Anthony Braxton

Saxophonist, Clarinetist, Flautist, Composer, Educator, Author
Portrait of Anthony Braxton

Photo by Michael G. Stewart


"For me, the recognition of my place in creative American music is quite a surprise--welcome surprise, that comes at the right time in my life. To be named an NEA Jazz Master recipient opens the door of reconciliation to the whole of my musical and cultural family, and completes my "inner nature and balance" in the most positive way. This is so because no matter the nomenclature, I have never separated myself from the great men and women whose creative work changed and elevated my life--and reason for wanting to live. The NEA Jazz Master family has profoundly shaped the dynamics of American and world culture--it doesn't get any better than this family. The story of creative music is the story of America and the story of composite human vibrational dynamics. The discipline of creative music is one of the greatest gifts that the cosmic forces have given us."

"My music occupies a space in between defined idioms." So stated Anthony Braxton, succinctly capturing the nature of his compositions, as complex and enigmatic as the diagrams he creates for their titles. While he might not consider the music he currently makes as "jazz," certainly the improvised and rhythmic nature of the music he began playing 50 or more years ago still influences him, and his performances on his "In the Tradition" recordings demonstrate his ability to play the standards beautifully.

Braxton began played music as a youth growing up in Chicago. He then attended the Chicago School of Music from 1959-1963, and went on to Roosevelt University to study philosophy and composition. Braxton joined the U.S. Army in 1963 and played saxophone in an Army band; upon his discharge in 1966, he returned to Chicago where he joined the newly formed Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). In 1968, he recorded For Alto, a double-album of unaccompanied saxophone, which is considered a landmark jazz solo instrumental recording.

In 1970, after a short-lived stint with Barry Altschul, Chick Corea, and Dave Holland in the avant-garde group Circle, Braxton began leading his own bands in New York City, recording in a variety of settings, from duos of saxophone and Moog synthesizer to full orchestras. His music was moving away from even traditional jazz avant-garde and moving toward its own idiosyncratic voice. In the 1980s and 1990s, Braxton's regular performing quartet included Marilyn Crispell, Mark Dresser, and Gerry Hemingway, although he continued to record and perform with a variety of musicians both in and out of the jazz genre.

For the past 20 years, Braxton has been focusing on large-scale musical projects, such as the Ghost Trance Music he began working on in the mid-1990s to create a "melody that doesn't end" with performers determining what parts to play. His Falling River Music uses large, colorful drawings to direct the musicians, but again, lets the performers determine their own way through the compositions. Diamond Curtain Wall Music takes the Falling River Music further using interactive electronics. Braxton also released an increasing number of works for large orchestras and his Trillium operas cycles.

He has taught at Mills College and currently is professor of music at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, teaching music composition, music history, and improvisation. He also authored multiple volumes explaining his theories and pieces. In 2010, he revived his dormant nonprofit Tri-Centric Foundation (originally created in 1994) to support the dissemination of his work. Among his awards, he received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1994 and was honored with the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award for his lifetime achievements in jazz in 2013.

Selected Discography

For Alto, Delmark, 1968
The Complete Arista Recordings of Anthony Braxton, Mosaic, 1974-1980
The Complete Remastered Recordings on Black Saint & Soul Note, Black Saint, 1978-1994
9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006, Firehouse 12, 2006
Trillium E, New Braxton House, 2010


Anthony Braxton

ANTHONY BRAXTON: I came to see that every music had something that I loved in it. I have always tried to make it clear that my work is not a rejection of anything. My work is only possible because of what I’ve learned from the great artists who’ve come before me. Whether we’re talking of the great blues tradition of Chicago or bossa nova, I love it, period.

That was 2014 NEA Jazz Master—composer and musician, Anthony Braxton. And this is Art Works, the weekly podcast produced by the National Endowment for the Arts. I’m Josephine Reed.

Anthony Braxton's music goes where few have imagined.  Although he can play a saxophone in the jazz tradition that would rival anyone, his own compositions are more difficult to characterize. Think of the American music of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman, marrying, or at least going steady, with the twelve-tone European tradition embraced by Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg. Add the athematic compositions of Stockhausen, the narrative sweep of Richard Wagner, and and a dash of the down-home blues of the Chicago's south side, and you may, perhaps, find the jumping off point for Anthony Braxton's music.

For the past fifty years, Anthony Braxton has pushed his music in all directions. Although one of his early releases, For Alto, is considered a landmark jazz solo instrumental recording, Braxton is equally at home composing large-scale musical projects, such as Composition 82 for four orchestras or the Ghost Trance Music in which he creates a "melody that doesn't end" with performers determining what parts to play. His Falling River Music uses large, colorful drawings as musical scores, and again, lets the musicians determine their own way through the compositions.  And most ambitiously, he's in the midst of composing the Trillium Series—a cycle of interconnected operas that will ultimately comprise thirty-six one-act works, that can be presented in various combinations. Anthony Braxton teaches at Wesleyan University, has received a MacArthur Genius Grant in 1994 and was honored with the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award for a lifetime achievement in jazz in 2013. Although he embraces jazz and sees it as the foundation of his own work  Braxton was amazed to find himself named a 2014 NEA Jazz Master.

ANTHONY BRAXTON: I was very surprised. For the last 50 years and some the jazz community has pushed me back. And I could respect that. In the interim, I came to see my work as in a kind of in between space. Not classical. Not black. Not white. And so at 68-years-old, suddenly to receive a call from the National Endowment of the Arts was quite a surprise. What a wonderful honor. I am grateful that this has happened. Certainly I admire the men and women who have co-- gone before me. And for something like this to happen in my senior period, I must say, life is really something. And I'm very grateful to be alive and to have discovered the wonderful discipline of music.

JO REED: Let me ask you. You say that your music isn't jazz, isn't classical, isn't black, isn't white. What would you say that it is?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: I see my work as affirmation of universality. As an affirmation of our wonderful country. I have deep love for America. I see my work as springing from a base that can be called jazz. And from that base I was able to explore world music.

And so my work is an affirmation of my experiences, like everyone else. And my experiences have been universal experiences. And this was deliberate, because what I was looking for was not an ethnic-centric solution to anything, but rather with my music there was an opportunity to bring things together rather than to separate things.

JO REED: Tell us now when and where you were born?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: I was born in Chicago, Illinois, June 4, 1945. And I had the experience of growing up in the middle of the south side of Chicago. After first being very involved in rock and roll as a young guy, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Bill Haley and the Comets were my heroes as a young guy. At the age of 11, say 10 or 11, I would discover the great music of Ahmed Jamal. As a young guy I wanted to play trumpet like my hero Miles Davis. It was only because of an accidental opportunity that I would have the chance to hear an L.P. that immediately changed my whole life. That L.P. was Jazz at the College of the Pacific. The Dave Brubeck Quartet. And the first composition on the L.P. was All The Things You Are, by the time of the completion of the first composition my whole life had changed.

Music up and hot…

ANTHONY BRAXTON: And from that point I would move towards the alto saxophone.

JO REED: When did you first start studying music? When did you study an instrument? How old were you?


JO REED:  And what was it?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: I went to a Chicago Vocational High School. This was-- the first opportunity to actually be in a band. To have music as part of the curriculum. And so I joined the band and started with clarinet. And it was wonderful for me because I was always very excited by music.

As my parents began to understand that I was serious about it my father bought me an old opera alto saxophone. And I started taking lessons at the Chicago School of Music under Mr. Jack Gell and I would study with Mr. Gell for somethin' like seven, eight or nine years. And then after high school went to Wilson Junior College where I began to meet-- musicians who were interested in the same same kind of things I was interested in.

JO REED: You were in the Army, the US Army, and you joined the band. Tell me about that.

ANTHONY BRAXTON:, I took a test and was fortunate to pass and I joined the 5th Army band which was stationed in Highland Park. And I was in the Army for three years. I spent training in Louisville, Kentucky. And then I had two years and Seoul, Korea, where I had my first opportunity to have experiences outside of the country. I had opportunities to travel all over Korea, including the D.M.Z. And then came back to America and took courses at Roosevelt University.

JO REED: When you returned to Chicago you joined the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Tell me about that organization.

ANTHONY BRAXTON: And so after coming home from South Korea in the first week I went to a concert of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, the AACM. And suddenly I met men and women who were interested in the same kind of things I was interested in.

JO REED: What year was this?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: This was 1966. Up until 1966 I had always found myself the odd guy out. And so the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians was-- a group of-- spiritualists who were trying to search for what is the meaning of music. What is music all about anyway? Is it just about writin' a song and making $800 billion? Why do we love music so much? And it was one of the best things that had ever happened to me to discover this group of-- incredible musicians. No one worked. Very little work. Nobody had any money. We all come from poverty. And no one would give an inch with respect to their aesthetics and their music.

And so for the next three years lots of concerts, experimentation. We had time in Chicago to work on our music. The record companies were not there in the same way that the musicians in New York had. So from that point by 1969- I had discovered what my music could be if I worked hard. JO REED: Now is this when you started listening to Vayburn and Stockhausen?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: I stared listening to Schoenberg in Wilson Junior College. And so I count the great music of Arnold Schoenberg as part of the family of musics that's molded my work. And going back to Chicago and studying at Roosevelt University, when John Coltrane passed it was a profound experience for me because Mr. Coltrane meant so much to me. And I discovered the great music of Karlheinz Stockhausen. And his work would have a profound effect on me in the same way as John Coltrane or Arnold Schoenberg. It would be at that point that I began to explore the 20th century-notated musics. The trans-European musics. And I discovered that the great trans-European modernists would complete my equation in every way. And it would be at that point that I would begin to look at myself as an instrumentalist and a composer. It helped clarify to me what I had to do in my life.

JO REED: your album, For Alto, when did you record that?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: I recorded For Alto in 1966. And I recorded For Alto because I wasn't strong enough as a pianist to do a solo concert. I have always had a great love for solo piano music. Especially Schoenberg and Stockhausen. And so I made the decision to do the solo music on the alto saxophone, which is my strongest instrument.

Music up and hot

JO REED: You dedicated For Alto to Cecil Taylor and to John Cage. Why those two?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: From the beginning I have tried to use the music to establish personal connections or to honor the men and women who have helped me. And so this was merely an attempt to say thank you to Mr. Cage, thank you to Cecil Taylor for the inspiration that they gave me. This was the period where Bob Dylan was starting to come out. The Times They Are a-Changing. Rolling Stones.  Sympathy for the Devil. All of these musics were changing. The Haight-Ashbury scene of acid rock and Jimi Hendrix. And I remember saying to the cosmics how grateful I was to be born with all these opportunities out there. And so every composition I would try to if it made sense, to say thank you to one of my heroes or heroines as a symbolic gesture. And as a personal gesture for compositions dedicated to friends.

JO REED: When did you begin to listen to Charlie Parker?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: I listened to Charlie Parker as a young guy. Six, seven or eight. And my Uncle Willie said, "No, this is a guy you have to listen to." So I put it on. And it was too difficult. It was like, "What is this? What is this guy doing?" And then he says, "Well, you need to check out Coltrane." And I'd listen to Mr. Coltrane. I found myself thinking, "Why does he play so many notes? This is this is not jazz. Where's the melody?" (LAUGH)

JO REED: Out of your mouth.

ANTHONY BRAXTON: It's incredible, but if you had met me in my-- teens I sounded like the New Orleans guys with respect to tradition. And the music of Charlie Parker, I couldn't hear Charlie Parker. I could only hear him after listening to Paul Desmond and Warren Marsh and Jackie McLain and John Coltrane. And then I went back.

We tend to when thinking about music and how to listen to music, we tend to think you start at Bach and then you go forward or you start at Louis Armstrong and you go forward. I've never agreed with that perspective. My experience has been you start with whatever pushes your button and then you go forward and backwards at the same time.

That's what I've tried to do.

JO REED: When did you revisit Charlie Parker?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: 04:57:36;11 I started revisiting Charlie Parker in the Army. Just as if you're in France, the country, the signs-- all signs are leading to Paris. And it's kind of the same in music. You start playing improvised music. trying to understand the 5th restructural cycle of musics that we call bee bop. All roads would lead to the great work of Charlie Parker.

Music up and hot

My hero, Paul Desmond and Roy Marsh genuflected to Charlie Parker. So for me as a young guy I found myself thinking, "Who is this guy who my Uncle And I'm still listening to it, of course, just like I'm still listening to Bach and Beethoven.

JO REED: You lived in Paris for awhile but when you moved there you had very little money.

ANTHONY BRAXTON: I left for Paris I had a one way ticket. I had $50 in my pocket. My motto was "play or die." And I went to Paris and I changed the money. I took a taxi cab into Montparnasse, which took something, like, $30. So I had $20 left. We're going down the street in Montparnasse. I look out the window. There's Steve McCall, the master percussionist from Chicago, I had heard he was there. I asked the driver of the taxi to stop, called out for Steve and he said, "You can come and stay with me and my family as you get adjusted to Paris." And it was the cosmics again helping me out, since I have not always been what one would call a practical person.

JO REED: You were in a trio. Did you go to France alone?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: I went to France alone, but there was agreement with Leroy Jenkins and Leo Smith that they would also be coming. They took a boat over. I had to get out of Chicago quick. I took the plane. (LAUGHTER) And about a month or two later they arrived and we have a co-op group that we called it the Creative Construction Company.

JO REED: That is a great name.

ANTHONY BRAXTON: Well, thank you. And Steve McCall would join the group as well. And so the Creative Construction Company lasted for something, like, two years. And it was a wonderful period for me.

JO REED: Ornette Coleman. He was in France when you were in France, wasn't he?


JO REED: Talk about you and Ornette in France?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: Ornette Coleman came to our concerts. And it was my first opportunity to meet the great man and he asked us to play the first half on a concert that he was doing in Paris. It was a symbolic gesture to endorse us. And after the concert he invited me to-- to live with him in New York, because I had never been to New York. And he said-- "Well, if you decide to come to New York, you can stay with me." He had a large place.

And so Leroy Jenkins and I would-- a year later-- come to New York and we would stay with Ornette Coleman. This was in Soho at the time, on Prince Street. And I learned a great deal from this incredible master. Ornette Coleman is point of definition for the modern African American composer, actually the modern American composer. He is such an original person and he's such a kind person. And so my experience with Ornette would start at that point.

JO REED: When you came back to New York how did you support yourself? How did you make a living?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: I made a living my in New York hustling chess in Washington Square Park. Every now and then a concert would come up. There was very little work for me, playing my own music. And so it was chance concert performance that would come up. But mostly playing chess.

JO REED: Describe what a chess hustler does.

ANTHONY BRAXTON: A chess hustler goes to Washington Square Park-- and will play X amount of games and the other person win. And when the big money comes up then you win. And I tried to not be incorrect and take all the money, but that was how I made my living. And then I would lose the money going to play with the grand masters. So in the end I was always broke anyway. (LAUGHTER) I would take the normal players, beat them and maybe go out and have a McDonald's hamburger. And so that was my McDonald's period.

And so New York or in that period was incredible for me. It was exciting. I didn't need much money. All I wanted to do was play chess, play music, have some brown rice and egg or something. Have a Big Mac or two.

JO REED: I wanna jump forward just a little bit and talk about the recordings you did for Arista. When was this?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: The recordings for Arista began in 1974. They were building a new label. It was very exciting. And I had a contract with Arista Records, which was quite an opportunity and so I was able to do projects for Arista up until 1979.

JO REED: How many records did Arista produce of yours?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: Something like eight or nine projects. Including-- projects that involved multiple records like Composition 82 for Four Orchestras. Originally that was a four L.P. set. I was able to do projects that were not considered, quote unquote, "jazz."

Because of my good fortune to have met Michael Cuscuna and Steve Backer, I had two friends and allies who would help me to document my music, including secret projects that the big office was not looking at.

JO REED: You did an album with Max Roach?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: Yes. I was very fortunate to do a recording with Max Roach. I was fortunate to get to know him. First I was surprised to know that the great man-- had chosen me. I didn't choose him. I would never-- ever have even suggested that I walk across the street while he was playing. I worshipped the ground he walked on. It was Max Roach who decided he wanted to do a project with me. And of course my answer was, "Yes, yes, yes, sir."And so we walked into the studio. He had nothin' to say to me. And I said, "Uh, Mr. Roach-- good afternoon, sir. Is-- everything okay?" Nothin' to say. He turned-- he turned to the engineer. He says, "Turn on the tape. Let's play." (LAUGH) So we start playing. "Ye-- yes, Mr. Roach." Everything was one-- in one swoop. There was no breaks.

Music up and hot

And then after the recording was finished he said, "Anthony, how are you?" And that's when our relationship started. After the recording we became friends. The old master checked me out to see if I was-- on a level where it was worth it. And after we finished playing then he actually kind of embraced me and took me in. I was the luckiest guy on the planet.

JO REED: You did just a great CD called Six Monk Compositions.

ANTHONY BRAXTON: Yes. The record of the great music of Thelonious Monk was-- an incredible opportunity to play and meet my old friend Mel Waldron. it's important for me to say that my work was not a rejection of anything. I approached my work as an affirmation of-- of the things I've learned about. And as such at various time spaces I would go back and record traditional material, because I still love the tradition. I just didn't want a concept of tradition that would-- take away from my responsibility to meet the challenges of the time space that I was born.

JO REED: What is your relationship to tradition?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: My relationship with tradition is I love the tradition. Whether it's the Michigan State marching band. Whether it's the great work of Johnny Mathis. My relationship to the tradition is-- just like my relationship to America. I grew up listening to the sons of the pioneers. After all, I was a Roy Rogers guy. I grew up listening to the great music of Lawrence Welk with his incredible orchestra. And I came to see that every music had something that I loved in it. My work is only possible because of what I've learned from the great artists who've come before me. Whether we're talking of-- the great blues tradition in Chicago or bossa nova. I love it. Period.

JO REED: You once said that the real tradition is creativity.

ANTHONY BRAXTON: Yes. I did say that. The real tradition is creativity, doing your best and trying to meet challenges of your time period. That's the tradition that we've been given. As opposed to the idea of tradition used as a political weapon to say what you can't do, tradition, in my opinion, says, "This has all been done and you need to learn the fundamentals and respect the last-2,000, 3,000 years of documented music, but don't let that be an excuse to not find your own work."

Music up and hot

JO REED: When did you start teaching?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: I started teaching in 1966 at the AACM School of Music. And from that point I had various two weeks stays at different universities and this kind of thing. Somewhere in 1985 I was married. I had three children. And I found myself at a crossroads. It's one thing to live on Hostess Twinkies when you live by yourself. Or to have McDonald's. It's another thing when you have three children and a wife. And here I am, playing music and suddenly it-- it became clear to me that, "Hmm, I don't wanna pre-judge my situation, but it's looking like I'm not working. (LAUGH) And there's no money coming in. And I don't mean to be negative, but is this an indication that I've just been goin' the wrong way and making mistakes? It wouldn't be the first time I've made mistakes." Mistakes is one of the few areas that I consider myself a virtuoso in. And then the doorbell rang. Western Union. I opened it. It's David Rosenboom saying, "Anthony, we need you to come to Mills College. You would be perfect and we want you to come and be with us." And suddenly it was the cosmic saving me again. Or just like in Paris. Only a nutcake would go to Paris with $50 in his pocket and survive.

And so suddenly David Rosenboom gives me a second chance to be alive and to protect my family. And it was because of that that I went into academia and had five years, five beautiful years at Mills College.

JO REED: How long have you been here at Wesleyan?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: I've been at Wesleyan for 23 years.

JO REED: You’re known as a teacher who forms very strong relationships with students. You perform with them, you record with them, you work with them long after you they are your students. Taylor Ho Bynum is probably the best example. He’s a former student who’s now a frequent collaborator.

ANTHONY BRAXTON: Part of my responsibility I feel as an educator is to work with young people. I was always working with young people before going into academia. And the way I see it you need to have mentoring. And so to have the opportunity to come to Wesleyan University where the students are outrageously brilliant and so whenever it's possible, I try to take the students out on the road or do a recording project with them to give them experiences.

Because I've had so many people who have helped me as a young guy. And-- part of receiving that kind of help says "When you get to be a grown person, then you have to do the same for the next generation. You have to help the generation under you to have experiences. Help them understand what they're getting into or help them to find what their path is in life." And so the decision to work with young people was a dynamic decision because on top of everything else, playing with a guy like Taylor Ho Bynum makes me work harder. And not only that, it gets really beautiful. I start off being the teacher but I end up being the student.

JO REED: In 1994 you were named a MacArthur Fellow. Not a bad year.

ANTHONY BRAXTON: 1994 was an incredible year for me. But let me be clear. I have never made any money from my music. In fact, part of the decision to embrace music as a life's work for me was the understanding that I wasn't gonna make any money from my music. And when a good concert would come up and-- and suddenly I'm really being paid, with that money I would pour it back into my music. And so when I say I haven't made any money from my music, I'm not saying that as a way of saying I'm unhappy because I didn't make money and someone owes me something because I've been working hard. I don't feel that way at all. In fact, if I had money I would pay people to listen to my music.

And so suddenly 1994 comes around. And the McArthur people gave me a fellowship. And I was very surprised and very happy. And so because of that decision by the McArthur people I was able to get Trillium Hour performed. My first opera that was performed.

JO REED: Can you briefly tell us about this project and what drew you to opera?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: Thank you for this question. Because I had a thing against opera. Okay, fade out. Fade back. I go to see Wozzeck of Alban Berg. And it was an incredible experience. It hit me just like experiencing the music of John Coltrane at the Plugged Nickel.

And suddenly I'm listening to opera and it's finally clicking for me. And I would even say this. One of my primary influences initial the past decade has been the great work of Richard Wagner.

Music up and hot

It’s because of Wagner in the end that I would make the decision to build an opera cycle that would celebrate the verbals of my music system.   And so opera has become very important to me. Storytelling. Narrative logics. Songs have become very important to me. I'm even interested in harmony. It's just a question of having enough time to do everything. But most certainly the opera cycle and the decision to move into storytelling is all connected to my awakening to the great music of Richard Wagner.

JO REED: You also composed the Falling River music which is a graphic score. Explain a little bit of the thinking behind the graphic score, which, aside from anything else, they're very beautiful.

ANTHONY BRAXTON: Thank you. I needed a balance between the traditional notated music which is rigorous and a lot of fun, but I wanted to find processes that could help me have the kind of balance that I was seeking.

And so the Falling River musics would be the beginning of new models that would explore intuitive processes and intuitive decisions as a way to balance stable logic decisions. And so image as part of the music score would suddenly bring in intuition in a way that was fresh and balancing for me.

JO REED: When you listen to music do you translate the sound to images?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: I see sound. I've always been interested in the geometry and properties of shape. And so color-- the lighter the color or the higher the pitch or the faster the pitch, the darker the color, the slower the music-- movin' into different timbre areas and the lower the pitch.

JO REED: I really want you to talk about Composition 19.

ANTHONY BRAXTON: Well Taylor Ho Bynum was one of the conductors on Composition 19. (LAUGHTER) I wrote Composition 19 I think in 1971. Something like that.. I had my first performance-- what, a couple of years ago? And I tell my students, "Don't you sit around waiting for someone to come and give you a grant and then y'all write the music. Rather use the time that you have and do your work." Which is to say if you hear something and write it out, sooner or later it'll be performed.

JO REED: Explain a little bit what it is.

ANTHONY BRAXTON: Composition Number 19 is four groups of 25 tubas who are also moving in a group. There are four different movements in Composition 19 and each movement demonstrates some aspect of change.And so you have four groups in an area space marching in different directions.

Music up and hot

Composition 19 would come about because of my love for parade music. I'm a parade kind of guy. I love the wonderful music of John Phillips Sousa. When I was in the Army I was in heaven because we were marching all over the place, playing parades. I haven't heard a march that I can't find something that I love in it. And so number 19 was an opportunity to use the tubas moving around in a space. And I was really surprised to find that there would be an opportunity to finally hear number 19.

JO REED: You mentioned the Tri-Centric Foundation. Explain just briefly what your goals are with the Tri-Centric Foundation?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: Okay, the Tri-Centric Foundation became important to me on many different levels. More and more musicians like myself find themselves marginalized. And I found myself thinking, "I want to be a part of putting something together that would be universal, that would help the men and women of this time period discover their community and to know that they are not alone," like I felt as same young guy until I discovered the AACM. And so the Tri-Centric Foundation is a kind of a reformation of the AACM but there are differences. The AACM came together on the South Side of Chicago. It was ethnic-centric. That is to say comprised mostly 99% of African Americans. The Tri-Centric Foundation is a universal community.

And one of the reasons to put it together was to bring people together so that they can know that they are part of a community and not alone. And so what I would like to hope for is that the Tri-Centric Foundation is the beginning of a new attempt to establish in every city and all over our country organizations dedicated to creativity. Creativity not controlled by the marketplace, but creativity as defined by the men and women who are creative.

And so the Tri-Centric Foundation is really the beginning of a global attempt to unleash the forces of creativity. I'd like to hope that like the AACM, in the next decade the Tri-Centric Foundation, maybe we could have a school for children. And teach music free like we did in the AACM. We used to go to the parents' homes and pick up the child and drive the child to Lincoln Center in Chicago. And give a nice hot lunch and then music instructions.

It was like, you know, that's our responsibility here. We have to-- we have to do this. If we don't do it, who's gonna do it? And of course we all felt growing up, "Oh, in the next decade things are gonna get better." And things have gotten better. But-- things have also been very complex. And so we have children growing up that get no music in grammar school. They get no music in high school. And we wonder what's happening with our culture? Well, maybe what's happening with our culture is that we're not giving our-- all of our citizens the possibilities that they need to be able to find something to hold onto. I have no idea what my life would have become had I not discovered music. It would be very different from what has transpired. responsibility is to find a way to help the children.

And so the Tri-Centric Foundation is saying, "We have the talent. Life is worth living. Music is worth either listening to or not listening to." We have to find a way to bring people into it. To have people engaged. Because we have the talent.

JO REED: I was actually going to end by asking-- what's next. What are you looking forward to. But I think you've just answered question.

ANTHONY BRAXTON: Oh, we've got much more to be looking forward to.

JO REED: Anthony Braxton, thank you, thank you so much. And many, many congratulations on an honor that's so richly deserved.

That was 2014 Jazz Master Anthony Braxton.

Anthony Braxton and the other 2014 Jazz Masters will be honored with a concert and ceremony on January 13 at JALC in New York City.  The NEA is webcasting the event live---go to for details. You've been listening to artworks produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. Adam Kampe is the musical supervisor.

The Art Works podcast is posted every Thursday at You subscribe to Art Works at iTunes U; just click on the iTunes link on our podcast page. 

We're taking two weeks off for the holidays; we return on January 9 with our final 2014 jazz master, pianist Keith Jarrett.

To find out how art works in communities across the country, keep checking the Art Works blog, or follow us @NEAARTS on Twitter.  For the National Endowment for the Arts, I'm Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.

 Music Credits Unless otherwise noted,  all compositions  are composed by Anthony Braxton, used by permission of Anthony Braxton and Synthesis Music [BMI]. Excerpt of “All the Things You Are” composed by Jerome Kern and performed by The Dave Brubeck Quartet from the album, Jazz at the College of the Pacific, used courtesy of Concord Music Group and Derry Music Company.  “All the Things You Are” used by permission of UNIVERSAL POLYGRAM INTERNATIONAL PUBLISHING INC [ASCAP] Excerpt of “To Composer John Cage,” “from the album, For Alto,  composed and performed by Anthony Braxton used courtesy of Delmark Records. Excerpt of “Wee” composed by Denzil Best and performed by The Quintet, from the album Live at Massey Hall, used courtesy of Concord Music Group, Inc. “Wee” used by permission of the Music Sales Corporation [BMI]. Excerpt of “Birth” composed and performed by Anthony Braxton and Max Roach, from the album, Birth and Rebirth, used courtesy of Black Saint / Soul Note.   “Birth” used by permission of Kobalt Music Publishing and Milma Music Publishing [BMI]. Excerpt of  "Opus  82" and  "Opus 58" composed by Anthony Braxton;  “Maple Leaf Rag,” composed by Scott Joplin, from the album, The Complete Arista Recordings of Anthony Braxton [Disc 2], used courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment.  Excerpt of “Composition 100”  from the album,  Four Ensemble Compositions 1992, used courtesy of Black Saint / Soul Note. Excerpt  of "Composition 19 for 100 Tubas" used courtesy of  New Braxton House Records Excerpt of Trillium E,  used courtesy of  New Braxton House Records

Related Video