We humans are happy because yesterday Henry Threadgill was awarded this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Music.
At the Pulitzer site, Threadgill’s “In for a Penny, In for a Pound” (released in May, 20015, on Pi Recordings) is referred to as “a highly original work in which notated music and improvisation mesh in a sonic tapestry that seems the very expression of modern American life.”
That’s savvy analysis, and it’s a relief to hear the “American-ness” of music from an African American composer with strong roots in jazz invoked as something beyond “the democracy of improvisation” or the “cry of freedom.”
Still, I hear in Threadgill’s music, and especially in light of the range of his influences, the very expression of life here on earth, period.
Threadgill is never at a loss for words. (Cornetist Graham Haynes posted on Facebook that Threadgill could have won a Pulitzer simply for his song titles.) In Nate Chinen’s news piece in today’s New York Times, here’s Threadgill’s pull-quote: Continue reading “(Something Right in the Universe Dep't): Henry Threadgill Awarded Pulitzer Prize”
Harlem Stage Gets Very Very Threadgill
I can’t imagine a better way to experience the promise of creative music rooted in jazz than to spend much of this coming weekend at Harlem Stage, which opens its season with “Very Very Threadgill,” a two-day festival featuring more than 30 musicians performing the music of composer, saxophonist and flutist Henry Threadgill, as curated by pianist Jason Moran.
The series is named for Very Very Circus, a 1990s band of Threadgill’s that, like nearly all of his ensembles, featured unusual instrumentation (that one blended tuba, electric guitar and, at times, French horn). This two-day festival spans Threadgill’s career. Saturday night’s lineup features music from his landmark 1970s-80s trio Air (as revisited by Moran and is trio, The Bandwagon), his 1980s Sextett (featuring an original member, drummer Pheeroan akLaff), and the powerhouse trio, Harriet Tubman, which includes longtime Threadgill associate, guitarist Brandon Ross, and singer Cassandra Wilson. Sunday night’s offerings move from solo, duo and chamber group to a culminating set by Threadgill’s star-studded Society Situation Dance Band.
I consider Threadgill the most fascinating and original composer of my lifetime. His singular musical language challenges listeners through layered rhythmic tensions and surprising sonic textures and yet soothes, too: Like sunrises and snowflakes, each Threadgill piece brings the sorts of glorious shifts of color and form that help make life rewarding and embody its flow—never the same yet part of some grander design, some continuum, we can live within but never fully grasp.
Threadgill was among the earliest members of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in the 1960s and remains among New York City’s creative lodestars, which has been his home since the 1970s.
I interviewed him in January for a Wall Street Journal piece, just before he mounted “Old Locks and Irregular Verbs,” in tribute to the late composer and conductor Butch Morris, with a group that included two pianists, one of which was Moran. Threadgill and I met at DeRobertis Pasticceria and Caffe, not far from where Threadgill and Morris made their homes and established their artistic presences in Manhattan’s East Village decades ago. DeRobertis is the sort of place that exudes the humble dignity that results from clarity of focus—to sip espresso and eat sfogliatella there is to grasp what that means—and that for a century maintained its place on a street and within a neighborhood where gentrification has wiped away most of what once was. Unfortunately, it appears that the café, whose property is listed for sale, may soon be gone. And, sadly, Morris is no longer with us (“Old Locks” was Threadgill’s tip of the hat to his dear departed friend.)
Threadgill is still going strong, pouring and new music even as his past work assumes new relevance and influence. During our conversation, he told me he’d been admiring Moran’s music—“and the way he approaches his music”—for some time.
Soon after, I called up Moran, who was then looking forward to his first direct experience his Threadgill. Moran, whose acclaim includes a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, expresses himself in many way these days: through his Bandwagon band; as pianist in saxophonist Charles Lloyd’s quartet; via ambitious projects like “All Rise,” his new CD (an elegy for Fats Waller in collaboration with, among others, singer and bassist MeShell Ndegeocello); and through his programming for the Kennedy Center, SFJazz and Harlem Stage.
Here’s what he told me about Threadgill: Continue reading “Harlem Stage Gets Very Very Threadgill”
Stuff Henry Threadgill Said
Last month, I was working on a story about musician-composer Henry Threadgill, who was then composing a piece in tribute to the late musician-composer Butch Morris. Threadgill and I met at DeRobertis Pasticceria and Caffe, not far from where Threadgill and Morris made their homes and established their artistic presences in Manhattan’s East Village. DeRobertis is the sort of place that exudes the humble dignity that results from clarity of focus—to sip espresso and eat sfogliatella there is to grasp what that means—and that has maintained its place on a street and within a neighborhood where gentrification has wiped away most of what once was.
According to the bakery’s website:
The present DeRobertis Pasticceria and Caffe was established by Paolo DeRobertis, our grandfather on April 20, 1904. The original name Caffe Pugliese was in honor of the birthplace of Paolo DeRobertis, Puglia (the Apulia region of Italy) in the Province or Bari. Paolo DeRobertis instilled many passions that have been passed on through four generations. One of those passions was to create and maintain a tradition of family (La Famiglia). The meaning of La Famiglia is to reach across generations with Quality, Tradition and Prestige.
As I sat with Threadgill, he reflected on a relationship with Morris that spanned nearly four decades, and that seemed familial. Threadgill’s comments, which always range far and yet carry a tight logic, focused mostly on those same themes as the DeRobertis clan—Quality, Tradition and Prestige.
As I’ve written in the weeks since about the creative and practical challenges facing musicians here in New York, as well as about tensions over the place of traditional culture in a fast-changing New Orleans, I keep hearing echoes of what Threadgill had to say.
So I’m simply going to spill out some of those comments out, with just the barest (but I hope enough) context: Continue reading “Stuff Henry Threadgill Said”
Amid Winter Jazzfest's Glorious Sprawl, Threadgill Salutes Morris
The Winter Jazzfest, now in its tenth year, has grown into a signature event of New York’s jazz scene. Like the environment it reflects, relationships hold its keys to discovery and understanding. Saturday night at Judson Church in Greenwich Village, within a sprawling nine-venue marathon featuring scores of bands, composer Henry Threadgill had assembled a seven-piece group, Ensemble Double-Up, to premiere a piece, “Old Locks and Irregular Verbs,” in remembrance of his friend, composer and conductor Butch Morris, who died in January 2013. My account is here. Continue reading “Amid Winter Jazzfest's Glorious Sprawl, Threadgill Salutes Morris”