Henry Threadgill (born February 15, 1944, in Chicago, Illinois) is an American composer, saxophonist and flautist, who came to prominence in the 1970s leading ensembles with unusual instrumentation and often incorporating a range of non-jazz genres. He studied at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago co-majoring in piano and flute, along with composition. He studied piano with Gail Quillman and composition with Stella Roberts. He has had a music career for over forty years as both a leader and as a composer.
Threadgill's music has been performed by many of his long-lasting instrumental ensembles, including the trio Air with Fred Hopkins and Steve McCall, the seven-piece Sextet, Very Very Circus, the twenty-piece Society Situation Dance Band, X-75, Make a Move, Aggregation Orb, and his current group Zooid. He has recorded many critically acclaimed albums as a leader of these ensembles with various record labels namely Arista/Novus, About Time, Axiom, Black Saint, Columbia and Pi Recordings.
Threadgill has had numerous commissions and awards throughout. He has composed music for theatre, orchestra, solo instruments, and chamber ensembles. His works for large orchestras, such as "Run Silent, Run Deep, Run Loud, Run High" (conducted by Hale Smith) and "Mix for Orchestra" (conducted by Dennis Russell Davies), were both premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1987 and 1993 respectively. He has had commissions from Mordine & Company in 1971 and 1989, from Carnegie Hall for "Quintet for Strings and Woodwinds" in 1983 and 1985, the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1985, Bang on a Can All-Stars in 1995, "Peroxide" commissioned by the Miller Theatre Columbia University in 2003 for "Aggregation Orb", a commission from the Talujon Percussion Ensemble in 2008, a piece "Fly Fliegen Volar" commissioned and premiered at the Saalfelden Jazz Festival with the Junge Philharmonie Salzburg Orchestra in 2007, a premier of the piece "Mc Guffins" with Zooid at the Biennale Festival in Italy in 2004 to name some.
Threadgill, aside from being a remarkable alto saxophone player, is one of the most imaginative of jazz composers today. "He seems to be deliberately challenging the audience: My lyricism and mastery come complete with thorns and spikes, and I promise to yank the props out from under you,” quoted John Litweiler, longtime Down Beat jazz critic, in an article he wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times. Threadgill was one of the founding members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a Chicago group that was free-form, you might say, in its philosophy and approach. Peter Watrous of the New York Times described Threadgill as "perhaps the most important jazz composer of his generation." Recent concerts in Chicago have led the local critics to speak of him as a revolutionary figure, altering the manner in which jazz itself is going. Said Howard Reich, jazz critic of the Chicago Tribune, "It would be difficult to overestimate Henry Threadgill's role in perpetually altering the meaning of jazz..…He has changed our underlying assumptions of what jazz can and should be." – An excerpt from a chapter on Henry Threadgill in And They All Sang (2005) by Pulitzer-winning author and disc jockey Studs Terkel, a book about "forty of the greatest and most deeply human musical figures of our time".