Henry Threadgill (born February 15, 1944, in Chicago, Illinois) is an American composer, saxophonist and flautist.
Life and career
Threadgill first performed as a percussionist
in his high school marching band before taking up the baritone saxophone
and later a large portion of the woodwind instrument
family. He soon settled primarily upon the alto saxophone
and the flute
AACM and Air
He was one of the original members of the legendary AACM
(Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) in his hometown of Chicago
and worked under the guidance of Muhal Richard Abrams
before leaving to tour with a gospel band. In 1967, he enlisted in the U.S. Army
, playing with a rock band in Vietnam
in 1967 and 1968. He was discharged in 1969.
Upon his return to Chicago he rejoined fellow AACM members Fred Hopkins and Steve McCall, forming a trio which would eventually become the group Air, one of the most celebrated and critically acclaimed avant-garde jazz groups of the 1970s and 1980s. In the meantime, Threadgill had moved to New York City to begin pursuing his own musical visions, which explored musical genres in innovative ways thanks to his daringly unique group collaborations. His first group, X-75, was a nonet consisting of four reed players, four bass players and a vocalist.
In the early 1980s, Threadgill created his first critically acclaimed ensemble as a leader, Henry Threadgill Sextet
(actually a septet), which released three LP's on About Time Records
. After a hiatus, during which Threadgill formed New Air
with Pheeroan Aklaff
replacing the late Steve McCall on drums, Threadgill re-formed the Henry Threadgill Sextett
(with two t's). This group recorded three CD's on the Novus Records
label. The six albums the group recorded feature some of Threadgill's most accessible work, notably on the album You Know the Number
The group's unorthodox instrumentation included two drummers, bass, cello, trumpet and trombone, in addition to Threadgill's alto and flute. Among the players who filled these roles were drummers Aklaff, John Betsch, Reggie Nicholson and Newman Baker; bassist Fred Hopkins; cellist Deidre Murray; trumpeters Rasul Siddik and Ted Daniels; cornetist Olu Dara; and trombonists Ray Anderson, Bill Lowe and Craig Harris.
Very Very Circus and beyond
During the 1990s, Threadgill pushed the musical boundaries even further with his ensemble Very Very Circus. In addition to Threadgill, the group's core consisted of two tubas, two electric guitars, a trombone or french horn, and drums. With this group he explored more complex and highly structured forms of composition, augmenting the group with everything from latin percussion to French horn to violin to accordion and an array of exotic instruments and vocalists.
Threadgill composed and recorded with other unusual instrumentations, such as a flute quartet (Flute Force Four, a one-time project from 1990); and combinations of four cellos and four acoustic guitars (on Makin' A Move).
By this time Threadgill's place amongst the upper echelon of the avant-garde was secured, so prolific in fact that he was signed by Columbia Records for three albums (a rarity for musicians of his kind). Since the dissolution of Very Very Circus, Threadgill has continued in his iconoclastic ways with ensembles such as Make A Move, Zooid and Make A Move included guitarists Brandon Ross and James Emery and drummer J.T. Lewis. Zooid, a sextet with tuba, acoustic guitar, cello and oud (played by Moroccan Tarik Benbrahim) has been the primary vehicle for Threadgill's most current compositions throughout the 2000s.
His sound and influences
Although Threadgill's musical roots are in jazz
, the blues
and gospel music
, he is considered to be one of the premier "creative" or avant-garde
composers in music today. His compositions are truly American, often representing a melting pot of musical genres; at any given time you may hear cleverly mixed elements of traditional African music
, Latin music
, folk music
, New Orleans brass
in addition to his more obvious influences. His compositions can be a very complex affair, with textures so dense and intricate (and in later years so strictly scored) as to border upon being through composed
. While this seems to be in contrast to the loose, improvisatory feel of much jazz, his best compositions still bring that feeling to the forefront.
Threadgill has recorded or performed with many of the legends of the jazz avant-garde, including Anthony Braxton, Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, David Murray and Bill Laswell.
Personal life and family
He has a daughter with choreographer Christina Jones, a founding member of the Urban Bush Women Dance Company
Threadgill's daughter with Jones, Pyeng Threadgill
, is an up and coming soul-blues artist with much of her father's flair for genre-bending experimentation. His long time wife/partner Senti Toy's
debut album was named best of pop 2007 by the Wall Street Journal.
Discography (as leader)
- 1979: X-75 Volume 1
- 1982: When Was That? (Henry Threadgill Sextet)
- 1983: Just The Facts and Pass the Bucket (Henry Threadgill Sextet)
- 1984: Subject to Change (Henry Threadgill Sextet)
- 1987: You Know the Number (Henry Threadgill Sextett, Novus Records)
- 1988: Easily Slip into Another World (Henry Threadgill Sextett, Novus Records)
- 1989: Rag, Bush and All (Henry Threadgill Sextett, Novus Records)
- 1990: Spirit of Nuff...Nuff (Very Very Circus)
- 1991: Live at Koncepts (Very Very Circus)
- 1993: Song out of My Trees (Threadgill compositions and arrangements, although he doesn't play on all the tracks himself.)
- 1993: Too Much Sugar for a Dime (Very Very Circus, Axiom Records)
- 1994: Carry The Day (Very Very Circus, Columbia Records)
- 1995: Makin' a Move (half Very Very Circus, the other half performed by small ensembles of cellos, guitars and piano; Columbia Records)
- 1996: Where's Your Cup (Make A Move, Columbia Records)
- 2001: Everybody's Mouth's a Book (Make A Move, Pi Recordings)
- 2001: Up Popped the Two Lips (Zooid, Pi Recordings)
- 2005: Pop Start the Tape, Stop (Zooid, LP only)