Henry Threadgill

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Henry Threadgill
Birth name Henry Luther Threadgill
Born (1944-02-15) February 15, 1944 (age 73)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Genres Jazz, avant-garde jazz
Occupation(s) Musician, composer
Instruments Saxophone, flute
Years active 1960s–present
Labels Arista/Novus, About Time, Black Saint, Columbia, Pi
Associated acts Air, AACM, Muhal Richard Abrams, Billy Bang, Anthony Braxton, Craig Harris, Leroy Jenkins, Roscoe Mitchell

Henry Threadgill (born February 15, 1944) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer, saxophonist, and flautist,[1] who came to prominence in the 1970s leading ensembles with unusual instrumentation and often incorporating non-jazz genres.

Threadgill studied at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, majoring in piano, flute, and composition. He studied piano with Gail Quillman and composition with Stella Roberts. He has been a bandleader and composer for over forty years. He was awarded the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his album In for a Penny, In for a Pound, [2] which premiered at Roulette Intermedium on December 4, 2014 [3]

Threadgill has performed and recorded with several ensembles: Air, Aggregation Orb, Make a Move, the seven-piece Henry Threadgill Sextett, the twenty-piece Society Situation Dance Band, Very Very Circus, X-75, and Zooid.


Early life and career[edit]

Threadgill first performed as a percussionist in his high-school marching band before taking up baritone saxophone, alto saxophone, and flute. He was an original member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) in his hometown of Chicago and worked under the guidance of Muhal Richard Abrams before leaving to tour with a gospel band. In 1967, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, playing with a rock band in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968. He was discharged in 1969.

After returning to Chicago, he joined fellow AACM members bassist Fred Hopkins and drummer Steve McCall in a trio which would eventually become the group Air. Threadgill moved to New York City, where he formed his first group, X-75, a nonet consisting of four reed players, four bass players, and a vocalist.


In the early 1980s, Threadgill created his first critically acclaimed ensemble as a leader, Henry Threadgill Sextet (actually a septet; he counted the two drummers as a single percussion unit),[4] which released three albums on About Time Records. After a hiatus, Threadgill formed New Air with Pheeroan akLaff, replacing Steve McCall on drums, and reformed the Henry Threadgill Sextett (with two t's at the end). The six albums the group recorded feature some of his most accessible work, notably on the album You Know the Number. The group's unorthodox instrumentation included two drummers, bass, cello, trumpet, and trombone, in addition to Threadgill's alto and flute. Among the players were drummers akLaff, John Betsch, Reggie Nicholson and Newman Baker; bassist Fred Hopkins; cellist Diedre Murray; trumpeters Rasul Siddik and Ted Daniels; cornetist Olu Dara; and trombonists Ray Anderson, Frank Lacy, Bill Lowe and Craig Harris.

Very Very Circus and beyond[edit]

During the 1990s, Threadgill pushed the musical boundaries even further with his ensemble Very Very Circus. In addition to Threadgill, the group's core consisted of two tubas, two electric guitars, a trombone or french horn, and drums. With this group he explored more complex and highly structured forms of composition, augmenting the group with latin percussion, French horn, violin, accordion, vocalists, and exotic instruments. Threadgill composed and recorded with other unusual instruments, such as a flute quartet (Flute Force Four, a one-time project from 1990); and combinations of four cellos and four acoustic guitars (on Makin' a Move).

He was signed by Columbia Records for three albums. Since the dissolution of Very Very Circus, Threadgill has continued in his iconoclastic ways with ensembles such as Make a Move and Zooid. Zooid, currently a sextet with tuba (Jose Davila), acoustic guitar (Liberty Ellman), cello (Christopher Hoffman), drums (Elliot Kavee) and bass guitar (Stomu Takeishi), has been the primary vehicle for Threadgill's compositions in the 2000s.

Honors and acclaim[edit]

Threadgill has received numerous commissions and awards. He has composed music for theatre, orchestra, solo instruments, and chamber ensembles. His works for large orchestras, such as "Run Silent, Run Deep, Run Loud, Run High" (conducted by Hale Smith) and "Mix for Orchestra" (conducted by Dennis Russell Davies), were both premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1987 and 1993 respectively. He has had commissions from Mordine & Company in 1971 and 1989, from Carnegie Hall for "Quintet for Strings and Woodwinds" in 1983 and 1985, the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1985, Bang on a Can All-Stars in 1995, "Peroxide" commissioned by the Miller Theatre Columbia University in 2003 for "Aggregation Orb", a commission from the Talujon Percussion Ensemble in 2008, a piece "Fly Fliegen Volar" commissioned and premiered at the Saalfelden Jazz Festival with the Junge Philharmonie Salzburg Orchestra in 2007, a premier of the piece "Mc Guffins" with Zooid at the Biennale Festival in Italy in 2004 to name some.

In the Chicago Sun-Times jazz critic John Litweiler said, "He seems to be deliberately challenging the audience: My lyricism and mastery come complete with thorns and spikes, and I promise to yank the props out from under you". Peter Watrous of the New York Times described Threadgill as "perhaps the most important jazz composer of his generation." According to jazz critic Howard Reich, "It would be difficult to overestimate Henry Threadgill's role in perpetually altering the meaning of jazz...He has changed our underlying assumptions of what jazz can and should be."

In 2016, Threadgill's composition In for a Penny, In for a Pound was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music.


As leader[edit]


Henry Threadill Sextett

Very Very Circus

Make a Move


As sideman[edit]

With Muhal Richard Abrams

With Anthony Braxton

With Chico Freeman

With Roscoe Mitchell

With Frank Walton

  • Reality (1978)

With David Murray

With Material / Bill Laswell

With Sly & Robbie / Bill Laswell

With Carlinhos Brown / Bill Laswell

  • Bahia Black: Ritual Beating System (1991)

With Leroy Jenkins

  • Themes & Improvisations on the Blues (1992)

With Kip Hanrahan

  • Darn It! (1992) with Paul Haines
  • A Thousand Nights and a Night (Shadow Night – 1) (1996)

With Billy Bang

With Sola

  • Blues in the East (1994)

With Abiodun Oyewole

  • 25 Years (1996)

With Flute Force Four

  • Flutistry (1990, released 1997)

With Douglas Ewart

  • Angles of Entrance (1998)

With Jean-Paul Bourelly

  • Boom Bop (2000)
  • Trance Atlantic – Boom Bop II (2001)

With Ejigayehu "Gigi" Shibabaw

  • Gigi (2001)

With Lucky Peterson

  • Black Midnight Sun (2002)

With Dafnis Prieto

  • Absolute Quintet (2006)

With Wadada Leo Smith

  • The Great Lakes Suites (2012, released 2014)

With Jack DeJohnette


  1. ^ Chris Kelsey (1944-02-15). "Henry Threadgill | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-11-21. 
  2. ^ Chinen, Nate (18 April 2016). "At Last, a Box Henry Threadgill Fits Nicely Into: Pulitzer Winner". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 April 2016. 
  3. ^ "Henry Threadgill – Roulette". Roulette.org. 2014-07-22. Retrieved 2016-11-21. 
  4. ^ Giddins, Gary, and Scott DeVeaux (2009), Jazz, New York: W.W. Norton & Co, ISBN 978-0-393-06861-0

External links[edit]