The autobiography of one of the towering figures of contemporary American music,
and a powerful meditation on history, race, capitalism, and art
Henry Threadgill—the celebrated composer, saxophonist, and flautist—is one of only three jazz artists (along with Ornette Coleman and Wynton Marsalis) to have won a Pulitzer Prize.
In Easily Slip Into Another World: A Life in Music, Threadgill recalls his childhood and upbringing in Chicago, his family life and education, and his brilliant career in music. Here are riveting recollections of the music scene in Chicago in the early 1960s, when Threadgill developed his craft among friends and schoolmates who would go on to form the core of the highly influential Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM); the year and a half he spent touring with an evangelical preacher in the mid-1960s; his military service in Vietnam, illustrative of an oft-ignored aspect of jazz history, given the number of musicians in Threadgill’s generation who served in the armed forces.
We appreciate his genius as he travels to the Netherlands, Venezuela, Trinidad, Sicily, and Goa enriching his art; immerses himself in the volatile downtown scene in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s; collaborates with choreographers, writers, and theater directors as well as an astonishing range of musicians, from AACM stalwarts (including Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, Wadada Leo Smith, and Leroy Jenkins) to Chicago bluesmen, downtown luminaries, and world music innovators; shares his impressions of the recording industry and his perspectives on music education and the history of Black music in the United States; and, of course, accounts for his work with the various ensembles he has directed over the past five decades.
The composer and multi-instrumentalist Henry Threadgill is widely recognized as one of the most original and innovative voices in contemporary music. A Chicago native, he studied at the American Conservatory of Music and, after serving in Vietnam, joined the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). He has performed on more than thirty albums, including acclaimed releases from his bands Air, X-75, the Henry Threadgill Sextett, Very Very Circus, Make a Move, Zooid, and Ensemble Double Up. His awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2003, a United States Artists Fellowship in 2008, a 2016 Doris Duke Artist Award, and a 2016 Excellence in the Arts Award from the Vietnam Veterans of America. Threadgill was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2021. His four-movement work In for a Penny, In for a Pound received the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2016.
Brent Hayes Edwards is the Peng Family Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, where he is also affiliated with the Center for Jazz Studies. His books include The Practice of Diaspora: Literature, Translation, and the Rise of Black Internationalism (2003) and Epistrophies: Jazz and the Literary Imagination (2017). He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 2015, and in 2020 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Praise for Easily Slip Into Another World: A Life in Music
“Vividly told, alternately uproarious and devastating, Easily Slip into Another World serves up astonishing tales of Threadgill’s life in Chicago, Vietnam, New York, and on the road, punctuated by deep revelations about the Black experience, American empire, an artist’s life, and the entire history of music. Threadgill and Edwards have crafted an invaluable literary experience: a real-life Bildungsroman, plainspoken, erudite, and searingly honest. This book will be savored and cherished for generations.”
— Vijay Iyer, composer and pianist;
Rosenblatt Professor of the Arts, Harvard University
“The personal, the political, the musical, the spiritual: all merge in this brilliant, beguiling memoir by one of the major musical minds of our time. Easily Slip into Another World not only documents a radically inventive individual talent but also celebrates a singularly vital collaborative community—that of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. It shows the indivisibility of what comes from within and what comes from without: making music as a way of being in the world.”
— Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker;
author of The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century
“Easily Slip into Another World is the vibrant autobiography of Henry Threadgill, a fearless explorer whose music and performance transcends categories and genres. His encompassing vision and adventurous spirit of inquiry have influenced generations of composers and musicians. This book is an affirmation of the power of creativity to change our world and discover new ones.”
— Meredith Monk, composer, singer, director, and choreographer
“The same passion and joy that Henry Threadgill brings to his life is manifested in his perpetual quest for the right sound, the right composition, the right combination and collaboration. Anybody with a spark of creativity in any part of their lives should take inspiration in his unrelenting commitment to experimentation as the spirit that drives us to revelation.
After reading this book, full of insight and humor and even a tiger passing in the night, I suggest you turn on some of Threadgill’s music and do as he says: listen.”
— Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer prize–winning author of The Sympathizer
“I frequently call Henry Threadgill my favorite living composer not only because of the webs of sound he spins, but also because he is the best storyteller I know. This book is a profound gift: it reminds us that composition is not just making music, but also shaping a life.”
— Jason Moran, composer and pianist;
Artistic Director for Jazz at the Kennedy Center
“Without question Easily Slip into Another World will be one of those books we talk about, read, and reread for years to come—a new classic autobiography, building upon and upending the tradition of the genre at the same time. It is breathtaking.”
— Farah Jasmine Griffin, Ransford Professor of English and
Comparative Literature and African American Studies, Columbia University