Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Derek Bailey... 1/29/30 - 12/25/05... a personal appreciation...


Derek Bailey – An appreciation...



I never managed to get to a live Derek Bailey gig... which is a great hole in my aesthetic life. I had planned that in 2006 I was going to make an effort to go and see him somewhere – maybe in Barcelona where apparently he had made his home – or anywhere within geographical reason. Now – this will not happen. I first heard him on one of Charles Fox's radio three shows – 'Jazz Today' if I remember correctly, sometime back in the late 70's or very early 80's. Playing several solo pieces mainly on acoustic guitar. It was unlike anything I had ever heard – and by then I had been following the jazz avant garde for years. Maybe that was the point – that Derek (along with his cohorts in the sixties improv underground) went beyond 'jazz', 'white jazz', the tradition he came out of (passing throught the danceband and session years, the guitar vocabulary used in those areas very much rooted in the practice of jazz) and had essayed into the uncharted oceans of what he called in his superb book 'Improvisation etc' 'non-idiomatic improvisation.' As a guitar player, he had a profound effect on me and inspired my own fumbling attempts to free my playing up – I taped the show and somewhere have the old cassette – (if I can find it I'll copy it into mp3 format and put it out)– and listened to it over and over down the years.

Bailey was a formidable guitarist who, paradoxically, seems to have travelled back to the very ur-basics of music to explore the materiality of his instrument - wood and steel and the collisions of fingers and mind with these - and forwards at the same time, sending the notes spinning and skittering out into the world, conscious in the knowledge of what had gone before as he forged new sound spaces. I do not want to explore the technical side of his music too deeply here (maybe at a later date?) just to say that he was someone with wide ears and a conscious deep knowledge of the tradition – inside jazz and in the classical/serious world as well – hence the nuances of Webern, to clutch for a quick correlative.

There is a surface steely and difficult brilliance to his playing. (Maybe he was our English Cecil Taylor?) But give it the space it deserves and you can hear the depth of it: the technique certainly – whatever sounds he brought forth they were never fumbled or accidental in the execution but ring with the austere clarity of the sonorities of Thelonious Monk, say. The humour – unlike many on the avant-garde side and certainly the author of the recent book about him (a figure from the dead realms of Late Marxism it seems), he has something of the deadpan stand-up about him. The generosity - think of Company, the yearly festival he established to bring an amazing variety of players from many different disciplines together into a sprawling vibrancy in which he subsumed himself – famously saying on several occasions that he preferred playing with other musicians rather than solo – and a soloist supreme at that. Last of all – the essential integrity of the true questor. Uncompromising in days of extreme compromise musically and elsewhere and rescued from any sense of pomposity thereof and therein by the other qualities I have listed above – especially, maybe, humour. One section I remember from that old 'Jazz Today' radio shot was a 'suite' of interlinked pieces he called 'The only good jazz composer is a dead one.' Mordant and very funny.

RIP Derek Bailey...

5 comments:

dave said...

I never got to see him live either, though I do have The Company in Japan video and the recent dvd... watching the latter , it suddenly all made perfect sense...I've been listening to him since Iskra 1903 but I wouldn't say I ever really understood his playing in a real sense... I read his book on improvisation and didn't understand that either... but watching the dvd it all fell into place : he was the music he was playing, it was all of a seam with his life and was just so natural and good-humoured...I played Solo Guitar Vol 1 this morning to celebrate his life...

Taxi Driver said...

Sad news indeed. May he rest in peace.

11V said...

Very nice assessment. I had wondered whether to read the Ben Watson book, but it sounds probably like one to avoid. Thanks for the mp3s, they'll tip me into buying that album I think.

Rod... said...

Thanks for the nice words 11V- but I wouldn't want to put anyone off reading anyone's book - I'll have a go myself soon I think - but it's just that the likes of Ben Watson and their tiresome cliches just don't seem to fit with the sprawling freedoms of Bailey and like musicicians and artists - plus all that old Marxist jargon is a real drag to wade through! I'm putting up a couple more from 'Ballads' - but buy it anyway! It's worth it... really good... I've also somewhere got some old airshots which if I can find I'm going to transfer and put up soon...

etnobofin said...

What a great personal appreciation of Mr Bailey. He was a musician who very connciously lived on the fringe, (indeed, created the fringe and redefined it), for most of his career. So it is difficult to sum up what an enormous influence Derek Bailey had on many players working in all sorts of fields. I certainly know his work has been one of the touchstones for the growth of the improv scene in my home town (Auckland, NZ).

I think our best tribute would be to keep playing, and make sure we have a laugh along the way...