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The New NEA Jazz Masters: Anthony Braxton

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Anthony Braxton 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
Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
b.1945
piano
, bassist Richard Davis
Richard Davis
Richard Davis
b.1930
bass
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
John Cage
John Cage
1912 - 1992
composer/conductor
, Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor
b.1929
piano
and Leroy Jenkins
Leroy Jenkins
Leroy Jenkins
1932 - 2007
violin
, indications of his leanings away from the mainstream of jazz and toward the unfettered expression musicians were pursuing in the wake of Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
b.1930
sax, alto
’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.


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This story appears courtesy of Rifftides by Doug Ramsey.
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved.
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