Vietnam Changed the Way This Jazz Man Heard the World

Vietnam Changed the Way This Jazz Man Heard the World

EASILY SLIP INTO ANOTHER WORLD: A Life in Music , by Henry Threadgill and Brent Hayes Edwards It's rare to come across a new Vietnam War from a major publisher in 2023. Most were written decades ago, when memories were fresh and wounds still raw. That generation of soldiers has begun to pass away. Henry Threadgill's “Easily Slip Into Another World” is an unusual entrant in the genre. For one thing, this astringent book is only in part his war experience. The remainder is about his rebellious childhood in Chicago during the 1950s, his apprenticeship in that city's pyretic music scene and — later, after the war — his variegated career as a composer, saxophonist and flutist touring the world and becoming, along with Ornette Coleman and Wynton Marsalis, one of the few jazz artists to have won a Pulitzer Prize . There's more here than an insane war , in other words. In fact, “Easily Slip Into Another World” is so good a music memoir, in the serious and obstinate manner of those by Miles Davis and Gil Scott-Heron , that it belongs on a high shelf alongside them. But this memoir rises toward, and then falls away from, Threadgill's war experience. It's the molten emotional core. Let's start there. Threadgill enlisted in August 1966, when he was 22. He'd lost his draft deferment because he couldn't afford to attend Chicago's American Conservatory of Music full time. He didn't feel like a soldier. If he volunteered rather than wait to be drafted, he was told, he could continue to play music in the Army. After basic training he was stationed at Fort Riley, in Kansas, in a band that performed at officers' dances when it wasn't out on the field playing heroic martial standards to soldiers leaving for combat. The band got good, and Threadgill's arrangements (he'd been listening to Thelonius Monk, Igor Stravinsky and Cecil Taylor) grew complicated. When he was asked to arrange a medley of national classics — “God Bless America,” “The Star-Spangled Banner” and others — for an important ceremony, he did […]

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