Novus & Columbia Recordings of Henry Threadgill & Air (#247)

Born in 1944 on the South Side of Chicago, Threadgill grew up steeped in classic jazz (Ellington, Basie) and blues (Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf). He started on saxophone as a teenager, and gigged in polka and Dixieland groups.

The young musician's horizons broadened considerably in the early '60s, when he encountered future Art Ensemble of Chicago mainstay Joseph Jarman in the cafeteria of Wilson Junior College. The meeting led Threadgill to Muhal Richard Abrams's Experimental Band and eventually to the AACM, an organization that helped cultivate his famously omnivorous aesthetic. (As he told broadcaster Ted Panken in 1996, "It was not exclusively jazz any more. It was just music.").

After stints in a traveling evangelism troupe and in Vietnam, Threadgill landed back in Chicago, where he launched Air and X-75. By the mid-'70s, though, he had relocated to New York, his on-and-off home base ever since. The '80s and early-to-mid '90s found the composer focusing on the Sextett and Very Very Circus, respectively, as well as performing live with unrecorded groups such as the WindString Ensemble and the Society Situation Dance Band. He founded his next working group, Make a Move—his primary outlet from the late '90s through the early aughts—while living part-time in Goa, India.

In 2001, Threadgill debuted Zooid, an ensemble that features tuba and guitar but bears little resemblance to Very Very Circus. As of 2010, the group is still going strong, hard at work on the next chapter in Threadgill's ever-evolving oeuvre. - Hank Shteamer

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