Happy birthday, Anthony Braxton

This image of Anthony Braxton is from the John Steiner Collection of the Chicago Jazz Archive

Anthony Braxton, born June 4, 1945 in Chicago, celebrates his 67th birthday today. Braxton is an American music pioneer whose style closely resembles jazz but spans many genres and forms. Braxton’s instruments include saxophones, flute, clarinet, and piano. 

Braxton was born and raised on Chicago’s South Side. In 1963, he joined the army and was stationed with the Fifth Army Band in the northern suburbs of Chicago. In 1965, he went to South Korea and played with the Eighth Army Band all the while keeping up with the recordings of free jazz pioneers Albert Ayler and John Coltrane. Braxton returned to Chicago in 1966 and sought out and joined the newly-formed Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). He formed his own ensembles with musicians such as Leroy Jenkins, Thurman Barker, Charles Clark, Kalaparush, and Leo Smith while also playing in groups led by AACM members like Ajaramu, Amina Myers, and Muhal Richard Abrams. Although greatly influenced by John Coltrane, Braxton quickly developed his own voice.

Braxton spent time recording and performing with his own group in Paris in the late 1960s. Throughout much of the early 1970s, Braxton played in New York and the Midwest, touring with Chick Corea’s trio and Musica Elettronica Viva.

In 1994, Braxton was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship for his outstanding and original contributions to jazz. Braxton founded the Tri-Centric Foundation, a New York based not-for-profit corporation that includes an ensemble of musicians, vocalists, and computer-graphic video artists all of whom aid in the performances of Braxton’s compositions. Braxton studied philosophy at Roosevelt University. He is currently a tenured Professor of Music at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, teaching music composition, music history, and improvisation.

Despite the many improvisational aspects to Braxton’s compositions it is difficult to categorize his music solely as jazz . In March 2007, in an article that appeared in Time Out-New York, Braxton is quoted as saying: “I know I’m an African-American, and I know I play the saxophone, but I’m not a jazz musician. I’m not a classical musician, either. My music is like my life: It’s in between these areas.”

The Special Collections Research Center is home to the Chicago Jazz Archive, which contains a small collection of materials related to Anthony Braxton as well as many collections that document jazz in Chicago and the work of Anthony Braxton.