Anthony Braxton is a composer and multi-instrumentalist who, over the past fifty years, has written hundreds of jazz, classical, and unclassifiable avant-garde musical works, along with operas and innovative combinations of improvised, pre-composed, and recorded music. The fact that he is not a household name in America today is one of the signs that our culture does not recognize its true heroes. However, despite being a towering figure in a musical and cultural context that is dominated by the far-Left, Braxton, a black American who is now 76, in an interview Friday expressed his unabashed love for America and his deep consternation over the forces that are now endeavoring to destroy it. It took courage and a willingness to swim against the tide – but for half a century, Braxton has shown with his fiercely uncompromising music that he is willing and able to do that.
In the interview at the Grammy Awards website, Braxton says: “ For me, I’m just a country boy. [At this point, the Grammy interviewer adds the notation that Braxton’s “voice cracks with emotion.”] I’m a lucky guy to be born an American citizen. When I think about all the great music that’s happening—especially the music that’s come from Americans—again, I can only just bow to the Creator.”
Speaking about his forthcoming release, the massive 13-disc Quartet (Standards) 2020, which features Braxton on various saxophones playing 67 classic jazz songs, Braxton says: “What I’ve tried to do every decade is a project from the American Songbook. From the repertoire of the great American people, we take everything for granted. But, actually, in America, we have so much. We have options on so many different levels. There are so many different kinds of musics. We are so lucky, but of course, not everyone is able to recognize how fortunate we are, because it’s all around us all the time.”
This leads the master musician into an extraordinary paean to this country, and a criticism of current trends: “There is a separation between real America and what is being reported about our great country. More and more, there is an effort to teach our young people that America has not been an agent of something positive, but rather, America has been an agent of something that is negative.” He adds: “I respect everyone’s viewpoint, but I would say this. In my opinion, the United States of America is one of the greatest countries that has ever happened to humanity. I think the men and women of America are some of the best people on this planet. But every day, I look at the internet—I gave up television and the radio years ago—and I’m reading about a perspective that is outrageous.”
After naming some of the composers, musicians, and others who have influenced him and get too little attention, Braxton says: “So, we watch the ascension of the great nation of China while, at the same time, our country is sinking because many of our young people are not being taught about what and who we really are as Americans….Unless change happens, we will have no way to avoid a cataclysmic experience.”
In fact, he says, “It’s already starting to happen. People beating up strangers walking down the street. What the hell is that? People jumping on someone they’ve never met and beating them up or bullying them. What the hell is that? If you think it happens to ‘them,’ maybe you need to go back and study history. Because you are the ‘them.’”
Braxton brushes aside the idea that there is something intrinsically wrong with this country: “There’s always room for improvement, but I’m not interested in utopia. No heaven, no paradise. Give me America! There are good people, so-called bad people, people on the left, people on the right.” He even rejects the Left’s current revision of American history: “There are complex forces in the air that are very separate from what one would have thought. The majority of the American people have been moving forward on the issue of slavery from the beginning. The whole concept of free states and slave states demonstrated immediately that there was opposition to slavery….In America, there’s always been a movement to challenge those ideas. But you would not know that today!”
Someone, Braxton says, is behind this movement toward disunity: “Certain sectors have been brought in to create separatism that didn’t really exist in the same way that we are experiencing it now. It’s very fashionable to be racist against white Americans, especially white men….What I’m saying is that someone made the decision to promote that vibration and put it in a different position.”
In response, Braxton offers common sense: “How did white Americans get to be so evil? I don’t [think that]! I think white Americans have been doing very well! Which is why I love white Americans! [livid voice] What the f**k is happening? We’re seeing young African-Americans say, ‘No, we want our dormitories to only be Black. We want to graduate in a different ceremony from non-African-Americans.’ Well, if that’s the case, why did we waste 150 years of Reconstruction?”
This most intellectual of composers has scant regard for woke academia: “We’re running out of time if our hope is to keep America together and moving forward. This, to me, is frightening and depressing. This is the new intellectualism: Critical race theory. The 1619 Project started out with a fundamental error in the whole foundation, accusing America of being racist, when in fact, the spectrum of historians has already looked into most of these questions. But the new woke academia is like everything else we see in this period: An inversion where far more people can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy. This has become a problem.”
Braxton has always had a firm grip on reality. Back in 1985, he went on a tour of England with his stunningly accomplished quartet of the time. Journalist Graham Lock, who, like virtually all journalists, is a man of the far Left, tagged along and wrote a book about the experience: Forces in Motion: Anthony Braxton and the Meta-Reality of Creative Music. The book contains a couple of tantalizing indications that Braxton was his own man, not willing to follow the Left uncritically any more than he was willing to accept the conventions of established musical forms.
In one telling incident, percussionist Gerry Hemingway recoils at the sight of bare trees on the English landscape, bewailing what he says are the devastating effects of the “climate change” hysteria of the time, acid rain. Braxton responds with the good humor and good sense of a man with his feet on the ground: “It’s not acid rain, it’s called winter. Ever hear of that, Hemingway?”
At another point, as the group is looking for a place to have lunch, Lock suggests a vegetarian restaurant. “OK, I’ll eat,” says Braxton, “but is there a McDonalds nearby?” Horrified, Lock tells him about how “they’re destroying the rainforests because of hamburgers.” Braxton responds that he simply doesn’t have the money to indulge this fastidiousness, and says: “You guys must be secret millionaires. I have to eat cheap.”
In the Leftist cultural environment of jazz and the musical avant-garde, Braxton’s position was always radical. Now he is likely to get heat from his friends and colleagues for his most unfashionable love for America. But he has never let conventional opinion stop him from creating an astonishing amount of innovative and magnificent music. It’s unlikely that he will be stymied by the Left’s opprobrium now.
Only America could have produced a multifaceted genius such as Anthony Braxton. Braxton himself is well aware of how unique this country is, and how fortunate we are to live in it.
In the Grammy interview, Braxton says: “What a time to be alive! If we lose America, shame on us.”
Take five from Anthony Braxton:
“You Stepped Out of a Dream,” 1975
“Composition 6C,” 1976, composed by Braxton
“Composition 40B,” 1982, composed by Braxton
“All the Things You Are,” 2003
“Take Five,” 2003