Anthony Braxton


Born: June 4, 1945; Chicago, IL  
A leading if sometimes lampooned figure in the American avant-garde, Anthony Braxton has worked in free jazz and art music, and in the realm where those two fields intersect. His music and prose can be densely intellectual, yet he frequently injects sudden, intentionally comic sounds into his compositions and performances. Howard Hampton of The Village Voice aptly described Braxton as a "pipe-smoking, sweater-swaddled egghead persona, a nutty Read more professor dispensing super-cerebral, impenetrably systematic post-Ornette/Stockhausen compositions with all but unreproducible algebraic-schematic diagrams for titles." Braxton's tastes were broad from his teen years, when he found equal inspiration in the music of John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, and John Cage. At age 17, he began playing the alto saxophone and he eventually mastered every instrument of the saxophone and clarinet families. He studied harmony and composition at the Chicago School of Music from 1959 to 1963 and became enamored of such avant-garde figures as Ornette Coleman and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Upon his discharge from the Army in 1966, Braxton joined Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and became a radical musical activist. During this period (1966 - 1968), he also studied composition and philosophy at Roosevelt University. He formed a jazz trio, the Creative Construction Company, in 1967; two years later, the group went to Paris and failed miserably. Braxton wound up in New York in 1970, eventually playing with Chick Corea's free jazz quartet Circle. He worked increasingly as an alto saxophone soloist and group member in the 1970s, at the same time composing works for his own ensembles and for such unlikely instruments as four amplified shovels and a coal pile. His self-financed recording of For Four Orchestras, occupying two hours and requiring 160 musicians, sent him into debt through the early '80s. Braxton obtained an appointment as professor of music at Mills College in Oakland, CA, in 1985, whereupon his fortunes began to change. He moved on to Wesleyan University in 1990, and five years later was awarded the MacArthur Foundation's so-called genius grant. With this money, he launched an ambitious series of interdisciplinary multimedia performances. His largest project was a series of 12 three-act operas sharing a dozen main characters. Braxton also started giving concerts of ghost trance music, which melded improvised and notated music, much of which was released on his label Braxton House. Braxton has typically provided each of his works with at least two titles: something generic, like Composition No 122 (+108+96), plus either a mathematical formula or some graphic representation. Read less

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