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natewooley on 10/05/2011 at 11:15AM

Stick With Me, Sir, and I'll Make You a Million Dollars

The most dangerous man on the planet. ....Photo by Peter Gannushkin

There are a couple of lucky accidents in my life that put me on the path I'm on now.  That's the way life goes, right?  You bounce like a pinball around adolescence and if you're lucky you have an older girlfriend at some point that plays Meredith Monk and Bill Dixon records before you go to bed, thus cementing a positive connotation with all things avant-garde.  It would have been just as easy to latch on to the Yellowjackets or some non-descript R&B trinklings in a similar fashion and you are off on another road.  No value judgments about other paths, mind you, but I'm very happy that my shiny round youth happened to hit the paddles it did.

One of those lucky thwackings was my dad buying a bass saxophone and wanting to get a listen to what the damned thing was supposed to sound like.  That brought Anthony Braxton into our house and into my life.  The record was Anthony Braxton and Muhal Richard Abrams Duets 1976.  My dad was fascinated for about a week by the cuts with the contrabass saxophone, then this record somehow disappeared below the typical sea of Paul Desmond and Stan Kenton (standard listening at the time for the jazz minded West Coaster).  For my part, the version of Maple Leaf Rag that was the rest of my family's favorite cut never really did it for me.  It seemed like kitsch, like something that Peanuts Hucko would do to clear the palate in the middle of the Lawrence Welk show.  I was twelve.  I needed something harder.  After the obligatory week of no play in the house, I "appropriated" Duets 1976 and began to listen to 36-MK74-128 and Miss Ann so much that I think this may have been the first record I actually wore out.  The  funny thing was that the more time I spent with these two pieces, and Nickie and the graphic titles (which I can't reproduce here), the more I "got" the reasoning behind Braxton's inclusion of Maple Leaf Rag, and that became probably the most valuable lesson I learned from Mr. Braxton, when couched in broad terms.

The thing I learned was how important it was to follow your interests, to set up your own rules and follow them until they were no longer valid to you. Not to hide the fact that you love John Philip Sousa and Paul Desmond and Scott Joplin or, in my case The Band or Lawrence Welk or Harry Nilsson.  There was a generation of musicians growing up at that time that were, like me, basing their aesthetics on Down Beat.  This led to a very narrow view of not only what "jazz" was, but what "music" is.  It's so much easier to have someone lay out a history and an aesthetic for you, especially when you're just starting to learn. But, all of a sudden I was presented with a giant middle finger, a big "I don't give a fuck" in the form of this gentle looking man in a cardigan sweater and glasses that blew all of the articles and record review sound bites about "so and so being the next what's his name" out of the water.  For a Scandinavian son of two school teachers in a small town in Oregon that was bigger than G.G. Allin setting your school on fire.  That was the first and last moment that I felt I had been granted permission to make music however I wanted to.  I say that it was the first and the last because it was so staggering to me that I have never felt I needed permission from that point on to be myself.  This is the power of finding Anthony Braxton at the right time in your life.

I've been lucky enough to work with Mr. Braxton for about 6 or 7 years now, and although usually I've found that meeting your hero is a bittersweet experience, my time in Braxton's world has always been positive, instructive, and has done nothing but reaffirm my love of art that follows its true interests and its own rules.  One of the things I hear him tell the people in his groups is that "if you stick with me, sir, you will make a million dollars".  This is sometimes told in the negative, in that you will LOSE a million dollars.  It's a joke, of course.  A lot of musicians, especially those on the fringe, joke like this, but with a guy like Braxton, there is something important in the flippancy with which he tells it.  You COULD make a million dollars.  You could make it doing any number of things, even related to music, but if you don't put it back into something you believe in, something that is yourself, your own strange amalgam of interests and aesthetics, then it's worthless. 

So, this is just an introduction.  It's timely, of course, because Anthony is presenting new and old music at a festival at the brand new Roulette space starting on Wednesday October 5th and finishing Saturday October 8th with a reading from the newest opera in his Trillium series.  DRAM is proud to present the Tricentric Foundation Archive as a part of its holdings featuring the releases from the mighty back catalog of Braxton House and New Braxton House.  For those not able to access DRAM, you can also become a subscriber to and member of the Tricentric Foundation, where you can get downloads of these records as well as bootleg (yes, bootleg!) material and monthly downloads of recent works!


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