Born: June 4, 1945 Primary Instrument: Reeds
To his list of achievements and awards, Anthony Braxton may now add the 1994 MacArthur Fellowship: the so-called genius grant of (in his case) $300,000, awarded to individuals nominated for outstanding and original contributions to their field.
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 reviewsin 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.