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Bailey, Derek

Derek Bailey

Guitarist, bandleader, record label founder

For the Record

Selected discography


Derek Bailey, a professional musician for over four decades with more than 180 recording sessions to his credit and a pioneer of free music, is considered one of the most radical innovators of guitar technique. He rarely plays conventional melodies or harmonies and does not improvise on blues scales, but uses his electric guitar instead to create spontaneous sounds. There are three basic timbres on the guitar: the harmonic, the stopped note, and the open string, said Bailey in a 1994 interview with Down Beats John Corbett. You can play the same note in many different ways; if you include its various octaves there are fantastic possibilities on the guitar.

In addition to exploring new territory on his instrument, Bailey remains open to all musical influences, from rock n roll and modern classical to world music, and plays in a variety of settings. He has accompanied Min Tanaka, a Japanese Butoh dancer, for example, and has played in the duo format with the most celebrated drummers in free jazz and improvised music, most notably Eddie Prévost, Milford Graves, Han Bennink, Tony Oxley, and Susie Ibarra. In addition to recording solo, Bailey has worked with larger groups such as the Globe Unity Orchestra and the Spontaneous Music Ensemble. Other important associations include sessions with saxophonists Anthony Braxton and Evan Parker, and composer/pianist Cecil Taylor.

A tall, even-tempered man who avoids drawing attention to himself, Bailey, in spite of his relaxed presence onstage, nonetheless is capable of drawing surging, metal-heavy sounds from his instrument amid quiet pings, scrapes, and streams of notes. He continues to inspire others to stretch the boundaries of free music. Bailey has influenced more avant-indie copy-shop-employee guitarists in the past 30 years thanpick a name, proclaimed Sasha Frere-Jones, a contributor to the Village Voice. Wed have no Thurston Moore, Hans Reichel, Don Caballero, Alan Licht, Henry Kaiser, Fred Firth, Jim ORourke, or that dude in Rage Against the Machine if it werent for Bailey. He threw out the rule book, left blues and jazz in the garage, and took off down the road at top speed when people doubted a road existed.

Bailey was born on January 29, 1932, in Sheffield, England. He acquired early inspiration from his grandfather and uncle, who were musicians. As a youngster during the 1940s, Bailey, determined not to work as a laborer like the rest of his family members, studied music with C.H.C. Biltcliffe and guitar with John Duarte. Turning professional by the 1950s, Bailey started performing with various jazz groups in dance halls and nightclubs throughout England, taking any gig that came available. He also dabbled in radio, television, and studio work. Then, in the early 1960s, Baileys father became ill, compelling the young guitarist to return to Sheffield.

While playing locally, Bailey arrived at the conclusion that straight-ahead jazz was not his calling. By the time I was about 23 or 24, he explained to Phil Freeman in Jazziz, I decided that if I wanted to be a jazz player, I should have started in a different place, a different time, and maybe in a different race. And I was very aware that the guitar player I particularly admire, Charlie Christian, was dead by the time he got to the age I was already atand I was nowhere.

In 1963 Bailey met the young composer and bassist Gavin Bryars and drummer Tony Oxley. Together they formed a trio named after the late composer Joseph Holbrooke. From that point, Baileys musical direction began to shift. It was just some gradual changeover, he told Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Steve Dollar. We kind of went in a different direction, from conventional jazz to free playing. It wasnt a chosen direction. Were three quite different kinds of musicians. It seems like the most successful way we could work together was to develop this free sound. It was a very logical thing, It would have been perverse not to have done what we did.

After Joseph Holbrooke disbanded in 1966, Bailey moved to London and formed musical associations with, among others, bassist Dave Holland, saxophonist Evan Parker, drummer John Stevens, and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. These musicians recorded as a collective improvisation unit called the Spontaneous Music Ensemble. Two years later, in 1968, Bailey joined Oxleys sextet, remaining with the group until 1973. In

For the Record

Born on January 29, 1932, in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England.

Began professional career, 1950s; played with composer/bassist Gavin Bryars and drummer Tony Oxley in the trio Joseph Holbrooke, 1963-66; formed Spontaneous Music Ensemble, 1966; played with Oxleys sextet, 1968-73; helped found Incus Records, released Topography of the Lungs, formed the trio Iskra, 1970; founded the ensemble Company, 1976; began collaborating with newer artists such as John Zorn and Pat Metheny, 1980s.

Addresses: Record company Incus Records, 14 Downs Rd., London ES 8DS, England, website:

1970 Bailey formed a trio, Iskra, with bassist Barry Guy and trombonist Paul Rutherford.

In that same year Bailey helped establish the Incus Records label. Formed as the first musician-owned independent label in the United Kingdom by Oxley, who had the original idea, Michael Walters, who funded the project, and Bailey and Parker, who served as directors of the company with Oxley, Incus is now run by Bailey and Karen Brookman. The labels first album, Baileys Topography of the Lungs, was issued in 1970. He continued to release material for the label into the new millennium.

In 1976 Bailey founded a free music ensemble called Company, whose ever-changing lineup has included Anthony Braxton, Han Bennink, Steve Lacy, and trombonist George Lewis. By the 1980s Bailey had begun collaborating with newer jazz and new music artists, including New York arts scene alto saxophonist John Zorn, known for infusing classic jazz with his own sense of hipness. Players like ruts and they can slide into them as soon as possible. [Zorn is] one of the guys whose flattened a few ruts out, Bailey told Freeman. With the saxophonist, Bailey recorded the album Yankees, also featuring Lewis on trombone. He continues to release material on Zorns record label, Tzadik.

Bailey shows no signs slowing. Some of his later recordings include 1995s Wireforks, a guitar duet set with Henry Kaiser; Saisoro, released the same year, a trio date with bass and drums rock duo the Ruins; 1996s Guitar, Drums n Bass, wherein Bailey plays over techno music; 1997s Music & Dance, recorded with mainstream jazz guitarist Pat Metheny; and 1999s Mirakle, a free-funk album recorded with bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and drummer Calvin Weston. The guitarists most recent works include Ore, a duo with drummer Eddie Prévost of the British trio AMM, and the solo album Improvisation, both released in 2001. In 2002 Bailey returned with the following sets: Ballads, Pieces for Guitar, and Duos, London 2001.

Selected discography

Topography of the Lungs, Incus, 1970.

Improvisations for Cello and Guitar (live), ECM, 1971.

Solo Guitar, Vol. 1, Incus, 1971.

Derek Bailey and Han Bennink (live), Organ of Corti, 1972.

London Concert (live), Incus, 1975.

Time, Incus, 1979.

Aida, Incus, 1980.

Views from Six Windows, Metalanguage, 1980.

Dart Drug, Incus, 1981.

Cyro, Incus, 1982.

Outcome (live), Potlatch, 1983.

Trios by Company, Incus, 1983.

Yankees, Charly, 1983.

Notes, Incus, 1985.

Han, Incus, 1988.

Village Life, Incus, 1991.

Solo Guitar, Vol. 2, Incus, 1992.

Playing, Incus, 1992.

Banter, 00 Discs, 1994.

Saisoro, Tzadik, 1995.

Trio Playing, Incus, 1995.

Wireforks: Guitar Duets, Shanachie, 1995.

Harras (live), Avant, 1996.

Guitar, Drums n Bass, Avant, 1997.

Improvisation, Cramps, 1997.

Music & Dance (live), Revenant, 1997.

No Waiting (live), Potlatch, 1997.

Dynamics of the Impromptu (live), Entropy Stereo, 1998.

Play Backs, Bingo, 1998.

Takes Fakes and Dead She Dances, Incus, 1998.

Tohjinbo, Paratactile, 1998.

Viper, Avant, 1998

Arch Duo (live), Rastascan, 1999.

Daedal, Incus, 1999.

Post Improvisation, Vol. 2: Air Mail Special, Incus, 1999.

And, Robi, 2000.

Drop Me Off at 96th, Scatter, 2000.

Drops, Rectangle, 2000.

Mirakle, Tzadik, 2000.

String Theory, Paratactile, 2000.

Close to the Kitchen, Blue, 2001.

Fish, PSF, 2001.

Llaer (live), Sofa, 2001.

Ore, Arrival, 2001.

Derek Bailey and Franz Hautzinger, Grab, 2002.

Ballads, Tzadik, 2002.

Pieces for Guitar, Tzadik, 2002.

Duos, London 2001, Incus, 2002.



Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 26, 1999; November 23, 2001.

Billboard, February 1, 1997.

Down Beat, April 1994; October 1995; August 1997; July 2001.

Jazziz, March 2002.

Los Angeles Times, December 18, 1989.

New York Times, May 5, 2000.

Village Voice, October 8, 1996.


Derek Bailey, All Music Guide, (September 12, 2002).

Experimental Review: Derek Bailey, Bids, British Broadcasting Corporation, (September 12, 2002).

Mirakle, Derek Bailey, Jamaaladeen Tacuma & Calvin Wes-ton, The Music Forum, (September 12, 2002).

October 2001: Derek Bailey Interview, Part 1-3, All About Jazz, (September 12, 2002).

Laura Hightower

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