Whitehead Interviews Braxton!

Kevin Whitehead talks NEA Masters and Tri-Centric throwdowns (at Roulette) in a new Wondering Sound feature. Here, let’s get cha started…

When multi-reedist and composer Anthony Braxton got the phone call last year telling him he’d been named an NEA Jazz Master, he thought there’d been some mistake. Over 20 years ago, jazz conservatives made him the poster boy for everything they hated. His arcane structures and gasping wide-leaping solos made it plain that swinging was not his top priority. His many albums of standards just angered them more. He was declared not a jazz musician — this guy who admitted the influence of modern classical musicians like Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Braxton responded as Duke Ellington had, when accused of breaching generic boundaries: Then don’t call it jazz, but leave me alone to make my own music. Which he has done, documenting hundreds of works for solo saxophone, jazz quartets, classical pianists, multiple orchestras and many more combinations, on a gazillion labels large and small, his own Braxton House included. He also continued to play jazz clubs and stages (on saxes ranging from squeaky sopranino to the ridiculously large and low contrabass model), and recorded the music of Charlie Parker, Monk and Andrew Hill.



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