Mary Halvorson

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Mary Halvorson
Mary Halvorson with Anti-House, Jazzclub Unterfahrt, Munich, Germany, January 2011
Mary Halvorson with Anti-House, Jazzclub Unterfahrt, Munich, Germany, January 2011
Background information
Born (1980-10-16) October 16, 1980 (age 43)
Brookline, Massachusetts, U.S.
GenresFree jazz, Free improvisation avant-garde jazz, experimental flamenco, psychedelia
Occupation(s)Composer, Musician
Years active2002–present
LabelsFirehouse 12, Thirsty Ear, Cuneiform, Nonesuch

Mary Halvorson (born October 16, 1980) is an American avant-garde jazz composer and guitarist from Brookline, Massachusetts.

Among her many collaborations, she has: led a trio with John Hébert [de] and Ches Smith, and a quintet with the addition of Jon Irabagon and Jonathan Finlayson; recorded duo albums with violist Jessica Pavone; and recorded several albums with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara [de] under the band name Thumbscrew.

In 2017, 2018, and 2019 Halvorson won Best Guitar in DownBeat's International Critics Poll. In 2019, she was awarded a MacArthur "Genius" Grant for music.

Halvorson is on faculty at the School of Jazz (The New School). [1]

Early life and career[edit]

Halvorson 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.[2]

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.[3] She quickly connected with him and he heavily encouraged her to find her own expression on guitar.[3]

Halvorson's 2008 recording Dragon's Head was as the leader of a trio containing bassist John Hébert and drummer Ches Smith.[4] Her later album, Saturn Sings, added saxophonist Jon Irabagon and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson.[5] In 2012, she played with trumpeter Peter Evans and drummer Weasel Walter on the trio album Mechanical Malfunction.[6]

In 2013, the trio of Halvorson, bassist Michael Formanek, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara [de] recorded the first of several albums as the band Thumbscrew.[7][8] NPR called Halvorson's 2015 solo album Meltframe "category-exploding", and its 2015 Jazz Critics Poll named the record 7th-best of the year.[9][10]

Her album Away With You features pedal steel player Susan Alcorn (later described in Something Else! as "the Mary Halvorson of the pedal steel guitar"),[11] cellist Tomeka Reid and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock.[3] The album 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.[10] The album also features drummer Tomas Fujiwara, bassist Michael Formanek and 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."[12] Code Girl is named after an offhand remark by 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."[10] Halvorson has also worked with John Dieterich of Deerhoof.[13] Halvorson had previously performed some of her lyrics in collaboration with violinist Jessica Pavone, with whom she also recorded duo albums.[6] As of 2018, Halvorson was an instructor at The New School's College of Performing Arts.[14]

Halvorson won Best Guitar in DownBeat's International Critics Poll between 2017 and 2019.[15][16][17] In 2019, she was awarded a MacArthur "Genius" Grant for music.[18]

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 speaking with PostGenre, Halvorson noted that she's "never really felt like I had to stick with a particular style or idea... From [Anthony Braxton], I learned that it was normal to take such a broad approach. You would respect traditions but at the same time, you would push the boundaries of those traditions. You would break the traditions apart and do whatever you wanted. That approach has always come naturally to me...".[19] 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.”.[20]

In 2012, Troy Collins of All About Jazz called Halvorson "the most impressive guitarist of her generation", and wrote, "The future of jazz guitar starts here."[21] Jon Garelick of The Phoenix identified Halvorson's search for her own sound as a key component of her success as a musician and composer.[22]


As leader[edit]

List of albums as leader
Year recorded Title Label Notes
2008 Dragon's Head Firehouse 12 Trio, with John Hébert (bass), Ches Smith (drums)[4]
2010 Saturn Sings Firehouse 12 Quintet with Jonathan Finlayson, Jon Irabagon, John Hébert, and Ches Smith.
2010 Bending Bridges Firehouse 12 Quintet with Jonathan Finlayson, Jon Irabagon, John Hébert, and Ches Smith.
2013 Illusionary Sea Firehouse 12 Septet with Jonathan Finlayson, Jon Irabagon, Ingrid Laubrock, Jacob Garchik, John Hébert, and Ches Smith.
2013 Ghost Loop EMI Trio with John Hébert, and Ches Smith.
2014 Reverse Blue Relative Pitch Quartet with Chris Speed, Eivind Opsvik, Tomas Fujiwara
2015 Meltframe Firehouse 12 Solo covers album.
2016 Away With You Firehouse 12 Octet with Jonathan Finlayson, Jon Irabagon, Ingrid Laubrock, Jacob Garchik, Susan Alcorn, John Hébert, and Ches Smith.
2018 Code Girl Firehouse 12 Most tracks quintet, with Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Michael Formanek (bass), Tomas Fujiwara [de] (drums), Amirtha Kidambi (vocals)[23]
2020 Code Girl: Artlessly Falling Firehouse 12 Most tracks sextet, with Adam O'Farrill (trumpet), Michael Formanek (bass), Tomas Fujiwara (drums), Amirtha Kidambi (vocals), Maria Grand (tenor sax, vocals)
2022 Belladonna Nonesuch Quintet with Halvorson and the Mivos Quartet[24]
2022 Amaryllis Nonesuch Sextet with Patricia Brennan, Nick Dunston, Thomas Fujiwara, Jacob Garchik, and Adam O'Farrill; augmented by the Mivos Quartet on three tracks[25]
2024 Cloudward Nonesuch Sextet with Patricia Brennan, Nick Dunston, Thomas Fujiwara, Jacob Garchik, and Adam O'Farrill[26]

Selected collaborations[edit]

List of selected collaborations
Year Artist Title Label
2004 Trevor Dunn's trio-convulsant Sister Phantom Owl Fish Ipecac
2005 Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone Prairies Lucky Kitchen
2005 People (Mary Halvorson, Kevin Shea) People I & Ear
2007 Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone On and Off Skirl
2007 People Misbegotten Man I & Ear
2008 Mary Halvorson & Weasel Walter Opulence ugEXPLODE
2008 Mary Halvorson, Jessica Pavone, Devin Hoff, Ches Smith Calling All Portraits Skycap
2009 Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone Thin Air Thirsty Ear
2009 Mary Halvorson, Reuben Radding, Nate Wooley [de] Crackleknob Hatology
2009 Weasel Walter / Mary Halvorson / Peter Evans Mystery Meat ugEXPLODE
2009 The Thirteenth Assembly (Bynum, Pavone, Fujiwara) (un)sentimental Important Records
2010 Tom Rainey Trio Pool School Clean Feed
2010 Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up Actionspeak 482 Music
2011 Weasel Walter / Mary Halvorson / Peter Evans Electric Fruit Thirsty Ear
2011 Mary Halvorson & Weasel Walter Ominous Telepathic Mayhem ugEXPLODE
2011 Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone Departure of Reason Thirsty Ear
2011 The Thirteenth Assembly Station Direct Important Records
2012 Tom Rainey Trio Camino Cielo Echo Intakt
2012 Weasel Walter / Mary Halvorson / Peter Evans Mechanical Malfunction Thirsty Ear
2012 AYCH (Jim Hobbs, Mary Halvorson, Taylor Ho Bynum) As the Crow Flies Relative Pitch
2012 Ergo If Not Inertia Cuneiform
2012 Living by Lanterns New Myth/Old Science Cuneiform
2013 Secret Keeper (Stephan Crump & Mary Halvorson) Super Eight Intakt
2013 Kirk Knuffke, Mary Halvorson & Matt Wilson Sifter Relative Pitch
2013 Curtis Hasselbring Number Stations Cuneiform
2013 Joy Mega Forever Is Something Inside You New Atlantis Records
2013 Xiu Xiu Nina Graveface Records
2014 Mary Halvorson, Michael Formanek, Tomas Fujiwara Thumbscrew Cuneiform
2014 People 3xaWoman: The Misplaced Files Telegraph Harp
2014 Illegal Crowns (Halvorson, Fujiwara, Delbecq, Bynum) Illegal Crowns RogueArt
2015 Secret Keeper Emerge Intakt
2015 Tom Rainey Trio Hotel Grief Intakt
2015 Tomeka Reid Quartet Tomeka Reid Quartet Thirsty Ear
2015 Marc Ribot The Young Philadelphians: Live in Tokyo Yellowbird
2016 Tomas Fujiwara, Ben Goldberg, Mary Halvorson The Out Louds Relative Pitch
2016 Thumbscrew Convallaria Cuneiform
2016 Mary Halvorson & Noël Akchoté Mary Halvorson and Noël Akchoté Noël Akchoté
2017 Sylvie Courvoisier & Mary Halvorson Crop Circles Relative Pitch
2017 Elliott Sharp with Marc Ribot, Mary Halvorson Err Guitar Intakt
2017 Mary Halvorson Quartet plays John Zorn's Masada Book Two Book of Angels, Vol. 32 - Paimon Tzadik
2018 Thumbscrew Theirs Cuneiform
2018 Thumbscrew Ours Cuneiform
2018 Mary Halvorson & Bill Frisell The Maid With the Flaxen Hair Tzadik
2018 Robbie Lee & Mary Halvorson Seed Triangular New Amsterdam
2018 Ingrid Laubrock Contemporary Chaos Practices Intakt
2018 Joe Morris & Mary Halvorson Traversing Orbits RogueArt
2018 Various Artists A Day in the Life: Impressions of Pepper Impulse Records
2018 Tomeka Reid Quartet Old New Cuneiform
2019 Tom Rainey Trio Combobulated Intakt
2019 Mary Halvorson / John Dieterich a tangle of stars New Amsterdam
2019 Michael Formanek Very Practical Trio Even Better Intakt
2020 Thumbscrew The Anthony Braxton Project Cuneiform
2021 Sylvie Courvoisier & Mary Halvorson Searching for the Disappeared Hour Pyroclastic
2021 Thumbscrew Never Is Enough Cuneiform
2022 Thumbscrew Multicolored Midnight Cuneiform


  1. ^ "Mary Halvorson - School of Jazz and Contemporary Music". The New School. October 12, 2017. Retrieved December 31, 2021.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ a b c "Why Mary Halvorson Sounds Like No Other Guitarist". Retrieved December 13, 2018.
  4. ^ a b Nastos, Michael G. "Mary Halvorson Trio / Mary Halvorson: Dragon's Head". AllMusic. Retrieved February 9, 2020.
  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. ^ a b Nastos, Michael G. "Mary Halvorson". AllMusic. Retrieved February 9, 2020.
  7. ^ Lynch, Dave. "Thumbscrew / Mary Halvorson / Michael Formanek / Tomas Fujiwara: Thumbscrew". AllMusic. Retrieved February 9, 2020.
  8. ^ "Thumbscrew: Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved February 9, 2020.
  9. ^ Davis, Francis (December 21, 2015). "The 2015 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll". NPR. Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  10. ^ a b c "Mary Halvorson Re-Engineered Jazz Guitar. Now, She's Hacking Her Own Code". Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  11. ^ Aaron, S. V., "Susan Alcorn—Pedernal (2020)", Something Else!, November 13, 2020.
  12. ^ "Mary Halvorson: Code Girl". Pitchfork. Retrieved December 13, 2018.
  13. ^ Currin, Grayson Haver (October 30, 2019). "Mary Halvorson John Dieterich: a tangle of stars". Pitchfork. Retrieved March 7, 2021.
  14. ^ "Reinventing the Avant-Garde | School of Jazz and Contemporary Music". Retrieved December 16, 2018.
  15. ^ "Wadada Leo Smith, Mary Halvorson Among Winners in DownBeat Critics Poll". DownBeat Magazine. June 26, 2017. Retrieved December 20, 2018.
  16. ^ "DownBeat Announces Winners of the 2018 Int'l Critics Poll". DownBeat Magazine. June 25, 2018. Retrieved November 22, 2019.
  17. ^ "Salvant Tops 2019 DownBeat Critics Poll". DownBeat Magazine. June 24, 2019. Retrieved November 22, 2019.
  18. ^ Dwyer, Colin (September 25, 2019). "MacArthur 'Genius' Grant Winners Attest To 'Power Of Individual Creativity'". Retrieved September 28, 2019.
  19. ^ "Melding of Worlds: A Conversation with Sylvie Courvoisier and Mary Halvorson". October 25, 2021.
  20. ^ "Mary Halvorson: Reinventing the Identity of the Jazz Guitarist". JazzTimes. Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  21. ^ Mary Halvorson Archived June 18, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, All About Jazz. By Troy Collins. Retrieved May 31, 2012.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ Jurek, Thom. "Mary Halvorson: Code Girl". AllMusic. Retrieved February 9, 2020.
  24. ^ "Belladonna, by Mary Halvorson". Mary Halvorson. Retrieved May 15, 2022.
  25. ^ "Amaryllis, by Mary Halvorson". Mary Halvorson. Retrieved May 15, 2022.
  26. ^ Jurek, Thom. "Mary Halvorson – Cloudward Album Review". AllMusic. Retrieved January 20, 2024.