Composer, instrumentalist, writer, educator
“My motto since I was 11 years old was, ‘Play or Die,’” multi-instrumentalist and jazz soloist, leader, and composer Anthony Braxton divulged to Peter Rothbart in Down Beat. A virtuoso who has won Down Beat magazine’s critics poll number one player award numerous times for various instruments, Braxton performs alto saxophone, contrabass clarinet, sopranino, flute, piano, percussion, and virtually every reed. He has written nearly 400 compositions, recorded more than 70 albums, and appeared on at least 50 others. The writer, lecturer, and educator cites John Coltrane, Paul Desmond, and Warne Marsh as major influences, but has also disclosed his love for the music of Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand.
Acknowledged as a gifted artist and composer of “free jazz,” Braxton dislikes the name given his genre. “That gives the impression that there’s no preparation,” he stated in Newsweek. Braxton even considers “jazz” too limiting a term to describe the evolution of his music over the years. “The music that pushed my button was more than a word ‘jazz,’” he asserted in Down Beat.”It was individuals who were approaching the music in a certain way, with a certain set of value systems and intentions, a certain honesty and humility.”
Titling his compositions with numerical configurations, linear designs, and idiosyncratic arrangements of letters, Braxton developed his own geometrically based notational system as well as philosophical stance about jazz in a cultural context. Though financial reward has proved elusive to Braxton, he disclosed to Rothbart, “If I wasn’t able to achieve what I wanted in my life as far as my creativity and my life’s growth is concerned, I would feel bad, but not too bad. But I would find it hard to forgive not trying and not giving everything to the struggle.”
Born in Chicago, Illinois, on June 4,1945, Braxton grew up amid the violence and squalor of the city’s toughest neighborhoods. His musical and philosophical temperament set him apart from family and friends at an early age. “I came from a poor family—not really impoverished—we had enough food to eat,” Braxton related to Michael Ullman in Jazz Lives.”But my reality was the reality of the south side and I couldn’t understand what was happening there.” He discovered that literature, chess, and music were antidotes to his feelings of alienation.
Initially, Braxton’s parents and his brothers were pleased when he began to play an alto saxophone, but their feelings changed as Braxton delved into avant-garde
For the Record…
Born June 4, 1945 in Chicago, IL; married; wife’s name, Nickie; children: two. Education: Attended Chicago School of Music, Wilson Junior College, Roosevelt University, and Chicago Musical College.
Jazz alto saxophonist and avant-garde composer. Multi-instrumentalist, including bass, contrabass clarinet, sopranino (Eb soprano saxophone), Eb clarinet, flute, piano, and percussion; played with U.S. Army bands, beginning in 1963; joined Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) as a performer and instructor, 1966; formed trio Creative Construction Company, 1967; released debut album, Three Compositions of New Jazz, 1968; recorded first solo saxophone album ever made, For Alto, 1968, released, 1971; member of Chick Corea’s quartet Circle, 1970–71; led his own quartets, 1971–76; made concert debut at Town Hall, New York City, 1972; Carnegie Hall performance, 1973; performed with Derek Bailey and Company, London, 1974–77; Mills College, Oakland, CA, professor of music, 1985–88; Wesleyan College, Middletown, CT, chair of music department; published three-volume Tri-Axium Writings, 1985, and five-volume Composition Notes, Books A-E, 1988; has performed numerous concerts, solo and with others, in the United States and Europe.
Awards: Named number-one player on various instruments in Down Beat magazine’s critics’ polls; best LP, Down Beat magazine’s critics’ poll, 1977, for Creative Music Orchestra; readers’ and critics’ poll awards from various periodicals.
Addresses: Office —Music Department, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT 06459.
jazz. Braxton dated his separation from his family from the moment he brought home a Cecil Taylor recording in his early teens. Since peers did not share his interest in mathematics, music, and logic, Braxton spent most of his time alone. “You see,” he told Ray Townley in Down Beat, “I had a lot of problems as a teenager. I could never venture out to where there were a lot of people in a crowd situation. I used to stay in the house most of the time, and practice ... play music, stuff like that.”
Braxton refined his craft in his adolescent years studying with Jack Gell of the Chicago School of Music beginning in the mid-1950s. In the early 1960s Braxton met jazz legend John Coltrane in Chicago, but was too in awe of Coltrane to join him—upon Coltrane’s invitation—in a set. When Braxton enrolled briefly at Chicago’s Wilson Junior College, he became friends with two budding jazz artists who helped him later in his career, Roscoe Mitchell and Jack DeJohnette.
In 1966 Mitchell urged Braxton to join the renowned Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) after Braxton’s Army stint, which began in 1963. Founded in the late sixties in Chicago, the AACM promoted experiments with sound and improvisation that were pivotal to Braxton’s career. No longer confined to notes to make music, Braxton and AACM members investigated whistles, shrieks, and percussion made from hubcaps, among other devices, to develop sonic textures. Braxton thrived in the AACM’s creative atmosphere; however, he was unable to support himself financially.
One of the AACM’s most accomplished instrumentalists, Braxton hustled, playing chess to pay the bills. When he contemplated marriage and family life on his income, he pondered relegating music to a hobby. Studying to become a philosophy teacher at Chicago’s Roosevelt University, Braxton reached a career crisis in 1969. “I left Chicago because I was desperate,” Braxton confessed to Townley in Down Beat “I really wanted to play or else I wanted to see what it was like to really make the commitment. I split to Paris with $50.00 in my pocket.”
In Paris, Braxton performed with the Creative Construction Company, a group he formed with AACM members violinist Leroy Jenkins and trumpeter Leo Smith in 1967. Braxton released his first recording with the Creative Construction Company, Three Compositions of New Jazz, in 1968. That same year he recorded For Alto, the first album ever made of unaccompanied saxophone, but the release date for the record was not until 1971.
Braxton was not successful in Paris, where his music was labeled “cold.” He returned to New York to play with the Italian improvisational group Musica Elettronica Viva in 1970. Reduced to hustling chess games in the park at Washington Square to make ends meet, Braxton was introduced to keyboardist Chick Corea through Jack DeJohnette at the Village Vanguard in 1970. He joined Corea, bassist Dave Holland, and percussionist Barry Altschul to form the short-lived but highly influential quartet Circle from 1970 to 1971.
Of Braxton’s milestone album For Alto, Down Beat’s Townley wrote, “The closest thing to it in recent centuries happened back in 1720 when Bach wrote six sonatas for unaccompanied violin and six suites for unaccompanied cello.” A delayed success in 1972, the recording prompted invitations for Braxton to perform numerous solo concerts. From 1971 to 1976, he led his own groups, which included Circle alumni Holland and Altschul as well as trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and trombonist George Lewis. Braxton performed in London with avant-garde guitarist Derek Bailey from 1974 to 1977 and received Down Beat magazine’s critics’ poll best LP for the album Creative Music Orchestra in 1977.
His symphonies for large orchestras, parade marches, and a series of twelve operas called Trillium occupied Braxton in the eighties, but most of his monumental output rarely got published. In 1985, he took a teaching position as professor of music at Mills College in Oakland, California, then later moved to Wesleyan College in Middletown, Connecticut, to head the music department there. Though Braxton drafted 350 compositions and eight volumes of writings that codify his world view—Tri-Axium Writings, 1985, and Composition Notes, Books A-E, 1988—his success in mass marketing has been minimal.
Unyielding in his methodological approach to composition, Braxton confessed to Ullman that his analytical style “turns jazz critics off.” In 1976 Down Beat labeled Braxton “overrated and overpublicized,” describing the musician in concert as “a studied player” and “great technician” who “is loathe to reveal—and therefore include—his deepest emotions in his playing.” The following year Newsweek paid him homage, lauding, “Anthony Braxton is original. His music is unique, and he is the most innovative force in the world of jazz.” However, more critics responded to Braxton’s play like Gene Santoro in Nation in 1989, who wrote, “His music isn’t easy to pick up on: It has neither the glib melodic hooks of ‘jazz’ radio stars ... nor an easy reliance on canonized traditions like bebop. It can be knotty and passionate, Cageian and Coltranesque, highly structured and deliberately destabliized—and usually tries to be all those things at once.”
By the late 1980s, Braxton’s work began receiving more critical attention. Full-length studies on his work were published, such as Forces in Motion, by Graham Lock, and New Musical Figurations, by Ronald Radano. John Corbett in Down Beat suggested, “What’s refreshing, if not surprising, is the fact that there’s so little redundancy in these studies—a clear testament to the breadth, depth, and richness of Braxton’s sound world.”
Reviews of Braxton’s releases were becoming more laudatory as well. Corbett insisted that Braxton’s Willi-sau (Quartet) 1991, recorded with Marilyn Crispell on piano, Mark Dresser on bass, and Gerry Hemingway on drums, was “a miraculous four-disc set that should become a contemporary jazz landmark.” Of Victorville 1992, a Pulse! writer commented, “No one in jazz organizes sets that flow more compellingly; this is one of [Braxton’s] classic quartet’s best.” The writer also widely praised Wesleyan (12 Altosolos) 1992.
In addition, Down Beat’s Corbett was impressed with Duo (London) 1993, claiming, “Indeed, though he’s expressed waning interest in completely open playing of late ... Braxton proves himself to be one of its most skilled practitioners—sensitive, reactive, relaxed, and full of ideas.”
Braxton is a purveyor of provocative, more so than melodic, jazz. His writings document the complexity of a man who regrets none of the hardships brought on by his singular genius. He told Bill Shoemaker in Down Beat, “I was fortunate to discover something that I really love. Not many people are fortunate enough to find something that they can dedicate their lives to. The discipline of music is so wonderful, there’s always something new to learn.
Three Compositions of New Jazz, Delmark, 1968.
For Alto, Delmark, 1968.
Donna Lee, American, 1972.
In the Tradition, Inner City, 1974.
Creative Music Orchestra, Arista, 1976.
Performance (Quartet) 1979, hat ART, 1979.
Anthony Braxton With the Robert Schumann String Quartet, Sound Aspects, 1979. One in Two, Two in One, 1979.
Six Compositions: Quartet, Antilles, 1981.
Four Compositions (Quartet) 1983, Black Saint, 1983.
Composition 113, Sound Aspects, 1984.
Four Compositions (Quartet) 1984, Black Saint, 1984.
Eugene (1989), Black Saint, 1992.
2 Compositions (Ensemble) 1989/91, hat ART, 1992.
(With Peter Niklas Wilson) Duets: Hamburg 1991, Music & Arts, 1992.
Willisau (Quartet) 1991, hat ART, 1992.
Composition No. 165, New Albion, 1992.
4 Compositions 1992, Black Saint, 1993.
Composition 95 tor Two Pianos, Arista.
Composition 98, hat ART.
Open Aspects ‘82, hat ART.
Seven Standards 1985, Volume 1 & Volume 2, Magenta.
Five Compositions (Quartet) 1986, Black Saint.
London, November 1986, Leo.
Six Monk’s Compositions (1987), Black Saint.
19 (Solo) Compositions, 1988, New Albion.
Ensemble (Victoriaville) 1988, Victo.
Eight (+3) Tristano Compositions 1989, hat ART.
Seven Compositions (Trio) 1989, hat ART.
Compositions 99, 101, 107 & 139, hat ART.
Duets Vancouver 1989, Music & Arts.
The Aggregate, Sound Aspects.
Kol Nidre, Sound Aspects.
Victorville 1992, Victo.
Wesleyan (12 Altosolos) 1992, hat ART.
Duo (London) 1993.
Ullman, Michael, Jazz Lives, New Republic, 1980.
Down Beat, March 1974; March 25, 1976; August 12, 1976; February 22, 1979; October 1981; February 1982; May 1983; April 1987; March 1989; February 1990; May 1990; November 1990; February 1993; March 1994; April 1994; May 1994.
Guitar Player, February 1988.
High Fidelity, October 1988.
Nation, May 8, 1989.
Newsweek, August 8, 1977.
New Yorker, April 4, 1977.
Pulse!, holiday issue 1993; December 1993; March 1994.
One of the finest modern jazz pianists, Marilyn Crispell has recorded some of the "most beautiful piano trio records in recent memory," said Adam Shatz in the New York Times. Crispell came to prominence as a free jazz player and composer early in the 1980s, and over the next 20 years honed her reputation with the Anthony Braxton Quartet and as a leader of her own ensembles. Influenced strongly by the work of jazz pianist Cecil Taylor, Crispell first charted her own course in jazz piano with her up-tempo, percussive improvisations; in the late 1990s she once again broke new ground with a lyrical, introspective improvisational style.
Crispell took up the piano at the age of seven when she studied at Baltimore's Peabody Institute. After high school she continued her classical piano studies at Boston's New England Conservatory, where she added courses in music composition to the mix. She earned a degree in composition from the New England Conservatory in 1969.
Shortly after graduation, however, Crispell put music aside and focused instead on her marriage and work in the medical field. She took jobs in various hospitals, and even seriously contemplated a career as a physician. This dry spell ended, however, with her divorce in 1974 and a move to Cape Cod. Starting a new life on her own, she took a job in a bookstore, and shortly thereafter met jazz pianist George Kahn, who introduced her to the music of jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, whose 1964 release A Love Supreme affected her profoundly. From then on jazz became the all-consuming focus of her life. She found the improvisational nature of jazz the perfect antidote to the regimented, highly rehearsed classical music in which she had been trained.
Recommitted to music—and to jazz in particular—she returned to Boston to study jazz for two more years. In 1979, she moved to Woodstock, New York, where she began teaching at the Creative Music Studios, a collective of free jazz musicians run by pianist and vibraphone player Karl Berger. She never again considered a career in any other field. "I know now," she later told Doug Fischer in the Ottawa Citizen, "that music is something I was born to do. I will never not play again."
The Creative Music Studio proved fertile ground for Crispell. It was there that she met reed player and composer Anthony Braxton, leader of the Creative Music Orchestra. Crispell joined the group for a European concert tour and stayed on as a member, contributing to their Composition 98 album in 1981. She earned a reputation as an innovator in improvisational music, strongly influenced by the work of Coltrane and another of her heroes, Cecil Taylor; her style, however, was entirely her own; Fischer called it excitingly "volcanic."
In the 1980s, Crispell began to come into her own as a soloist, ensemble player, and group leader, both in the studio and in live performances. A member of both the Anthony Braxton Quartet and the Reggie Workman Ensemble for more than ten years, she also played with violinist Billy Bang and drummer John Betsch, bassist Reggie Workman, percussionist Andrew Cyrille, saxophonist Tim Berne, and many others.
Crispell continued to record through the 1990s and into the 2000s, working with fellow Braxton Quartet members Mark Dresser and Gerry Hemingway, as well as drummer Paul Motian, pianist Irène Schweizer, and bassist Gary Peacock, among others. In addition to contributing to the albums of other jazz musicians, Crispell made a number of solo albums, including Live at Mills College 1995, and continued to play in jazz and avant-garde music festivals and as a soloist.
During this time Crispell radically changed the direction of her music, adopting a more melodic, and, according to Fischer, more "lyrical [and] meditative" style. New York Times jazz critic Adam Shatz likened the change to that of an abstract expressionist painter suddenly deciding to paint like a Dutch master. Crispell herself was content to let her music take its own direction, without much forethought; she was pleased with her new direction, which she has described as her classical training shining through the jazz.
Crispell first displayed her new direction in the studio with her album Nothing Ever Was, Anyway. Released in 1997, it was her first effort for the Germany ECM label, and a tribute to composer, poet, and fellow Woodstocker Annie Peacock. The album featured, in addition to Crispell, Gary Peacock (Annie's ex-husband), and Paul Motian. The album was well received, and it led to another Crispell-led release featuring the same musicians in 2001, Amaryllis. Named for an African flower that blooms in winter, this continued Crispell's work in her new direction, and showcased a quartet of ballads that were improvised in the studio as the album was recorded.
Crispell finds composing on the spot a liberating experience, and has said that the resulting music has a freer quality than that composed more traditionally. This "spontaneous composing," she told Fischer, has found its way into her live performances as well. She particularly enjoys performing with a musician with whom she has not previously played. Apart from a brief conversation or two beforehand, Crispell and her cohorts do very little planning about what will actually be played in concert. "It's like we're getting on a train that's running, and it takes you where it's going," she explained to Andrew Gilbert in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
In the 2000s Crispell became a member of the Barry Guy New Orchestra, and also played frequently with Guy's London Jazz Composers Orchestra. Crispell's work has also been featured on film; she composed music for Soul Suitcase, an independent film directed by Paul DiStefano, and appeared in documentaries about jazz, including Women in Jazz, by Gilles Corre. Along with live performances and recordings, Crispell conducts workshops in improvisational music throughout the United States, as well as in Canada, Europe, and New Zealand. She has resolved to do more teaching, telling Fischer in late 2003, "I'm a bit burned out from years of travel." Then 56 years old, she wanted to play fewer road shows and find a semipermanent teaching spot at a college or university.
For the Record . . .
Born Marilyn Braune on March 30, 1947, in Philadelphia, PA; divorced. Education: Degree in music composition, New England Conservatory of Music, 1969.
Studied classical piano at New England Conservatory of Music, 1960s; became a jazz pianist, late 1970s; joined Creative Music Studios as a teacher, 1979; joined Creative Music Orchestra led by Anthony Braxton; 1979; played on Creative Music Orchestra's Composition 98, 1981; played with numerous groups, 1980s through 2000s; worked as a group leader, recorded numerous albums, including Live at Mills College, 1990s; signed to ECM label, released Nothing Ever Was, Anyway, 1997; released Amaryllis, 2001; joined Barry Guy New Orchestra, 2000s.
Awards: New York Foundation for the Arts grant recipient, 1988-89 and 1994-95; composition commission from the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, 1988-89.
Addresses: Record company— Egger Innovations- und Handels-GmbH, Abt. ECM Export, Pasinger Str. 94, Gräfelfing D-82166, Germany, website: http://www.ecmrecords.com. Website— Marilyn Crispell Official Website: http://www.marilyncrispell.com.
Spirit Music, Cadence, 1981.
Live in Berlin, Black Saint, 1982.
A Concert in Berlin, FMP, 1983.
Rhythms Hung in Undrawn Sky, Leo, 1983.
And Your Ivory Voice Sings, Leo, 1985.
For Coltrane, Leo, 1987.
Gaia, Leo, 1987.
Labyrinths, Victo, 1987.
Quartet Improvisations, Leo, 1987.
Kitchen Concerts, Leo, 1989.
Live in San Francisco, Music & Arts, 1989.
Live in Zurich, Leo, 1989.
Circles, Victo, 1990.
Overlapping Hands: Eight Segments, FMP, 1990.
Piano Duets, Leo, 1991.
Images, Music & Arts, 1991.
Duo, Knitting, 1992.
Hyperion, Music & Arts, 1992.
Inference, Music & Arts, 1992.
On Tour: Highlights from the Summer of 1992 American Tour, Music & Arts, 1992.
Stellar Pulsations/Three Composers, Leo, 1992.
Cascades, Music & Arts, 1993.
Santuerio, Leo, 1993.
Band on the Wall, Matchless, 1994.
Contrasts: Live at Yoshi's, Music & Arts, 1995.
Live at Mills College 1995, Music & Arts, 1995.
MGM Trio, Ramboy, 1995.
Woodstock Concert, Music & Arts, 1995.
Destiny, Okka Disk, 1996.
Nothing Ever Was, Anyway: The Music of Annette Peacock, ECM, 1997.
Dark Night and Luminous, Musica Secreta, 1998.
Red, Black Saint, 1999.
Amaryllis, ECM, 2001.
Blue, Black Saint, 2001.
New York Times, September 23, 2001, p. 25, section 2.
Ottawa Citizen, September 23, 2003, p. C8; October 18, 2003, p. K1.
San Diego Union–Tribune, March 14, 2002, p. 10, Entertainment.
"Marilyn Crispell," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 3, 2004).
"Marilyn Crispell Biography," Marilyn Crispell Official Website, http://www.marilyncrispell.com (February 3, 2004).
Marilyn Crispell is considered by many critics to be one of the most accomplished pianists in the free jazz movement since Cecil Taylor. Free jazz began in the late 1950s as a response by musicians to the perceived structural limitations of such preceding jazz movements as bebop, hard bop, fusion, ragtime, and swing. While sometimes resulting in music that is considered atonal or avant-garde, free jazz often relies heavily on improvisation that at times veers distinctly away from the established tempo and melody of a given musical piece after the musicians establish the identity of the song. Among the groundbreaking pianists in the free jazz realm is Cecil Taylor, whom Crispell openly acknowledges as a key inspiration for her own playing.
Crispell was born March 30, 1947 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her father, Milton A. Braune, was a claims adjuster for the Social Security Administration and her mother, Frances, was a housewife. In an interview with Contemporary Musicians, Crispell related a youth saturated in music: "My earliest musical memories are playing a toy xylophone (which inspired my parents to give me piano lessons) and listening to my parents' records (popular tunes of the day and classical music) and children's records. The tunes I seem to remember most from that time are one about an ugly duckling, ‘O My Papa,’ and ‘Buttons and Bows’—also the Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff piano concertos. How any of these ultimately influenced my music is left to your imagination!"
Crispell studied piano, theory, and composition at the Peabody Music School in Baltimore, Maryland, from 1957 to 1964. She continued her education at the New England Conservatory of Music, where she earned a Bachelor's degree in 1968. She married Gareth Crispell in 1967, and ceased her musical ambitions until her divorced in 1972. In 1975, she studied privately with Charlie Banacos in Boston, Massachusetts. She subsequently studied at the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, New York, from 1977 to 1982. She met musical firebrand Anthony Braxton in the mid-1970s, and toured Europe as a member of the avant-garde maestro's Creative Music Orchestra in 1978. She continued to tour and record with Braxton into the 1990s while leading several groups of her own, playing solo, and performing with such groups as the Reggie Workman Ensemble, Quartet Noir, London Jazz Composers Orchestra, Barry Guy New Orchestra, and many other groups.
Her 15-year stint with the Anthony Braxton Quartet ended in 1993, but not before she was exposed to a worldwide group of musicians eager to work with her. Beginning in 1992, she began performing with Scandinavian jazz musicians. "In 1992, I went to Scandinavia for the first time, to play in a Stockholm festival called ‘Solo 92,’" she stated in an ECM press release. "Also there was the bass player Anders Jormin. All along, in the context of my solo music, I'd also been playing various ballads, though the primary focus of my music was energy and intensity. When I heard Anders, his playing touched a chord in me that resonated strongly." This musical epiphany led to the emergence of a distinctive lyricism to her compositional and improvisational playing. "I loved the way the Scandinavian jazz players used elements of their own folk music in their improvisations, and loved their aesthetic of space, beauty, and tenderness. Somehow, this was the missing element in my own music, and by absorbing it, I felt that my music was becoming more whole—not changing so much as expanding, to include more of everything that I felt and wanted to express."
In 1996, Crispell approached the famous European jazz label ECM to record Nothing Ever Was, Anyway, which featured compositions by Annette Peacock. "I originally contacted ECM when I had the idea to do the trio recording of Annette Peacock's music," she told an interviewer for Contemporary Musicians. "Of course I had been familiar with the label for a long time, and had a great appreciation for the quality of the music they put out, and the beauty of the sound." The album was produced by ECM founder and house producer Manfred Eicher. "Working with Manfred is great," Crispell said in her interview. "He is very involved in the music, has a great ear, and has very good ideas, both musically and also in how he orders the pieces. He's really part of the recording, not just a producer sitting on the sidelines."
Discussing the difference between studio and live recording, Crispell told Contemporary Musicians: "Most of my recordings prior the ones for ECM were live recordings. My only regret is that sometimes the compositions weren't played properly, and if they had been studio recordings, it would have been possible to go back and correct them. That said, I'm still very happy with most of the recordings I've done. Of course, my playing and my concepts have gone through many changes since I first began recording, so I would no longer play now exactly how I played then, although I think there's a definite continuity."
After recording two more titles for ECM, 2001's Amaryllis, with Gary Peacock on bass and Paul Motian on drums, and 2004's Storyteller, with Motian and Mark Helias, Crispell pursued the solo performance route on the 2008 release, Vignettes. "I wanted this to be a recording that was thoroughly authentic in feeling," she said in a record label press release. "Very pared down, with nothing superfluous in it, and at the same time music that was from the heart….I wanted instead focused energy, where every note and sound and silence has some purpose." To further explain her intent, Crispell employed an analogy: "I was recently reading a book about Chinese five-element acupuncture theory, which suggested that in times of chaos and transition you shouldn't try and force change, but rather get to a quiet place where you can allow transformation to manifest itself. A lot of my experience with ECM has been like that, allowing a musical direction to emerge rather than artificially forcing it."
For the Record …
Born Marilyn Braune, March 30, 1947, daughter of Milton A. (a Social Security claims adjuster) and Frances (a housewife) Braune; married Gareth Crispell, 1967 (divorced 1972); no children. Education: Peabody Conservatory, Baltimore, Maryland, 1957-1964; Peabody Junior Conservatory Camp, Lyndonville, Vermont, 1960-1964; Bachelor of Music degree, New England Conservatory of Music, Boston, Massachusetts, 1968; Studies with Charlie Banacos, Boston, Massachusetts, 1975-1977; Creative Music Studio, Woodstock, New York, 1977-1982.
Joined Anthony Braxton's Creative Music Orchestra, 1978; recorded ECM debut, Nothing Ever Was, Anyway, 1997; performed at Victoriaville 2000 free jazz festival; released Amaryllis, 2001; released Vignettes, 2008.
Addresses: Home—Marilyn Crispell, P.O. Box 499; Woodstock, NY 12498, phone: 845-679-5753, email: [email protected]
With Anthony Braxton
Live in Vancouver, Music and Arts, 1990.
Quartet Willisau, Hat Art, 1991.
Prag, Sound Aspects, 1990.
Quartet Birmingham, Leo Records, 1991.
Anthony Braxton Quartet (Victoriaville), Les Disques Victo, 1993.
Anthony Braxton Quartet: Twelve Compositions (Oakland, July 1993), Music and Arts, 1994.
Anthony Braxton Creative Orchestra (Koln), Hat Art, 1995.
Anthony Braxton Quartet (Quartet), Santa Cruz 1993, Hat Art, 1997.
With the Reggie Workman Ensemble
Synthesis, Leo Records, 1987.
Images, Music and Arts, 1990.
Altered Spaces, Leo Records, 1993.
With the London Jazz Composers Orchestra and the Barry Guy New Orchestra
Double Trouble Two, Intakt, 1998.
Three Pieces for Orchestra, Intakt, 1997.
Inscape Tableaux, Intakt, 2001.
Santuerio, Leo Records, 1993.
Stellar Pulsations, Leo Records, 1994.
Destiny, Okka Disk, 1994.
Spring Tour, Alice, 1995.
The Woodstock Concert, Music and Arts, 1995.
Spring Tour, Alice, 1995.
gryffgryffgryffs, Music and Arts, 1997.
Nothing Ever Was, Anyway, ECM, 1997.
Quartet Noir, Les Disques Victo, 1999.
After Appleby, Leo Records, 2000.
Poetic Justice, DaCapo, 2001.
Odyssey, Intakt, 2001.
Amaryllis, ECM, 2001.
Breaking the Wheel of Life and Death, Anami, 2001.
Red, Black Saint, 2001.
Complicite, Les Disques Victo, 2001.
Storyteller, ECM, 2004.
In Winds, In Light, ECM, 2004.
Ithaka, Intakt, 2004.
Pola, Les Disques Victo, 2005.
Shifting Grace, CAMJAZZ, 2006.
Phases of the Night, Intakt, 2008.
The Stone Quartet, DMG/ARC, 2008.
Vignettes, ECM, 2008.
The sources for this entry are a May 2008 interview with Marilyn Crispell and the ECM press kit for Vignettes.
Braxton, Anthony, avant-garde jazz alto saxophonist, contrabass clarinetist, composer, pianist; b. Chicago, June 4, 1945. He studied at Chicago School of Music (1959–63), and began playing alto saxophone at age 17, influenced by Roscoe Mitchell. His other early influences included Paul Desmond, Warne Marsh, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Omette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, and composer-theorists such as John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Braxton studied harmony, composition, and philosophy. In 1966, he joined AACM and taught harmony. His album For Alto was the first complete LP for unaccompanied saxophone. In 1967, he formed Creative Construction Company with Leroy Jenkins and Leo Smith; they joined Steve McCall in Paris (1969) for concerts and recordings. Braxton moved to N.Y. where he played in the improvisation ensemble Musica Elettronica Viva (1970). In 1970–71, he toured in Circle with Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Barry Altschul. His output in the 1970s included compositions for his various groups as well as for large band and piano, for 100 tubas, and for four amplified shovels and a coal pile. For Four Orchestras, a two–hour piece that was recorded by four conductors and 160 musicians in 1978, is a prime example of Braxton’s more complex works, which revolve around theater, dance, opera, and multiple orchestras. Unfortunately, Braxton had to finance the Four Orchestras recording himself, and by the early 1980s the Braxton family was living in poverty in upstate N.Y., in a telephoneless house heated by burning logs in a fireplace. However in 1990, he was hired as a full–time professor at Wesleyan Univ., and in 1994 he received a five–year Mac Arthur Foundation fellowship. The prize came shortly after the second book about him was published. Braxton is one of the most discussed figures in the avant–garde. He is often lampooned for his cerebral way of discussing music and his drawings and diagrams that serve as titles for many of his pieces, and for his rather heavy tonguing, but in performance, he is thoroughly intense and emotionally committed.
Three Compositions of New Jazz (1968); For Alto Saxophone (1968); Together Alone (1971); Complete Braxton (1971); Saxophone Improvisations (1972); Quartet Live at Moers New Jazz (1974); N.Y.(1974); In the Tradition, Vols. 1–2 (1974); Montreux / Berlin Concerts (1975); Dortmund (1976); Creative Orchestra Music (1976); For Four Orchestras (1978); Birth and Rebirth (1978); Alto Saxophone Improvisations (1978); With Robert Schumann String Quartet (1979); For Two Pianos (1980); Open Aspects (1982); Seven Standards (1985);Six Monk’s Compositions (1987); Voigt Kol Nidre (1988); London Solo (1988); Ensemble (1988); 19 (Solo) Compositions (1988); Vancouver Duets (1989); Tristano Compositions (1989); Eugene (1989); Willisau (1991); Wesleyan (1992); Twelve Compositions (1993); Charlie Parker Project (1993); Composition 174 for 10 percussionists and tape (1995); Composition 175 (1995); Trilium M (1995); Two Lines (1995); Knitting Factory (1995).
—Lewis Porter/Nicolas Slonimsky
Crispell, Marilyn , American classical pianist: b. Philadelphia, Pa., March 30, 1947. She played classical piano from age seven and graduated from the New England Cons, in 1968, having focused on piano and composition. Yet, she was much more attracted to improvisation, although in a non-jazz context. She gave up music in favor of medicine for six years, but after the breakup of her marriage began singing blues in a folk-rock group for the catharsis it offered. After a pianist turned her on to some jazz albums, she experienced a personal revelation upon listening to John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and decided to learn to play jazz. Eventually this led her to move to Woodstock, where she studied and then taught at Karl Berger’s Creative Music Studio until it shut down in the early 1980s. During this time she worked in the groups of Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, and Leo Smith, with the Braxton association proving particularly lasting. Cecil Taylor was both an inspiration and an influence, and it is to his playing that hers is most often compared, though she has developed a style of her own over the years.
Spirit Music (1982); Live in Berlin (1983); Live in San Francisco (1990); Marilyn Crispell & Gerry Hemingway Duo (1992); Marilyn Crispell Trio (1993); Labyrinths (1995); Live at Mills College 1995 (1996); Contrasts: Live at Yoshi’s (1996); Woodstock Concert (1996); Nothing Ever Was, Anyway: The Music of Annette Peacock (1997); Quartet (1997).