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Anthony Braxton honored as NEA Jazz Master

Innovative composer, multi-instrumentalist and educator Anthony Braxton, who visited Harvard in October 1975 as a guest of the Office for the Arts’ Learning From Performers program, has been named a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Master, the nation’s highest honor for an artist in the field of jazz.

Anthony Braxton (photo by Claudio Casanova)

Announcing the honor today, Acting Chairman of the NEA Joan Shigekawa said, “On behalf of the National Endowment for the Arts, I am proud to announce the newest class of NEA Jazz Masters. The NEA is committed to supporting this uniquely American art form, whether it’s through educational materials such as NEA Jazz in the Schools, supporting performance and educational activities by the Jazz Masters through Jazz Masters Live, or in this case, honoring the individuals who have devoted their lives and careers to mastering, sharing, and expanding this music.”

Other artists included in this year’s honors are educator, saxophonist, pianist, bassist, and banjo player Jamey Aebersold, recipient of the 2014 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy; bassist and educator Richard Davis; and pianist/composer Keith Jarrett.

Currently a professor of music at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, Anthony Braxton has noted, “My music occupies a space in between defined idioms.” He began leading his own groups in the 1970s, recording in a variety of settings as his music moved away from “traditional” jazz avant-garde and toward its own idiosyncratic voice. For the past 20 years, he has been focusing on large-scale musical projects, some allowing the performers to determine¬†what parts to play using large, colorful drawings and charts as scores. Among other awards and honors, he has received a MacArthur Fellowship (1994) and was honored with the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award for his lifetime achievements in jazz in 2013.

Anthony Braxton at Adams House, October 23, 1975 (photo by Jeff Cohen)

During his Harvard visit, Braxton led a workshop-seminar at Adams House on “Cell Structure and Schematic Design: Theory and Application.” According to James Cramer in the Harvard Crimson, Braxton informed the 18 student musicians who participated, “I don’t have anything to teach. I’m not coming from that vibrational zone.” Noted Cramer, “But two hours later, after Braxton had finished conducting the musicians in his own music, few would say they had not learned anything.” Additionally, the Harvard Jazz Bands commissioned a composition from Braxton which was performed in a concert at Sanders Theatre in April 1976.

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