Mary Halvorson

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Mary Halvorson
Mary Halvorson Unterfahrt 2011-01-25-002.jpg
Mary Halvorson with Anti-House, Jazzclub Unterfahrt, Munich, Germany, January 2011
Background information
Born16th October 1980
Brookline, Massachusetts, U.S.
GenresFree jazz, avant-garde jazz, experimental flamenco, psychedelia
Years active2002–present
LabelsFirehouse 12, Thirsty Ear, Cuneiform
Associated actsTrevor Dunn's Trio-Convulsant, Marc Ribot

Mary Halvorson is an avant-garde jazz guitarist from Brookline, Massachusetts.

She is a 2002 graduate of Wesleyan University. She has performed with Anthony Braxton, Jessica Pavone, Robbie Lee, Taylor Ho Bynum, Trevor Dunn's Trio-Convulsant, Marc Ribot,[1] Susan Alcorn,[2] Yo La Tengo and Weasel Walter.[3] As of 2008, she leads a trio including John Hebert and Ches Smith.[4][5] She is also associated with violist Jessica Pavone, with whom she has recorded as a duo.

Troy Collins of All About Jazz calls Halvorson "[a] singular talent...Brooklyn-based guitarist Mary Halvorson has come into her own as a composer and improviser...light years ahead of her peers, she is the most impressive guitarist of her generation. The future of jazz guitar starts here."[6][7] Jon Garelick of The Phoenix writes, "It's that search for her own thing that's made of the most celebrated young guitarists in jazz, someone who has a unique sound both as a player and a composer."[8] In 2017, Halvorson won Best Guitar in DownBeat's 65th Annual DownBeat International Critics Poll.[9]

In 2019, Halvorson was awarded a MacArthur "Genius" Grant for music:[10]

Experimenting at the intersection of jazz and rock with a signature sound on her instrument and an aesthetic that evolves and surprises with each new album and configuration of bandmates.

Halvorson was one of the six fellows from New York City.[11]


Mary began her musical education on violin but was enthralled with the idea of playing guitar after discovering Jimi Hendrix. She first picked up electric guitar at the age of 11 in seventh grade. Her first guitar teacher was Issi Rozen.[12]

She initially enrolled in Wesleyan University to study Biology, but dropped her prospective major after sitting in on one of saxophonist Anthony Braxton's music classes. Mary quickly connected with him and he heavily encouraged her to find her own expression on guitar.[13] She also took lessons with guitarist Joe Morris at Wesleyan University.

As of 2018, she is an instructor at The New School's College of Performing Arts.[14]

Musical style[edit]

Although Halvorson is often categorized as a jazz guitarist, her music includes elements of many other genres, such as flamenco, rock, noise, and psychedelia. In a 2018 interview with Jazz Times, Halvorson described the guitar as a "neutral vessel", saying “The cool thing about the guitar is it’s not associated as much with a particular genre... it could be classical, it could be rock and roll, it could be jazz, it could be folk.”[15]

NPR called her 2015 album Meltframe "category-exploding", and its 2015 Jazz Critics Poll named the record 7th-best of the year.[16][17]


2016: Away With You[edit]

Away With You features pedal steel player Susan Alcorn, cellist Tomeka Reid and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock alongside Halvorson.[13]

2018: Code Girl[edit]

Code Girl was Halvorson's first attempt at writing lyrics for her original works, which are sung by Amirtha Kidambi and inspired by the songwriting of Robert Wyatt and Elliot Smith.[17] The album also features drummer Tomas Fujiwara, bassist Michael Formanek and Blue Note trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. The album received an 8.1 rating from a Pitchfork review explaining, "The pleasure of this kind of text comes from the way it invites active listening as a means of interpretation."[18]

Code Girl is named after an offhand remark by her teacher Anthony Braxton, who used the phrase in conversation while on a European tour with Halvorson. Later, she settled on the phrase as an album title, because "at that point I'd written a lot of the lyrics...and they seemed a little bit coded and strange."[17] Halvorson has also recently worked with John Dieterich of Deerhoof[19]


Mary Halvorson.

Solo albums[edit]

Year Title Label
2005 Prairies Lucky Kitchen
2007 On and Off Skirl
2008 Dragon's Head Firehouse
2008 Calling All Portraits Skycap
2009 Thin Air Thirsty Ear
2009 Crackleknob Hatology
2010 Saturn Sings Firehouse 12
2011 Departure of Reason Thirsty Ear
2011 Electric Fruit Thirsty Ear
2012 Bending Bridges Firehouse 12
2012 Mechanical Malfunction Thirsty Ear
2013 Super Eight Intakt
2013 Ghost Loop EMI
2013 Illusionary Sea Firehouse 12
2014 Reverse Blue Relative Pitch
2014 Thumbscrew Cuneiform
2015 Meltframe Firehouse
2015 Hotel Grief Intakt
2015 Emerge Intakt
2016 Convallaria Cuneiform
2016 Away With You Firehouse 12
2017 Paimon: Book of Angels Vol. 32 Tzadik
2018 Code Girl Firehouse 12
2018 The Maid with the Flaxen Hair (duo with Bill Frisell) Tzadik


Year Artist Title Label
2004 Trevor Dunn's trio-convulsant Sister Phantom Owl Fish Ipecac
2005 People (Kyle Forester and Kevin Shea) People I & Ear
2007 People (Kyle Forester and Kevin Shea) Misbegotten Man I & Ear
2008 Weasel Walter Opulence ugEXPLODE
2009 Weasel Walter & Peter Evans Mystery Meat ugEXPLODE
2010 Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up Actionspeak 482 Music
2011 Weasel Walter & Peter Evans Electric Fruit Thirsty Ear
2011 Jessica Pavone Departure of Reason Thirsty Ear
2012 Weasel Walter & Peter Evans Mechanical Malfunction Thirsty Ear
2014 People (Kyle Forester and Kevin Shea) 3xaWoman: The Misplaced Files Telegraph Harp
2015 Marc Ribot The Young Philadelphians: Live in Tokyo Yellowbird
2015 Tomeka Reid Tomeka Reid Quartet Thirsty Ear
2016 Noël Akchoté Mary Halvorson and Noël Akchoté Noël Akchoté
2018 Robbie Lee Seed Triangular New Amsterdam
2018 Ingrid Laubrock Contemporary Chaos Practices Intakt

Concert tours[edit]

As leader[edit]

  • Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl: European Tour (2018)
  • Mary Halvorson Quartet plays John Zorn’s Book of Angels (2018)
  • Sylvie Courvoisier & Mary Halvorson: European Tour (2018)
  • Mary Halvorson Octet: European Tour (2018)

As side musician

  • Tom Rainey Trio US Tour (2017)
  • Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up: US Tour (2017)
  • Tomeka Reid Quartet: European Tour! (2017)
  • Tom Rainey Trio US Tour (2018)
  • Tom Rainey Trio US Tour (2018) [separate tour]
  • Tomeka Reid Quartet: US mini-tour (2018)
  • Ingrid Laubrock’s Anti-House: European Tour (2018)
  • Dave Douglas Uplift: European Tour (2018)

With Thumbscrew[edit]

  • Thumbscrew European Tour (2017)
  • Thumbscrew European Tour (2018)
  • Thumbscrew US Record Release Tour (2018)

With Illegal Crowns[edit]

  • Illegal Crowns European Tour (2017)
  • Illegal Crowns European Tour (2018)


  1. ^ Young Philadelphians Marc Ribot's website
  2. ^ Mary Halvorson bio on her website
  3. ^ List of Weasel Walter current projects on
  4. ^ Mary Halvorson Archived June 18, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, All About Jazz. Retrieved May 31, 2012.
  5. ^ Clean Feed Records and Mary Halvorson: Promises of Good Things to Come in Jazz, Pop Matters. Jazz Today. By Will Layman. February 16, 2011. Retrieved May 31, 2012.
  6. ^ Mary Halvorson Archived June 18, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, All About Jazz. By Troy Collins. Retrieved May 31, 2012.
  7. ^ A Sharpened Axe to Grind, Online Wall Street Journal. By Steve Dollar. Retrieved May 31, 2012.
  8. ^ Mary Halvorson's EnchantedWood Archived November 5, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, The Boston Phoenix. By Jon Garelick. p. 1–2. May 31, 2012. Retrieved May 31, 2012.
  9. ^ "Wadada Leo Smith, Mary Halvorson Among Winners in DownBeat Critics Poll". DownBeat Magazine. June 26, 2017. Retrieved December 20, 2018.
  10. ^ Dwyer, Colin (September 25, 2019). "MacArthur 'Genius' Grant Winners Attest To 'Power Of Individual Creativity'". Retrieved September 28, 2019.
  11. ^ Joan Gralla (September 25, 2019). "LIer a 2019 MacArthur 'genius' grant recipient". Newsday. Retrieved September 29, 2019. Six geniuses live in New York City: theater artist Annie Dorsen, 45; Mary Halvorson, 38, a jazz and rock guitarist and composer; Saidiya Hartman, 58, a Columbia University professor who traced "the aftermath of slavery in modern American life"; contemporary dance choreographer Sarah Michelson, 55; artist Cameron Rowland, 30, for portraying systemic racism; and neuroscientist Vanessa Ruta, 45, who explores stimuli that affect neural circuits and behaviors, the foundation said.
  12. ^ Chinen, Nate (October 28, 2016). "Mary Halvorson on Guitar: Unflinching and Full of Grace". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 13, 2018.
  13. ^ a b "Why Mary Halvorson Sounds Like No Other Guitarist". Retrieved December 13, 2018.
  14. ^ "Reinventing the Avant-Garde | School of Jazz and Contemporary Music". Retrieved December 16, 2018.
  15. ^ "Mary Halvorson: Reinventing the Identity of the Jazz Guitarist". JazzTimes. Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  16. ^ "The 2015 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll". Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  17. ^ a b c "Mary Halvorson Re-Engineered Jazz Guitar. Now, She's Hacking Her Own Code". Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  18. ^ "Mary Halvorson: Code Girl". Pitchfork. Retrieved December 13, 2018.
  19. ^