Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Inspired by Anthony Braxton

This past week, I watched the NEA Jazz Masters award ceremony.  Among the other award recipients was Anthony Braxton. Braxton is probably the most unusual choice the NEA organization has ever made for the award, but perhaps one of the most important in the sense that the NEA has sometimes taken a very narrow and 'classical' approach to the idiom, celebrating the mainstream artists whose music can very clearly be called jazz by the public, even if some of the masters themselves might dislike the name. Braxton's composing and saxophone playing have a clear relationship to jazz, but also to just about any other art or folk music. His speech showed an incredible generosity of spirit and deep humility. The fascinating quirks of his eccentric genius were very much in evidence. Of all the music presented during the awards ceremony, the excerpts from Braxton's opera, Trillium J, seemed the most alive and fresh to me. I must admit that his music hasn't always been at the top of my personal playlist, but that really doesn't diminish my admiration for the man. I can think of few other musicians or artists in any genre that have shown such courage, ingenuity, integrity, and such incredible productivity over such a long period. Truly inspiring.

Kristin Fung has transcribed the speech here.

For a while, you can still view all the speeches and the music here.