Derek Bailey

Avant-garde jazz guitarist


Derek Bailey, guitarist: born Sheffield 29 January 1930; twice married (one son); died London 25 December 2005.

Oddly, for an avant-garde player whose music was so intense and uncompromising that his following was devoted but small, the guitarist Derek Bailey appeared at the 1968 Royal Command Performance. In his time he also worked as an accompanist to Gracie Fields and Kathy Kirby - and it should be pointed out that for the royal concert he was in the pit band.

He turned his back on commercial music and rose to become the most renowned member of the British free-form jazz movement.

Bailey had an uncompromising philosophy that involved exterminating music that he had already played. It led him rigorously to move on from one group of musicians to the next: he believed that familiarity bred predictability. He was perhaps at his happiest in his metamorphosis to solo guitar player. Paradoxically his improvisations were recorded many times and the resultant albums were much sought by his followers across the world.

He believed in turbulence and musical aggression, although it was notable that, when more conventional musicians like Tony Coe or Steve Lacy were drawn into his orbit, he softened to form exquisite musical partnerships that led non-believers to wonder at what could have been. In his regular conversations with his audiences he showed a beguiling sense of humour that perhaps didn't chime with the density of the music.

But Bailey, like the musicians he mixed with, was a man convinced and possessed. From his playing he stripped out rhythm and conventional harmony and cast aside anything recognisable as jazz tradition. Over the years he withdrew from group playing and played without accompaniment. He worked often on the Continent, mostly in Germany, but chose to stay in England.

"He was rapidly arriving at the stage where he saw the nearest parallel to his own role in those of a writer or a painter," wrote the trumpeter Ian Carr, who described Bailey as "fastidious and ascetic" in his music:

He is austere, uncompromising and formidably committed to exploring and expressing his own interior vision . . . With monastic vigilance he tries to avoid the habitual side of playing.

Bailey was a key figure in the 13-hour concert played in Camden Town, London, in the summer of 1978 by the London Musicians Collective - this was in itself a compromise, because the saxophonist Evan Parker, a close comrade of Bailey's, had planned for the musicians to play around the clock.

Derek Bailey's grandfather was a professional banjo player and his uncle a professional guitarist. He took to the guitar when he was 11 and became a professional musician in Sheffield during the Fifties, working mostly at music that he didn't like. But, before leaving for London in 1966, he formed his own avant-garde band that included the like-spirited drummer Tony Oxley.

In London Bailey fell in with Evan Parker, Paul Rutherford, Barry Guy and other free-form players and played regularly with the drummer John Stevens's Spontaneous Music Ensemble. He joined the London Jazz Composers' Orchestra and formed the trio Iskra 1903 with the trombonist Rutherford and bassist Guy, whilst he was also a member of the Music Improvisation Company. His frequent partnerships with Evan Parker gained him fame across Europe and he was soon working with musicians on the Continent and with visiting Americans including Anthony Braxton and Steve Lacy.

With Rutherford, Guy and Bailey's wife Karen, Bailey in 1970 founded the record company Incus, the first musician-run label in Britain, to distribute their music. He eventually came to own the label himself and continued its policy of never deleting albums. In 1976 he formed Company, an ensemble bringing together groups of British and international improvisers. An annual Company week was held for 17 years until 1994. Bailey was a member of Kenny Wheeler's band in 1978 but from then on mainly played as a soloist or at best in duos.

He made an exception during the Eighties when the avant-garde Ganelin Trio came from Russia to work in Britain for a period. Bailey worked happily with them until the leader, the pianist Vyacheslav Ganelin, emigrated to Israel.

Bailey influenced guitarists as far away as Japan and in 1997 worked with the avant-rock Japanese duo Ruins. In that period he also played with the drummer Tony Williams and the guitarist Pat Metheny.

His book Improvisation: its nature and practice in music (1980) led to the Channel 4 television series On the Edge (1989-91).

Steve Voce

News
peopleTop Gear presenter and all-round controversialist is at it again
Life & Style
techHow a 'grey brick' took over the world of portable gaming
Sport
Aaron Ramsey celebrates after opening the scoring in Arsenal's win over Hull `
sport
News
peopleActress speaks out against historic sexual assault claims, saying things have 'gone quite far now'

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Coren Mitchell, who is the daughter of the late broadcaster Alan Coren and is married to comedian David Mitchell, produced a hand to make poker history at the 98th EPT main event.
peopleJournalist and TV presenter becomes first ever two-time winner of the European Poker Tour
Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Life & Style
Guests enjoy food and cocktail parings by Chefs Jimmy Bannos, Jimmy Bannos Jr, Daniel Rose and Mindy Segal with mixologists Josh King and Alex Gara at Bounty & Barrel: A Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Dinner Series at Heaven on Seven on April 9, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.
food + drinkSprinkle Palcohol 'on almost any dish' for 'an extra kick' firm says...
Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
News
politicsLabour launches the 'completely hollow' Easter Clegg
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Arts & Entertainment
Last, but by no means least, is Tommy Cooper and the fez. This style of hat became a permanent trademark of his act.
comedyNot Like That, Like This centres on alleged domestic abuse
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher

£130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

Do you want to work in Education?

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

Day In a Page

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players