The photo is of Braxton in February 1988 in concert in Corvallis, Oregon.
Anthony Braxton Quartet, Live at the Place, Eugene Oregon, March 30th 1978
Anthony Braxton Clarinet, Soprano and Alto Saxophone
Ray Anderson Trombone
Brian Smith bass
Thurman Barker Drums
Set One: two unknown tracks (possibly areas 40 and 69) 63:47
Set Two: two unknown tracks (possibly areas 40, 69 and others) 77:29
You know this is going to mean big files to dl.
The sound is A- to B+
This is another interesting musical experience that I'm sharing on behalf of Dale. It comes with a story of mishap about Dale's meeting with Braxton. He took a little encouragement to share this, but I always enjoy these human-scale stories, and Dale says the embarrassment has been blunted by time.
A BRAXTON STORY
It was approximately a year or so before the '89 Eugene big band performances and Braxton was in Eugene to conduct some seminars and to do some solo performances where he was planning to perform improvisations based on Monk compositions. There was to be a seminar and a concert here in Eugene Oregon (in the University of Oregon Music School) and the same thing at the Oregon State Music school in Corvallis Oregon. I was assigned the pleasurable task of driving Braxton around town - shuttling him between the motel and the schools etc...
The weather was TERRIBLE. We’d had freezing rain shortly after he arrived; then the temperatures dropped and it started snowing. It was one of those driven, cold snow storms where the air was full of snow being whipped up from the ground. The ice looked as though it had been scrubbed clean and tinted a bleak gray by the thick sky. The plan was for me to take him by the music school (for some introductions, a tour of the facilities and whatever). Then maybe get a bite to eat afterward depending on what the music department folks had in mind. So I showed up at the motel and Braxton was waiting outside wearing his cardigan sweater - no coat. And he was freezing but he wanted me to wait so he could run back up to his room to grab his alto. He did that and we drove over to the U of O. “Luckily” for us we found parking just a block from music school. We left the car, which was along the street in one of those university residential areas, and skated our way over to the music center. Things went really well and we headed back to the car after only about a half hour.
When we got back to the car the curbside door was ajar and the saxophone was GONE! I was freaked out! Evidently the car had not been locked. We searched the car in vain and then paced up and down the sidewalk hoping to spot the thief. Then it occurred to us that MAYBE he hadn’t actually grabbed the instrument back at the motel. That it was still in the room. That we had IMAGINED all that. Well, it wasn’t in the room!
At this point I wanted Anthony to call the police. NO! NO?! He was ADAMANT! NO police!!
Were the performances to be cancelled? What next? I called up some friends to see if we could borrow an instrument. Nothing! Then I called one of the music stores in town, told them the situation and they said they had a beautiful, like new, Selmer Mark 6 on hand that they would be willing to rent. I mean, I was really feeling responsible at this point and would have footed the bill if necessary even though I couldn’t afford it. So we drove over and went in.
One of the sales clerks had “heard” of Braxton but wasn’t familiar with his music. But since he was somebody the U of O had scheduled the sales people were interested and seemed receptive. Braxton indicated that he needed to shake the instrument down to see if would be useable - you know, check the pads etc. and stock up on a bunch of reeds. So the people at the store laid things out, Anthony wet the reeds, and the test began. First a long note. He removed the reed, sucked on it for a minute or so more, slipped it back in. Another long note. Then he EXPLODED into a series of scales swooping up and down at incredible speeds. Occasionally he paused to ‘trill’ and checkout some fingerings. He eventually threw in little Monk at an incredible tempo to make sure he could pull it off. Finally, after about five or so minutes, Anthony stopped and smiled. His first since the theft of his instrument and I was close to smiling myself. Still stunned BUT I was breathing again.
In the meantime all the sales staff, all the patrons and the store owner had realized a phenomenal musician was on the premises. A small group had gathered around to check out who had demonstrated such brilliant technical wizardry. It wasn’t the same as a concert but it was dazzling. The owner piped up “Uh . . we’ll loan it to you for nothing and hopefully, if you feel it’s appropriate, you’ll mention us. AND we’ll give you a really good price on it if you like the way it sounds and plays.” Anthony tested the instrument a little longer and finally decided it would work - that he would go ahead with the concerts.
We left with the instrument. I drove Anthony back to the motel, he picked up a few things and we went over to my house so he could do more “warming up.” He couldn’t practice at the motel and he felt he had to put in a couple hours just so he’d know how to deal with the idiosyncracies of that particular horn.
The evening concert was basically a solo exploration of the quartet material found on the Black Saint “Six Monk’s Compositions (1987).” I don’t really remember much about Braxton’s playing that evening because I was preoccupied with what had happened earlier in the day. I just kept replaying that moment when we got back to the car and discovered the horn missing. And it didn’t help that Anthony was not particularly pleased about his playing and was finally openly admitting how very distressed he was about the loss of his instrument, a Selmer Mark 7. But we’d muddled through the day, Braxton had done his solo concert, and we’d averted a total disaster. It could have been worse – or could it?
We had planned to drive up to Corvallis after the concert and get Anthony into his new lodgings, a Bed & Breakfast near the OSU campus. It’s only 50 miles but the temperature had dropped and NOW there was a howling blizzard going on. This is REALLY rare in Oregon. Winters are rainy NOT blizzardy. We decided to drive up anyway despite the treacherous road conditions. I don’t remember how much snow we got but it was hard to see and the roads were slick. What normally takes an hour to drive took three. But we made it.
The plan was for me to drive back that evening but it was 2:30 A.M. and the roads had become almost impassable so I decided to stay in Corvallis over night. Fortunately they had an additional room at the B & B. In fact we were the only two roomers that night. Winter time is not when people vacation in Corvallis. And nobody else would have been crazy enough to try driving.
The next morning I woke up to the sound of Braxton practicing. I only wish I could have recorded some of it. I mean it was flat amazing. I think he’d figured out the Mark 6 and was more focused than he had been on the previous evening. A great instrumentalist can even make arpeggios sound musical. After breakfast I drove Anthony up to the University and took off for Eugene. The Sun was out and the roads had been somewhat cleared.
The next evening I drove back to Corvallis with my wife Margaret. This time I was able to listen to the music and it was a knockout performance. Braxton WAS on! His rendition of “Brilliant Corners” was over 20 minutes and spectacular from beginning to end. Only a small crowd attended but we had the good fortune of catching Braxton at his best. I also got some great photos.
Braxton returned the horn to me that evening. He had decided to get another Mark 7 (if he could find one) which was what he was accustomed to playing. When I returned the horn to the store in Eugene the following morning the young man at the counter was a little surprised to see me. I guess he figured Braxton would keep it. I thought he would myself. In any case, it would be interesting to know who finally got that horn and if it is still being played. I also wonder where the thief went to sell Braxton’s “old” horn.
21 May 2008
The photo is of Braxton in February 1988 in concert in Corvallis, Oregon.