Audeze talks with composer and instrumentalist Henry Threadgill

August 26, 2021

Audeze talks with composer and instrumentalist Henry Threadgill

Henry Threadgill is a composer and instrumentalist in contemporary music. He primarily plays saxophone and flute, and came to prominence in the 1970s leading ensembles rooted in jazz but with unusual instrumentation and often incorporating other genres. Henry was awarded the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his album In for a Penny, In for a Pound. In October 2020, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) chose him as one of four recipients of the NEA Jazz Masters Fellowships, in recognition of lifetime achievement and his significant contributions to the art form. 

Audeze was introduced to Henry by our good friend David Breskin. He's a man of few words via computer, so we're very honored he chose to spend some time with us.

"... listening back to recordings and performances... I’m really enjoying the LCD-Xs."
-Henry Threadgill

Here's our brief chat with Henry:

Flipping through your discography, there are so many albums from various eras, it's really hard to know where to start. Can you pick out any favorites from your work that you're particularly proud of?

I wouldn't pick any particular one, but would suggest a recording from each period of development which would include the different groups I've had such as Air, Sextett, Very Very Circus, Make a Move, and Zooid.

Do you tend to write yourself into your music as an instrumentalist, or do you just write whatever comes into your mind and figure out the playing side later?

I always write parts for flute, bass flute and alto saxophone in the different groups. However I do have a group now with two pianos, sometimes three pianos. I only conduct this group.

Similarly, you may get commissions to write for a certain venue or performance group, but when writing more spontaneously, do you tend to write for a given situation, as in "this piece is for the studio" or "this piece is for live performance", or does that matter at all to you?

It does matter what instrumentation is being used. Is the music for studio, an installation, or otherwise. The execution of the music is important in respect to you need an audience for a role that it plays in the music process.

Do you use elements of the studio as a tool when recording an album, or do you see it primarily as a way to document a given performance or piece of music?

To date I have only used a few electronics to make music. Generally recording is always live, unless it's a special project that does not involve one of my performing ensembles.

How did you get started in music? Were there composers who you feel influenced your approach to developing your unique writing and orchestration style?

All the music I heard live and on radio was what impacted me and propelled me into music. There are too many musicians/composers to name that I learned from!

Can you name any factors you feel majorly influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?

Failure was and still is the greatest motivation above all influences.

Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?

As I said it is return to zero and putting feelings aside, move up and on to the plane that art is all about.

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?

Saxophone: Herbert Couf alto: Superba I
Studios: RCA, Systems Two, Water Music

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?

I don't have anything to say other than that one should have a 150% love and passion without reservation for their art.

How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?

I use headphones when I'm in the studio or when I'm listening back to recordings and performances. Thank you again so very much. I’m really enjoying the LCD-Xs.

What have you been working on recently?

I'm doing a multimedia piece in May 2022 for two nights, each night is different. It involves projections of paintings and photography. It also starts with a short film each night, each film is different. There is a twelve piece orchestra of acoustic instruments and electronic music components. I'm planning on recording both nights... audio and video. Liberty Ellman is the recording and sound engineer.