Derek Bailey: And the Story of Free Improvisation

Lifts the lid on an artistic ferment which has defied every known law of the music business
This outstanding biography of the cult guitar player will likely cause you to abandon everything you thought you knew about jazz improvisation, post-punk and the avant-garde. Derek Bailey was at the top of his profession as a dance band and record-session guitarist when, in the early 1960s, he began playing an uncompromisingly abstract form of music. Today his anti-idiom of “Free Improvisation” has become the lingua franca of the “avant” scene, with Pat Metheny, John Zorn, David Sylvian and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore among his admirers.


  • “I am an enthusiast for the Watson method and I'm prepared to follow him, even to places where I wouldn't under other circumstances go ... His attack, his singularity. His indecent decency.”
  • “A major achievement, as full of dogged wit and irascible single-mindedness as Bailey himself”
  • “The ideal biographer of Derek Bailey.”
  • “Although Ben Watson's unilateral and frequently strident critical stance may have endeared him to few, Derek Bailey, a dogged pioneer of a genuinely unpopular music, could not have wished for a more committed and enthusiastic champion”
  • “The most renowned member of the British free-form jazz movement.”
  • “A towering giant of the guitar. Singular, unique.”
  • “One of the most original and idiosyncratic musicians I have ever known.”


  • Ornette Coleman: Barry Witherden's The Wire Primer

    We are saddened to learn of the death of the great Ornette Coleman
    Below we have posted Barry Witherden's guide to Coleman's recordings, first published in The Wire in 1999, and revised and updated for inclusion in 2009's The Wire Primers.

    Like the composer Charles Ives, Ornette Coleman has suffered from a commonly held misconception that he is a ‘naive artist’. Such an impression is rooted in two anecdotes, neither accurately reported nor understood. When Ornette got his first alto saxophone at the age of 14, he taught himself to play from a piano tutor and mistook C on the alto for A. He eventually realised his mistake, but the misunderstanding made him examine pitch and harmony in a fresh way. Thus began the process which led to an improvising style based on freely moving melody unhindered by a repetitive harmonic substructure, and finally, to his theory of harmolodics – a democratic, holistic organising principle that accords equal weight to melody, harmony and rhythm.

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