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DEREK BAILEY, 1930 – 2005

According to various postings on the web, free-music guitarist Derek Bailey died on Christmas Day. I’ve seen Bailey a few times, all of them a long time ago when he’d periodically put together in New York one of his “Company Weeks” of group improvisation. I saw him play with folks like Bill Laswell, John Zorn and George Lewis, and to several musician friends of mine, like Donald Miller from Borbetomagus, he was a god. Certainly the most radical guitarist of his generation due to the simple fact that much of what he played didn’t sound like guitar, he was a huge influence of musicians ranging from Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore to John Fahey.

Here’s a portion of his bio from the All Music Guide: “At first glance, Derek Bailey possesses almost none of the qualities one expects from a jazz musician — his music does not swing in any appreciable way, it lacks a discernible sense of blues feeling — yet there’s a strong connection between his amelodic, arhythmic, atonal, uncategorizable free-improvisatory style, and much free jazz of the post-Coltrane era. His music draws upon a vast array of resources, including indeterminacy, rock & roll, and various world musics. Indeed, this catholic acceptance of any and all musical influences is arguably what sets Bailey’s art outside the strict bounds of “jazz.” The essential element of his work, however, is the type of spontaneous musical interrelation that evolved from the ’60s jazz avant-garde. Sound, not ideology, is Bailey’s medium. He differs in approach to almost any other guitarist who preceded him. Bailey uses the guitar as a sound-making, rather than a “music”-making, device. Meaning, he rarely plays melodies or harmonies in a conventional sense, but instead pulls out of his instrument every conceivable type of sound using every imaginable technique. His timbral range is quite broad. On electric guitar, Bailey is capable of the most gratingly harsh, distortion-laden heavy-metalisms; unamplified, he’s as likely to mimic a set of windchimes. Bailey’s guitar is much like John Cage’s prepared piano; both innovations enhanced the respective instrument’s percussive possibilities. As a group player, Bailey is an exquisitely sensitive respondent to what goes on around him. He has the sort of quick reflexes and complementary character that can meld random musical events into a unified whole.”

And here’s a music blog that contains more tributes as well as links to some downloadable MP3s of his work.

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