhythmic energy and focus that are at the root of Braxton’s piece. Indeed, as Braxton says in the Composition Notes, the akilter rhythm pattern is what really matters, not the melodic contour; he even proposed a revised version of the score that would specify the rhythms but not the pitches. And the specific function of that written line is to put the players into a unique vibrational space for improvising – in the same rhythmic zone as the composed line.

“Composition 6F” was the first piece in his Kelvin series of repetitive music structures one might roughly characterize as minimalist – minimalism being a style of composed music whose influence in jazz has been far greater than is generally acknowledged. (There’s a good doctoral thesis in that for someone.) But the particular sort of momentum “6F” has – a saw tooth rhythm, with a few quick sextuplets or other ‘tuplets thrown in to push things off kilter for a second – is typical of many Braxton pieces, including far more recent ones in the Ghost Trance sequence, like “Composition 245” as heard on Delmark’s Four Compositions (GTM) 2000.

A certain kind of hectic momentum is a major part of Braxton’s esthetic, and one not necessarily incompatible with swing. Take for example 1975’s “Composition 52,” as played by a Braxton quartet with Anthony Davis, Mark Helias and Edward Blackwell on Six Compositions Quartet (1982) (Antilles). One thing I particularly like about that record is that there are pieces like “52” where Davis on piano is clearly playing on chord changes, at least sometimes. Until I started working on this talk I underestimated the attraction of playing on chords to Braxton, and indeed one of the notable things about his many standards programs is how gleefully he enters into that particular game.

In “Composition 52,” we may note in his improvising the serrated rhythms and angles, and some of regular syncopations of ragtime amid the ‘tuplety subdivisions of the ground beat. That’s typical Braxton, and there’s no mistaking its rhythmic sophistication or drive. That he values momentum may be inferred from a few of the master drummers he’s employed or recorded with, including Blackwell, Heath, Steve McCall, Philly Joe Jones, Max Roach, and Victor Lewis.

When even non-wind players enter the realm of pieces like “Composition 6F” and “52,” they are apt to favor breath-like phrasing. The robotic music comes alive, which of course is the point: improvisation breathes life into formal structures. And jazz from early on has sought increasingly challenging material to test and inspire the improviser – even if it means breaking with long-established practice. (Not for nothing does Braxton cite Ornette Coleman’s example.) Braxton’s lines all but preclude a solo made of old-school licks learned at Berklee.

And his innovations go way beyond the shape or rhythm of a line. Some of his pieces call for musicians to isolate certain registers, or specific attacks or strategies at different times. Even when he uses familiar devices, he flips them on their backs or sides. A piece may emulate bop phrasing or celebrate Count Basie or evoke the good feeling he got as a kid spying his father at a Chicago street parade in the middle of a work-school day. But the source material is always transformed – as with Ellington, come to think of it. Like Duke he paints a picture of the community in action: an ideal community with room and tolerance for collective and individual initiatives.

In the Composition Notes, Braxton lays out unconventional strategies for improvisation built into many pieces: a call for drummer and bassist to play opposing rhythms, or for a soloist to play in deliberate opposition to the ensemble – encouraging you to hear the music in several layers or dimensions at once: the Charles Ives principle, as I hope it’s known in Connecticut. Even in solo saxophone pieces he’ll create the illusion of spatial distance, juxtaposing very loud and very soft passages, as if coming from different points in space: a self-contained call-and-response sequence. Or he’ll ask a soloist to improvise up to a written theme rather than away from it – so the composition seems to flower from the improvising, rather like the way Charlie Parker’s tunes sound like they began as improvisations on familiar chords. (“Ornithology” takes off from a line Bird played with Jay McShann.)

In time Braxton’s regular collaborators internalized such procedures and could apply them to any material in the band’s book. One reason why many of us cherish his 1986-1994 quartet – the one with Marilyn Crispell, Mark Dresser and Gerry Hemingway – was that they really knew the rules of the game.

Incidentally around the same time, a similar process was going on independently in Holland, with Misha Mengelberg and ICP. The musicians would take procedures Misha instructed them to use on certain pieces, and then apply them on their own initiative in any appropriate spot. The whole band would then pick up on that, so the boss’s esthetic becomes a self-sustaining musical system – a perpetuum mobile. ICP really perfected this in the 1980s, but Braxton was already working toward and through such ideas in the ‘70s.


Not long after making In the Tradition Braxton signed with Arista records, a major major label at the time, for whom he made a series of nine high-profile albums, which include memorable time studies for quartets; “Composition 58,” a big band march that sounds like John Phillip Sousa having a breakdown over a skipping record which remains one of Braxton’s best-loved compositions; an even better march for quartet with George Lewis on trombone (“6C,” recorded live in Berlin in 1976); a duet with Muhal Richard Abrams on Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag”; a saxophone quartet for which Braxton kindly brought together three-quarters of what would soon be the World Saxophone Quartet, who never remembered to thank him for it. He also got to record “Composition 82” for four orchestras, and “95” for two pianos, so he didn’t only get to document only the jazzy stuff.

In the 1970s Braxton was also on the road a lot, playing festivals, and getting his live music documented. Beginning with his late-‘70s concert recordings you can hear his genius for assembling a set of music, using the various collage structures and multi-dimensional opposition strategies just mentioned. Say what you will about Braxton’s swing micro-timing, he’s a master of macro-timing. The way a good drummer makes a single bar swing with internal surges and hesitations, Braxton can make the overarching structure of a whole set swing like that one bar. And on the micro-level, the various layers of activity from moment to moment provide a vibrant listening experience that little in jazz can equal. With his Crispell/Dresser/Hemingway quartet in particular, he got into complex layering of independently written pieces that fit together as aspects of one giant mega-composition, analogous perhaps to the way the seemingly disparate parts of Ellington’s suites fit together.

The composer has stressed how the multiple levels on which these performances work can help us deal with modern life in which we’re bombarded by more and more sensory input. To be able to follow a quartet performance where, say, the pianist is playing a totally notated composition, the saxophonist is improvising a solo line, perhaps off another tune, and the bass player and drummer are playing two different “pulse tracks” – dynamic, syncopated rhythmic patterns – to be able to follow that is not so different from listening to your iPod while flipping through the cable channels as you check your email while waiting for your phone to ring.

In Braxton’s (or Mengelberg’s) collage structures and constellations of events and mutable forms, one may recognize certain ideas creeping in from the classical avant-garde of the ‘50s and ‘60s, the whole big Earle Brown to Stockhausen mix. But then it’s only natural that Braxton’s varied musical influences and tastes infiltrate each other. By the late 1960s, he was already melding separate musical disciplines in open soundscapes. As Braxton points out, we all have cosmopolitan backgrounds, and are under the sway of many influences from diverse cultures, which open up new ranges of possibilities – which is where he runs into 1943 John Hammond-type objections from certain listeners, for opening up the possibilities too much.

I speak mainly of Wynton Marsalis and his allies Stanley Crouch and Tom Piazza – not so many people, really, although they’ve certainly been diligent about trashing Braxton over the years.

You can understand the predicament Braxton’s music created for educated young musicians who’d polished the whole jazz school bop-to-Brecker skill set till it shone like the good silverware. Braxton was raising a whole other set of options that required a very different conceptual toolbox. That was bound to make people uncomfortable. I don’t think that’s grounds to vilify a musician who never sought to do anyone any harm, but if you were looking to hype a derivative composer like Wynton as modern jazz’s big thinker, you may find it necessary to brush back the competition.

So, as mentioned earlier, they raised what amounts to the old Dixieland argument against bebop: these strange new procedures are not what real jazz is about. But this position rests on an absurd premise: that jazz should be kept pure, when it had evolved and taken shape as a mutt form.

Starting around 1900 the music’s creators applied the improvisational impulse to any material within earshot: hymns, street cries, field hollers, march and social dance and blues forms, the classical themes that ragtime and jazz pianists would extemporize on, barnyard animal impressions, handclap patterns harking back to West African polyrhythms, Islamic isorhythms, modified Congolese beats arriving via Cuba – and myriad echoes of Sousa-type concert bands, with their a cappella breaks and virtuoso solos in contrasting hot and sweet styles, and said solos’ operatic high-note endings. Also the syncopated songs of Tin Pan Alley which often embedded quotes from other tunes, the exquisite vocal timing of black vaudeville comic Bert Williams, the rhythms of trains and the sounds of new technology.

Think of Jelly Roll Morton’s car horns on “Sidewalk Blues,” Armstrong faking the sound of a skipping record on “I’m Not Rough,” and the nasal speech-like brass solos on Ellington’s early classics, resembling a remote voice heard over a telephone. Braxtonian multi-dimensionalism was already part of the music by 1926 and ‘7.

That’s why I call jazz a mutt. The hound can really run, but no amount of wishful thinking or ethnic cleansing can transform a mutt into a pure breed. To suggest that jazz, to honor its heritage, limit itself to only certain specific episodes from its own past is absurd – like asking a jury to disregard a witness’s earlier remark. As Braxton put it in 2001: “Every music is still relevant – whatever the projection.”

No one has to tell Braxton about the richness of the jazz tradition – he teaches it at Wesleyan. His eight CDs of standard tunes for quartet, recorded in 2003 and released in two boxes on Leo, demonstrate his broad tastes in jazz material: tunes from the 1920s, bossa novas, and pieces by Cole Porter, Wayne Shorter, Monk, Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Eddie Harris – and the unfashionable Dave Brubeck, whom Braxton has long championed, a musician whose endearingly clunky timing turns some jazz fans off.

Every Braxtonian has heard the objection that he’s not the swingingest jazz musician, and I’ll concede as much. But if someone else swinging harder than you cancels your jazz credentials, there’d only be one jazz musician left: Billy Higgins? Jelly Roll Morton may not have been the swingingest cat of the 1920s, but we recognize him as a jazz master for his restructuralist tendencies. His Red Hot Peppers records of 1926 had the conceptual daring to reformulate much of what jazz was and had been constructed from, adding lowbrow humor and the sounds of the modern city.

Braxton’s compositional language began with his saxophone language, in which I’ve always heard the sharp-angled, against-the-grain improvising of Eric Dolphy, who recorded a few solo pieces in that time before Braxton made solo recitals fashionable. The leaps that bookend Dolphy’s 1963 solo take on Victor Young’s “Love Me” make the parallel explicit.

Anyone who, say, attended last night’s solo concert knows Braxton can play the heck out of the saxophone. To quote from something I wrote last year, “Like all great jazz musicians he understands that timing, timbre and note-choices are intimately connected: how slowing the rhythm ever so slightly, sputtering that note, and placing it just off center pitch, all work to give it triple impact. His tone may be aggressive or growling one moment, parched or disarmingly vulnerable the next.”

“He may stomp on the offbeat like a ragtime pianist. Sometimes his line will attack the rhythm head-on; sometimes it’ll slide backwards over the pulse, moon-walking on ice; sometimes he’ll divide a fast phrase into complex groupings ... or speed up in the middle of an already speedy phrase.” His accentual patterns are more complex than the alternating strong-weak strong-weak accents of your average sure-fire swinger.

The jittery nature of his improvising is one thing that bugs folks who like their swing nice and round all the time, but that’s no reason to ignore everything else going on, in terms of thinking on one’s feet, and improvising complex phrases while honoring the tune – all that good stuff his detractors claim to be for. The idea that jazz’s rhythmic development is already complete, and 4/4 swing is the only way to fly is ridiculous: how can the development of a living music ever be finished?

Braxton’s influence as a saxophonist since the 1970s has been much greater than the jazz folks give credit for. I was going to compile a list of saxophonists who bear his influence, but let me just mention one: in Greg Osby’s up and down beat-parsing and shifting accents, one can hear a lot of Braxton creeping through. (That’s true of Osby’s old ally Steve Coleman too.) The connection to the ‘80s M-BASE saxophonists is particularly interesting because Osby hears how those accentual patterns relate to hip-hop. (You can hear all this come together in his “Concepticus in C” from Zone.) But then jazz usually comes to grips with pop music of its time, one way or another.

You could even talk about a Dolphy-Braxton-Osby rhythmic continuum, if you like – Greg’s low opinion of Dolphy notwithstanding. Osby’s style is on one level a more limber version of the master’s angularity.

So anyway, I say, as long as Braxton has done so much to add new tools to the improviser’s and bandleader’s arsenal, since he’s such a keen student of the music and such a striking horn player, since he’s a fundamental influence on many of today’s players (not least his many successful former students from Mills and Wesleyan), let’s make it official and reaffirm his connection to the jazz fold he never really left – even as he remains free to operate outside of jazz.

There’s another reason for that reaffirmation, which we writers don’t talk about enough. The jazz wars of the early ‘90s, where the gatekeepers decided to purge Braxton from the ranks? Those guys lost that war. At Lincoln Center, they finally let in Misha Mengelberg and recently paid tribute to ‘60s Coltrane, if not Anthony Braxton. And many of the so-called young lions who were assumed to share Marsalis’ outlook have shown that their interests are considerably more broad – look, for example, to funk records by Roy Hargrove or Terence Blanchard or Branford Marsalis, or Christian McBride’s salute to Steely Dan. It sometimes appears the only jazz musicians who haven’t flirted with funk are Wynton Marsalis and Anthony Braxton.

Turning back the clock is always a loser’s game, except at the end of daylight savings. That’s how the jazz wars played out in the ‘40s, and in the ‘90s. The music will keep changing as long as it’s alive; and in the last 35 or 40 years no one has pumped more oxygen into jazz than Braxton. For that, jazz might be a little more grateful.

Nobody can really speak for jazz, but as long as some people make the attempt, and since I have the podium, Anthony Braxton, jazz welcomes you back. Like you never even left. Even if you reject it, you can’t change that. Mr. Braxton: Thank you for your music sir.

© Kevin Whitehead 2011


Anthony Braxton was born in Chicago (Illinois) on 4 June 1945.

An American composer as well as well as a highly versatile musician who plays various saxophones, clarinet, flute and piano he has created a large body of highly complex work.

While not known by the general public, Braxton is one of the most prolific American musicians/composers to date, having released well over 100 albums of his works since the 1960s.
Among the vast array of instruments he utilizes are the flute; the sopranino, soprano, C-Melody, F alto, E-flat alto, baritone, bass, and contrabass saxophones; and the E-flat, B-flat, and contrabass clarinets.

Braxton studied at the Chicago School of Music and at Roosevelt University. At Wilson Junior College, he met Roscoe Mitchell and Jack DeJohnette.

After a stint in the army, Braxton joined the AACM.

After moving to Paris with the Anthony Braxton Trio (which evolved into the Creative Construction Company), he returned to the US, where he stayed at Ornette Coleman's house, gave up music, and worked as a chess hustler in the city's Washington Square Park.

In 1970, he and Chick Corea studied scores by Stockhausen, Boulez, Xenakis and Schoenberg together, and Braxton joined Corea's Circle.

In 1972, he made his bandleader debut (leading duos, trios, and quintets) and played solo at Carnegie Hall.
In the early 1970s, he worked with the "Musica Elettronica Viva", which performed contemporary classical and improvised music.

In 1974, he signed a recording contract with Arista Records.
One of the first black abstract musicians to acknowledge a debt to contemporary European art music, Braxton is known as much as a composer as an improviser. The output ranges from solo pieces to For Four Orchestras, a work work that has been described as "a colossal work, longer than any of Gustav Mahler's symphonies and larger in instrumentation than most of Richard Wagner's operas."

His 1968 solo alto saxophone double LP For Alto (finally released in 1971) remains a jazz landmark, for its encouragement of solo instrumental recordings. Other important recordings include Three Compositions of New Jazz (1968, Delmark), his 1970s releases on Arista, Composition No. 96 (1981; Leo), Quartet (London) 1985; Quartet (Birmingham) 1985; Quartet (Coventry) 1985 (all on Leo), Seven Compositions (Trio) 1989 (hat Art), Duo (London) 1993 & Trio (London), both on the Leo record label.

Critic Chris Kelsey writes that "Although Braxton exhibited a genuine if highly idiosyncratic ability to play older forms (influenced especially by saxophonists Warne Marsh, John Coltrane, Paul Desmond, and Eric Dolphy), he was never really accepted by the jazz establishment, due to his manifest infatuation with the practices of such non-jazz artists as John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen".

The timing of this crowning achievement couldn't be better for Braxton's most recent professional goals: he is the founding Artistic Director of the newly incorporated Tri-Centric Foundation, Inc., a New York-based not-for-profit corporation including an ensemble of some 38 musicians, four to eight vocalists, and computer-graphic video artists assembled to perform his compositions.

The ensemble's debut at New York's The Kitchen sold out the last and most of the first two of three nights, through the press excitement it generated; the reviews--in Down Beat and the Chicago Tribune (John Corbett), the Village Voice (Kevin Whitehead), and the New York Times (Jon Pareles)--ranged from positive to ecstatic.

Most importantly, the musical success of the event inspired Braxton to pursue the “three-day and -night” program concept for this ensemble, including lectures/informances, and splinter chamber performances, around the world.
The second New York event, indeed, expanded on the concept: The Knitting Factory presented six nights of Anthony Braxton and his music, in all the variety of its vision. The first night showcased the composer's solo alto saxophone playing; the second his treatments of jazz-traditional material, both as reeds player and pianist; the third, his music for solo piano, and for synthesizer and acoustic sextet; the fourth showcased his new “Ghost Trance” music for small-to-medium groups; and the fifth and sixth his large-ensemble music, including Composition 102, with giant puppets. As with The Kitchen, all six nights included a full house and enthusiastic response.

This successful first season paid off: the second season has been virtually paid for by grants from the Mary Flagler Carey Charitable Trust and the Rockefeller Foundation in New York City. It will feature the world premiere of the four-hour opera Trillium R at the John Jay Theater in New York, and the theatrical Composition 173 (for actors, improvisers, and ensemble) in collaboration with New York's Living Theater members, at The Kitchen.

Anthony Braxton is widely and critically acclaimed as a seminal figure in the music of the late 20th century. His work, both as a saxophonist and a composer, has broken new conceptual and technical ground in the trans-African and trans-European (a.k.a. “jazz” and “American Experimental”) musical traditions in North America as defined by master improvisers such as Warne Marsh, John Coltrane, Paul Desmond, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, and he and his own peers in the historic Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM, founded in Chicago in the late '60s); and by composers such as Charles Ives, Harry Partch, and John Cage.

He has further worked his own extensions of instrumental technique, timbre, meter and rhythm, voicing and ensemble make-up, harmony and melody, and improvisation and notation into a personal synthesis of those traditions with 20th-century European art music as defined by Schoenberg, Stockhausen, Xenakis, Varese and others.

Braxton's three decades worth of recorded output is kaleidescopic and prolific, and has won and continues to win prestigious awards and critical praise. Books, anthology chapters, scholarly studies, reviews and interviews and other media and academic attention to him and his work have also accumulated steadily and increasingly throughout those years, and continue to do so. His own self-published writings about the musical traditions from which he works and their historical and cultural contexts (Tri-Axium Writings 1-3) and his five-volume Composition Notes A-E are unparalleled by artists from the oral and unmatched by those in the literate tradition.

Braxton is also a tenured professor at Wesleyan University, one of the world's centers of world music. His teaching career, begun at Mills College in Oakland, California, has become as much a part of his creative life as his own work, and includes training and leading performance ensembles and private tutorials in his own music, computer and electronic music, and history courses in the music of his major musical influences, from the Western Medieval composer Hildegard of Bingen to contemporary masters with whom he himself has worked (e.g. Cage, Coleman).
Braxton's name continues to stand for the broadest integration of such oft-conflicting poles as “creative freedom” and “responsibility,” discipline and energy, and vision of the future and respect for tradition in the current cultural debates about the nature and place of the Western and African-American musical traditions in America. His newly formed New York-based ensemble company is bringing to that debate a voice that is fresh and strong, still as new as ever even as it takes on the authority of a seasoned master.

Anthony Braxton (b. June 4, 1945) has boldly redefined the boundaries of American music for more than 40 years. Drawing on such lifelong influences as jazz saxophonists Warne Marsh and Albert Ayler, innovative American composers John Cage and Charles Ives and pioneering European Avant-Garde figures Karlheinz Stockhausen and Iannis Xenakis, he created a unique musical system, with its own classifications and graphics-based language that embraces a variety of traditions and genres while defying categorization of its own.

His multi-faceted career includes hundreds of recordings, performances all over the world with fellow legends and younger musicians alike, an influential legacy as an educator and author of scholarly writings, and an ardent international fan base that passionately supports and documents it all. From his early work as a pioneering solo performer in the late 1960’s through his eclectic experiments on Arista Records in the 1970’s, his landmark quartet of the 1980’s, and more recent endeavors, such as his cycle of Trillium operas, a piece for 100 tubas and the day-long, installation-based Sonic Genome Project, his vast body of work is unparalleled.

In 2010, he revived the Tri-Centric Foundation which had been dormant for 10 years. In 2011, he released his first studio-recorded opera Trillium E; that year also saw the 4-evening Tri-Centric Festival (held at Roulette in Brooklyn), which was the most comprehensive portrait of Braxton’s five-decade career yet presented in the United States. Braxton is a tenured professor at Wesleyan University, which has one of the nation’s leading programs for world and experimental music, and his many awards include a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a 2009 honorary doctorate from the Université de Liège, Belgium, a 2013 Doris Duke Performing Artist Award and a 2013 New Music USA Letter of Distinction. His next four-act opera, Trillium J, will be premiered in April 2014 at Brooklyn’s Roulette, headlining a two-week festival of Tri-Centric music.

Bio | The Tri-Centric Foundation
New Braxton House Records