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Introducing Anthony Braxton

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[Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Jazz & Pop Magazine, 1970]

To anyone still questioning the validity of the systems and methods at which Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor
b.1929
piano
and Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
b.1930
sax, alto
arrived, I would first of all recommend that he listen more attentively to the work of those men. But I'd also suggest that he make it a point to hear the strong and very exciting musics of an emergent collection of musicians from Chicago who constitute what is already a third wave of New Music players (Ayler, Shepp, Dolphy, etc., representing the second), and whose very existence serves to certify the innovations which Taylor and Coleman forged.

Anthony Braxton, Maurice McIntyre, Joseph Jarman
Joseph Jarman
Joseph Jarman
b.1937
saxophone
, Lester Bowie
Lester Bowie
Lester Bowie
1941 - 1999
trumpet
, Roscoe Mitchell
Roscoe Mitchell
Roscoe Mitchell
b.1940
reeds
, Malachi Favors
Malachi Favors
Malachi Favors
1937 - 2004
bass, acoustic
, Leroy Jenkins
Leroy Jenkins
Leroy Jenkins
1932 - 2007
violin
, Wadada Leo Smith
Wadada Leo Smith
Wadada Leo Smith
b.1941
trumpet
, Steve McCall
Steve McCall
b.1933
and Henry Threadgill
Henry Threadgill
Henry Threadgill
b.1944
reeds
are just some of the gifted and mostly very young musicians involved in the Chicago movement. These men have not only embraced the new aesthetic, they are adding remarkable dimensions to it. In addition to the utilization of extraordinary instruments like harmonicas, accordions, sirens, Chinese gongs, Hawaiian tipples, whistles, etc., the Chicago players are using objects like garbage can covers, chairs and beads to make sounds with. They are also incorporating theatrical effects with provocative results.

Although I'd heard most of the Delmark albums (the Chicago label that's recorded many of these players), my first live exposure to what these guys are doing came on an evening last May when a five-man cooperative group calling itself the Creative Construction Company of Chicago played its first New York concert at the Peace Church in Greenwich Village.

The music which Anthony Braxton, LeRoy Jenkins, Leo Smith, Richard Abrams, Steve McCall and Richard Davis made that evening was lifting and invigorating, full of movement, wit, adventure and surprise. It reminded me in its spirit as well as its setting of the loft and coffee house gigs that Archie Shepp
Archie Shepp
Archie Shepp
b.1937
saxophone
, Bill Dixon
Bill Dixon
Bill Dixon
1925 - 2010
trumpet
, Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler
1936 - 1970
sax, tenor
, Marion Brown
Marion Brown
Marion Brown
1931 - 2010
sax, alto
, Don Cherry
Don Cherry
Don Cherry
1936 - 1995
trumpet
, Pharoah Sanders
Pharoah Sanders
Pharoah Sanders
b.1940
saxophone
, and others used to play seven or eight years ago. The music was as new and as fresh, and the same kind of joy exuded from the musicians, as though each sound they made represented a new discovery about music and themselves, and each discovery surely had an extraordinary significance.

Especially impressed by Anthony Braxton, I introduced myself to him at the completion of the concert and invited him to be interviewed. We got together to talk several days later.

Braxton was born on Chicago's Southside and turned twenty-five this past year. He is classically trained—he studied for a few years with private teachers and at the Chicago School of Music—and has composed orchestral pieces and piano music. Although the alto saxophone is his chief instrument, he plays all the reeds, woodwinds, some brass and various other conventional and unconventional instruments.

The first jazz group Braxton remembers hearing was the Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
1920 - 2012
piano
Quartet. "That was at a very early age. I didn't dig Brubeck that much, but I was attracted to Paul Desmond
Paul Desmond
Paul Desmond
1924 - 1977
sax, alto
. Actually, it was after listening to Desmond, whom I heard before Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
, that I decided to play woodwinds. He was very important to me and he's still one of my favorite musicians."

In 1961, Braxton heard Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come (Atlantic, 1959). "I had gone by a friend of mine's house, his father listened to jazz, and he said, 'Listen to this, because this is what's going to be happening. This is where the music will be going.' When I heard Ornette I was immediately affected by him. I was afraid of him, because he was so different in relation to what I'd been hearing. I was very conscious of the fact that something was happening with this music—it drew me very strongly, and I knew that someday I would have to deal with it."

Braxton continued to play with his "Desmond sound" for several more years, during which time he was also listening to Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
1899 - 1974
piano
, Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
and Charlie Parker, as well as to Lee Konitz
Lee Konitz
Lee Konitz
b.1927
sax, alto
—"whom I still love. I have every record Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh
Warne Marsh
Warne Marsh
1927 - 1987
sax, tenor
ever made. Konitz, even by today's standards, was into some far out things—'Marshmallow,' 'Ice Cream Konitz..." Later, Braxton encountered Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman. "Those guys really turned my head around. They were so advanced even then it was incredible. I thought I had some knowledge of music, but I found I didn't know anything."

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