Solo saxophone performance by Anthony Braxton during the 2005 “Anthony Braxton at 60: A Celebration” festival held at Wesleyan University.
Community, Self-Determination, and the Art of the Solo
With the release of this first concert from the 2005 “Anthony Braxton at 60: A Celebration” festival, featuring two sets of solo saxophone music performed by Braxton himself, I thought it might be a good time to briefly give some background on the context that initiated this wonderful performance.
Beginning in late 2004, I became involved in the early stages of planning for what would become the “Anthony Braxton at 60: A Celebration” festival at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. The festival included three months of events from September to December 2005 with an international cast of musicians and scholars, world premiere performances, lectures, and a total of twelve musical performances – an auspicious number in Braxton’s music system.
The festival remains one of the most comprehensive live showcases of Braxton’s music system thus far, spanning from solo works to full orchestra. Not surprisingly, it was a Herculean effort that brought a large and diverse community of people together, sowing the seeds for the current iteration of the Tri-Centric Foundation (TCF) and Tri-Centric Orchestra that has of late brought an incredible series of recordings, concerts, and archival materials into the world through the revived TCF.
Composer/percussionist Aaron Siegel completed the early groundwork for the events while finishing his graduate work at Wesleyan in the 2004-05 school year. By the spring of 2005 I had become the primary organizer and fundraiser for the events, assisted by cornettist/composer Taylor Ho Bynum, who handled most of the orchestra contracting and the majority of the production particulars for the incredible world premiere of Braxton’s Composition No. 103 for seven trumpets. These nuts-and-bolts matters, often considered extra-musical, are actually integral to not only Anthony’s approach to music-making as a multilayered social process, but also crucial to what it means to be a creative artist in the 21st century.
The scope of the celebration grew exponentially in the initial planning stages from a single weekend of performances to its vast final form. This was in part because as the production team solved problems or realized we could reach our goals we brainstormed other possibilities, pushing our ideas just out of reach, all the while laughing hysterically about the improbability of what we were trying to accomplish with the resources we had at our disposal.
In hindsight, the arc of the festival itself was charged with meaning. Beginning with the enclosed solo saxophone concert and concluding with a massive alumni orchestra featuring past and present Braxton collaborators, the festival musically traced the formation of the extensive community that has grown up around Anthony over the course of the forty-plus years he has been developing his music.
Many lessons can be drawn from the experience of producing the “Braxton at 60” festival, but perhaps most significant for me is the lesson in self-determination and the importance of reaching beyond what seems possible, dreaming big, and when you fail, to fail spectacularly. As Braxton often says, “Not making mistakes is the biggest mistake of all.” With this festival, our risk-taking paid off and the whole venture was an unqualified success, even as we veered close to the edge of sanity.
We can see the results of this sensibility of self-reliance manifesting in the organizing work of many of Braxton’s collaborators: Chris Jonas’s concert organizing in New Mexico, Taylor Ho Bynum’s work with the TCF, the FONT festival and Firehouse 12 Records, Carl Testa’s “Uncertainty Music Series” in New Haven, CT, Aaron Siegel and Matthew Welch’s newly formed NYC-based Experiments in Opera collaborative, Jessica Pavone’s Peacock Recordings record label, my own efforts organizing experimental music events in my adopted home of Alabama, and many other examples.
These efforts are not extra-musical (tedious though they may sometimes be) but are in fact fundamental to the continued viability of this music, and more broadly speaking, the circulation of new and innovative ideas in our culture, which, simply stated, will not happen unless people take action – at least until the billions of coins Braxton has promised begin raining down on us.
Of the music included on this recording, it speaks for itself – not as the culminating moment a “60th birthday” festival might weigh it down with, but as a document of the everyday – a brief window into Braxton’s decades-long process of discovery and exploration with the alto saxophone. It is a thing of beauty to hear anyone who has dedicated so much of their creative life to a solo practice. Listening to one of the founders of the form forty years in, however, is really something to celebrate.
Andrew Raffo Dewar
29 May 2012