In 1977, members of the little-known organization called the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) first arrived in New York after a long bus ride from Chicago. First organized in 1965, the AACM made its debut appearance in the Big Apple at Columbia, in the student center. In conjunction with AACM's New York premiere, WKCR played their music around the clock for a week. That performance and radio festival resulted in much acclaim and numerous articles -- including high praise from the New Yorker -- and launched the AACM as a group.
Now, more than 25 years later, as Columbia celebrates its 250th anniversary, Henry Threadgill, one of the AACM's most celebrated alumni, is returning to campus on Wednesday, October 22, for a performance in Miller Theatre. On that night, Threadgill will conduct his new evening-length composition called "Peroxide," performed by his new ensemble Aggregation Orb. The premiere was commissioned by the University as part of its year-long anniversary celebration.
To a growing number of musicians, listeners and critics, Threadgill's music is among the most exciting in jazz avant-garde, ruffling the music's neo-conservative mainstream. Threadgill himself avoids labeling the music as jazz or as anything but his own.
"I do music, period," said Threadgill in a recent interview. "Jazz, European orchestral music, American religious music, white and black, parades. All types of functional music, period. All of it. Whatever you don't use just goes out the gills. I hear a sound inside and don't know what it is. It's just a big glob of sound; a murky thing with no defined edges. I'm interested in sound."
"Threadgill is certainly part of a tradition that includes jazz elements," says Robert O'Meally, director of Columbia's Center for Jazz Studies. "He is a great saxophone player of time, a multi-instrumentalist related to Eric Dolphy and to the great Chicago sax players like Von Freeman and Gene Ammons. And as with Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington, his real instrument is the band. But he does not like classifications that box him in. The instrumentation for 'Peroxide' indicates his reach: violin, viola, oud, French horn, tuba. Like all the significant composers in classical music or jazz music, he defies category. What I will say is that Threadgill's music is very, very engaging and alluring."
To offer context for Threadgill's work, preceding the concert, at 6:00 p.m., the Center for Jazz Studies will present a panel discussion called "Threadgill in Concert." Panelists include O'Meally as well as John Szwed, the 2003 Louis Armstrong Visiting Professor of Jazz Studies and Miles Davis biographer; George Lewis, trombonist/composer and incoming Edwin Case Professor of Music (fall 2004); and Brent Edwards, professor of English at Rutgers University and author of "Practice of Diaspora."
Topics to be discussed range from Threadgill's experiences as a young church player and his role among the great saxophone players to the "lost" period in jazz history in the 1970s and Threadgill's use of language and poetry in his works.
The discussion will be followed by a concert "Peroxide," at 8:00 p.m. in Miller Theatre, conducted by Threadgill. It will be his debut performance with Aggregation Orb. Performers include: Elektra Kurtis, violin; Allen Grubner, viola; Dana Leong, cello; Tarik Benbrahim, oud; Marvin Sewell, acoustic guitar; J.D. Parran, clarinet; Vincent Chancey, French horn; Jose Davila, tuba; Yousif Sheronick, percussion, and Reggie Nicholson, drums, along with soloists Raymond Frith, vocalist, and Bryan Carrott, vibes.
The concert and panel discussion are sponsored by the Center for Jazz Studies and Miller Theatre. Tickets are available at the Miller Theatre Box Office, at 212-854-7799, or in person, Monday-Friday, noon to 6:00 p.m., and two hours before show time at the box office. General admission is $20; Columbia students with ID $7 (at box office only); Columbia faculty/staff and non-Columbia students $12 (at box office only).