Anthony Braxton

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Anthony Braxton
Anthony braxton 5268134w.jpg
Background information
Born (1945-06-04) June 4, 1945 (age 75)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
GenresAvant-garde jazz, free jazz
Occupation(s)Musician, composer, educator
InstrumentsSaxophones, clarinets, flute, piano
Years active1968–present
LabelsDelmark, Arista, Hathut, Black Saint, Music & Arts, Antilles, Leo, CIMP
Associated actsAACM, Creative Construction Company, Circle, Dave Holland, George Lewis, Kenny Wheeler, Marilyn Crispell, Mark Dresser, Gerry Hemingway

Anthony Braxton (born June 4, 1945)[1] is an American composer and multi-instrumentalist who is known in the genre of free jazz.[2]

Since the 1960s, he has released more than 100 albums. He plays many types of saxophone (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass, contrabass, sopranino, C-melody, mezzo-soprano) and clarinet (E-flat, B-flat, contrabass), in addition to flute, alto flute, and piano.

Braxton studied philosophy at Roosevelt University. He taught at Mills College in the 1980s, and was Professor of Music at Wesleyan University from the 1990s until his retirement at the end of 2013. He taught music composition and music history, with a concentration on the avant-garde, as well as leading ensembles in performances of his compositions. In 1994, he was given a genius grant by the MacArthur Foundation. In 2013, he was named a 2014 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master.[3]


In 1976

Braxton was born in Chicago, Illinois, United States.[1] Early in his career, Braxton led a trio with violinist Leroy Jenkins and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and was involved with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians founded in Chicago.[1]

In 1969, Braxton recorded the double LP For Alto.[1] There had previously been occasional unaccompanied saxophone recordings (notably Coleman Hawkins' "Picasso"), but For Alto was the first full-length album for unaccompanied saxophone.[1] The album's tracks were dedicated to Cecil Taylor and John Cage, among others. The album influenced other artists like Steve Lacy (soprano sax) and George Lewis (trombone), who went on to record their own solo albums.

In 1970, Braxton joined pianist Chick Corea's trio with Dave Holland (double bass) and Barry Altschul (drums) to form the short-lived avant garde quartet Circle.[1] He toured in France, and some concerts were recorded, such as the show in Châtellerault on March 11, 1972.[4] After Corea broke up Circle to form the fusion band Return to Forever, Holland and Altschul remained with Braxton for much of the 1970s as part of a quartet, playing with Kenny Wheeler, George Lewis, and Ray Anderson. The core trio plus saxophonist Sam Rivers recorded Holland's Conference of the Birds. In the 1970s, Braxton recorded duets with Lewis and Richard Teitelbaum.

In 1975, Muse released his album Muhal with Creative Construction Company, a group consisting of Richard Davis (bass), Steve McCall (drums), Muhal Richard Abrams (piano, cello), Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet), and Leroy Jenkins (violin).

Creative Orchestra Music 1976 was inspired by jazz and marching band traditions. His regular group in the 1980s and early 1990s was a quartet with Marilyn Crispell (piano), Mark Dresser (double bass) and Gerry Hemingway (drums).[5]

In 1981, he performed at the Woodstock Jazz Festival to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Creative Music Studio. In 1994, he was granted a MacArthur Fellowship. From 1995 to 2006, he concentrated what he called Ghost Trance Music, which introduced a pulse to his music and allowed the simultaneous performance of any piece by the performers. Many of the earliest Ghost Trance recordings were released on his Braxton House label. His final Ghost Trance compositions were performed with a "12+1tet" at Iridium club in New York City in 2006. The four-night residency was recorded and released in 2007 by Firehouse 12.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, Braxton created a large body of jazz standard recordings, often featuring him as a pianist rather than saxophonist. He had frequently performed such material in the 1970s and 1980s but only recorded it occasionally. He released multidisc sets, including two quadruple-CD sets for Leo that were recorded on tour in 2003. He worked with several groups, one where bassist Mario Pavone was credited as a co-leader with Thomas Chapin on saxophone and Dave Douglas on trumpet.

His compositions the Falling River Musics were documented on 2+2 Compositions (482 Music, 2005). In 2005, he was a guest performer with the noise group Wolf Eyes at the FIMAV Festival.[6] Black Vomit, a recording of the concert, was described by critic François Couture as sympathetic and effective collaboration: "something really clicked between these artists, and it was all in good fun."[7]

One of his children, Tyondai Braxton, is also a professional musician, and formerly a guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist with American math rock band Battles.


At AllMusic, Chris Kelsey wrote that Braxton's approach to music is experimental and theoretical and shares characteristics with 20th century classical music and composers such as John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis said Braxton's music isn't jazz.[citation needed] Kelsey called it "art music".[2] Braxton called it "creative music".[8][9] He has said that he is not a jazz musician. But he has also said, "even though I have been saying I'm not a jazz musician for the last 25 years; in the final analysis, an African-American with a saxophone? Ahh, he's jazz!"[10]

Braxton has composed works for large-scale orchestras, including three opera cycles. He has written several volumes to explain his theories and pieces, such as the three-volume Triaxium Writings and the five-volume Composition Notes, both published by Frog Peak Music. In the twenty-first century, he performs with ensembles of varying sizes and has written well over 350 compositions. After the Ghost Trance Music compositions, he became interested in three other music systems: The Diamond Curtain Wall Trio, in which Braxton implements the aid of the computer audio programming language SuperCollider;[11] Falling River Musics; and Echo Echo Mirror House Music.


The graphical title for Composition No. 65 – the abstract shapes and cryptic letters are typical in such titles

He is notorious for naming his pieces as diagram and with cryptic numbers and letters. Sometimes these diagrams have an obvious relation to the music. On the album For Trio the title indicates the physical positions of the performers. The titles can themselves be musical notation indicating to the performer how a piece is played. Sometimes the letters are identifiable as the initials of Braxton's friends and musical colleagues. But in many cases the titles remain inscrutable. By the mid-to-late 1980s, Braxton's titles began to incorporate drawings and illustrations, such as in the title of his four-act opera cycle, Trillium R. Others began to include lifelike images of inanimate objects, namely train cars. The latter was most notably seen after the advent of his Ghost Trance Music system. Braxton settled on a system of opus-numbers to make referring to these pieces simpler, and earlier pieces have had opus-numbers retroactively added to them.[citation needed]

Language Musics[edit]

The language musics were an early discovery of Braxton's, first used as an approach to solo improvisation performance. By limiting the music to a single parameter (for example, trills), Braxton was able to explore beyond the surface particulars of a given parameter. The language musics are oftentimes signaled by hand cues in other later musical systems, such as the Ghost Trance Musics.[12]

Kelvin Compositions[edit]

In the Kelvin compositions, "Braxton replaces chord changes with complex, rhythmic patterns which, in turn, orient the character and phrasing of the improvisations."[13]

Collage Forms and the Quartet Music[edit]

Braxton's various quartets in the late 70's, 80's and early 90's were laboratories for his experiments in collage forms, or what he refers to as a constructor set approach to composition. He began to give the musicians in the quartets different compositions to perform simultaneously. This collage strategy has become an integral feature of Braxton's approach to composition and band-leading.[14]

One important part of these collage structures was the pulse-track structures. These pulse tracks were graphic notation given to the rhythm section that allowed them to break free from traditional rhythm section approaches but still play a supportive role behind the other instruments.[12]

Ghost Trance Musics[edit]

The Ghost Trance Music constitutes “a set of roughly 150 pieces written between 1995 and 2006. Ghost Trance Music (or GTM) describes compositions specifically designed to function as pathways between Braxton's various musical systems. One can think of GTM as a musical super-highway — a META-ROAD — designed to put the player in the driver's seat, drawing his or her intentions into the navigation of the performance, determining the structure of the performance itself.”[12]

The pieces consist of streams of single notes (primary melody) written in Braxton's diamond clef lasting for multiple pages. In addition to the use of the diamond clef, which allows performers to read the music in any clef they see fit, the use of star or open accidentals on some notes creates more options for the performer to choose a variety of pitches. The later versions of GTM (referred to as species) feature various accelerations of these streams of notes using polyrhythmic notation, as well as various forms of graphic notation.

Three types of geometric shapes - squares, circles and triangles - invite performers to exit the primary melody. Squares represent stable logics, other compositions of Braxton's that musicians can choose to play. Triangles represent synthesis logics, which are special compositions attached to certain GTM compositions. These are almost always trio compositions. Finally, circles represent mutable logics, which are invitations to freely improvise or use Braxton's language musics.[12]

Falling River Musics[edit]

The Falling River Musics feature extensive graphic notation, often using colorful paints.

Echo, Echo Mirror House Musics[edit]

Braxton wrote Echo in 2007 and performed it in 2009 at Wesleyan University where he was a teacher. During the performance every musician in an ensemble of six to twenty people held an iPod that contained Braxton's discography. All of them hit play on their iPods as the performance began to broadcast old works into the live performance.[15][16]



  1. ^ a b c d e f Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. pp. 174/5. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  2. ^ a b Kelsey, Chris. "Anthony Braxton". AllMusic. Retrieved August 18, 2014.
  3. ^ Olivia Drake, Braxton Receives the Nation's Highest Honor in Jazz, July 1, 2013, Wesleyan University online newsletter/blog
  4. ^ Thiollet, Jean-Pierre (2017). Improvisation so piano. Neva Editions. p. 220. ISBN 978-2-35055-228-6.
  5. ^ Jurek, Thom. "Quartet (Santa Cruz) 1993". AllMusic. Retrieved September 21, 2018.
  6. ^ Cain, Nick (2009). "Noise". In Young, Rob (ed.). The Wire Primers: A Guide to Modern Music. London: Verso. p. 34.
  7. ^ Couture, Francois. "Black Vomit". AllMusic. Retrieved September 21, 2018.
  8. ^ Foy, Nyasha (September 23, 2005). "Braxton celebrates with concerts". The Wesleyan Argus. Retrieved January 23, 2019. [...] Braxton has been one of the leaders of what he calls 'creative music meeting with correct standard' since joining the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in 1966.
  9. ^ Moisala, Pirkko; et al., eds. (2017). Musical Encounters with Deleuze and Guattari. New York: Bloomsbury. p. 80. ISBN 9781501316746. Braxton has a highly unique conceptualization of African American music he calls Creative Music.
  10. ^ Gagne, Cole (1993). Soundpieces 2: Interviews with American composers. Scarecrow Press. p. 36. ISBN 9780810827103.
  11. ^ Ratliff, Ben (December 16, 2012). "Following the Tradition of Being Untraditional: Anthony Braxton at the Kennedy Center". New York Times. Archived from the original on January 31, 2013. Retrieved December 23, 2012.
  12. ^ a b c d "SA16: Ghost Trance Music". Retrieved September 30, 2020.
  13. ^ Radano, Ronald M. (May 20, 2009). New Musical Figurations: Anthony Braxton's Cultural Critique. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-70194-3.
  14. ^
  15. ^ Testa, Carl. "SA16: Echo Echo Mirror House Music". Retrieved September 21, 2018.
  16. ^ Walls, Seth Colter (March 28, 2016). "Anthony Braxton: 3 Compositions (EEMHM) 2011/Trillium J: The Non-Unconfessionables No. 380/Quintet (Tristano) 2014 Album Review". Retrieved September 21, 2018.


  • Braxton, Anthony – Tri-Axium Writings Volumes 1–3 – 1985.
  • Braxton, Anthony – Composition Notes A-E – 1988.
  • Broomer, Stuart – Time and Anthony Braxton – Mercury Press, 2009.
  • Ford, Alun – Anthony Braxton (Creative Music Continuum) – Stride, 2004.
  • Heffley, Mike – The Music of Anthony Braxton – Greenwood, 1996.
  • Lock, Graham – Forces in Motion: The Music and Thoughts of Anthony Braxton – Da Capo, 1989.
  • Lock, Graham – Mixtery (A Festschrift For Anthony Braxton) – Stride, 1995.
  • Lock, Graham – Blutopia: Visions of the Future and Revisions of the Past in the Work of Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, and Anthony Braxton – Duke University, 2000.
  • Radano, Ronald Michael – New Musical Figurations (Anthony Braxton's Cultural Critique) – University of Chicago, 1994.
  • Sinclair, John and Robert Levin – Introducing Anthony Braxton – Music & Politics – World, 1970
  • Von der Weid, Jean-Noël - La musique du XXe siècle, Paris, Fayard/Pluriel, 2010, p. 400-402.
  • Wilson, Peter Niklas – Anthony Braxton. Sein Leben. Seine Musik. Seine Schallplatten. – Oreos, 1993.

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