There has been disagreement for more than forty years about whether the saxophonist, composer and sometime pianist Anthony Braxton is a jazz musician. With many others, he long insisted that the music he wrote and played was not jazz, but in 1993 he told author Cole Gagne…
…even though I have been saying I’m not a jazz musician for the last 25 years; in the final analysis, an African-American with a saxophone? Ahh, he’s jazz!
Maybe that concession is part of what led the National Endowment for the Arts to name Braxton one of the four NEA Jazz Masters for 2014. He, pianist Keith Jarrett, bassist Richard Davis and musician-entrepreneur Jamey Aebersold will receive their medals and their $25,000 awards on Monday evening. In a moment, we’ll hear one of Braxton’s controversial early recordings. But it may be helpful to first see and hear him discuss his approach to music.
In 1969, when he was 24, Braxton recorded, on one of his arsenal of saxophones, For Alto, a two-LP album of unaccompanied performances. Braxton dedicated three of the album’s pieces to John Cage, Cecil Taylor and Leroy Jenkins, indications of his leanings away from the mainstream of jazz and toward the unfettered expression musicians were pursuing in the wake of Ornette Coleman’s, and Taylor’s, emergence. Here is “To Pianist Cecil Taylor.” You will see schematic drawings of roughly the kind Braxton has included in most of his album packages through the years. It may take this video a few seconds to come up on your screen.
The NEA Jazz Masters ceremony, attended by the glitterati of the arts world, or at least of New York’s jazz community, will be streamed live from Lincoln Center. It will be on the web at 7:30 p.m. Monday on the arts.gov and Jazz at Lincoln Center websites.