Sunday, April 29, 2007

bailey & lewis

No particular reason to post this other than it’s a pleasure to see two of my models (would it be presumptuous to say elders?)—one in regards to the instrument, the other in regards to tactics and strategies—captured together on video…

…although I can think of few improvisers who differ so much ideologically and politically.


Dan said...

Thanks for posting that. I don't know much about Bailey's ideology or politics so I can only infer based on what I know about Lewis' as to how they might differ. They seem to get along quite well musically....

the improvising guitarist said...

I only meant that Bailey, as a self-designated practitioner of ‘non-ideomatic improvisation’, was a proponent of what I would argue is a denial of historical specificity. I think that, to use Lewis’ term, Bailey was part of a “pan-European nationalism” that at times folded, to quote Lewis’ ‘Gittin’ To Know Y’all’, “free improvisation into a composite construction of whiteness-based, transnational, pan-European experimental aesthetic that would frame as axiomatic the permanent margnianlization of African-American agency.”
And I agree, they seem to get along in performance (even in fascinating disasters like Yankees).
Thanks again for the comments, Dan.

S, tig

Dominic Lash said...

Sorry, I couldn't disagree more that Lewis and Bailey were diametrically opposed ideologically and politically. There was much more, musically and otherwise, that they shared. There is certainly an argument to be had about the whole non-idiomatic thing, and Lewis clearly disagreed with Bailey on this. I appreciate your post on the subject; I've written a bit about it
here - see especially page four. Lewis' point in the essay you link to that Bailey's concept was related to modernism's negative aesthetic is perceptive. But to paint Bailey as in some way racist or concerned to marginalize 'African-American agency' is grossly mistaken. I quote Lewis from his essay 'Improvised Music after 1950', which you can find in the book The Other Side of Nowhere: 'Bailey, like other European improvisers, makes no attempt to deny the Afrological influence upon his own work. Bailey's critique of jazz, therefore, far from adopting the premises of Cage in critiquing its improvisers, is actually a critique of the art world surrounding jazz, with its tendency toward canonization and toward what is perceived by many as its capitulation to the influence of corporate power in the form of a rather limp neoclassicalism.'
Bailey never denied that free improvisation had historical roots or that African American jazz was of absolutely crucial importance to it - the examples he gives in his book of valuable texts written on free improvisation are Cardew's 'Towards an Ethic of Improvisation' and Leo Smith's 'Notes (8 Pieces)'. He just thought that the music he played wasn't African American jazz - which must surely be right? Plus, by the way, on the CD 'Playbacks', Bailey names Lewis as one of his very favourite musicians, and Lewis performed in London last year in a tribute to Bailey organised by John Zorn. Clearly the men respected each other enormously. (And FWIW I don't hear Yankees as a failure in any way!)

the improvising guitarist said...

Hey, I never made the connection between Dominic Lash, the author of that article, and Dominic Lash, the blogger.

Anyway, thanks for writing. You’re right to flag up my simplistic sketch of Bailey. Certainly it’s unfair of me to present a single caricature to stand in for the various (maybe contradictory) Derek Baileys—Bailey of the first edition of Improvisation, of the Channel 4 documentary, as the curator of Company, etc. And I didn’t mean to imply that Bailey and Lewis were ‘diametrically opposed’, but that they differed significantly politically.
Having said that, I think that Bailey’s angle on race was, in writing though arguably not in practice, often tokenistic, and his cultural politics, Eurocentric (although there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that).
(BTW, I’ll take this time to say that my quote from Lewis’ ‘Gittin’ To Know Y’all’, was maybe misleading. Lewis was not specifically talking about Bailey or any specific individual.)

…FWIW I don't hear Yankees as a failure in any way!

No, I don’t hear a failure (implying some kind of missed target or destination) either.
I love Yankees. It may well be the Bailey or Lewis recording that I listen to most regularly. Bailey, Lewis and Zorn are, on the whole, interventionist improvisers. They are great at generating contrasts, juxtapositions and unexpected—off-beat, out-of-the-box—drama. To caricature, for the moment, a duo by Evan Parker and Lewis: Lewis generates stuff (call it material, gestures, sounds, elements); Parker digests, assimilates, rationalizes, (re)contextualizes. Or, say, an inexperienced improviser with Bailey, desperately trying to catch up because Bailey is apparently doing his thing regardless of context.
By ‘disaster’ I meant that Yankees feels a little like a musical train wreck (and I don’t necessarily mean that as a bad thing—remember, we have critics to worry about that), or like watching David Lynch’s Dune (which I find fascinating in a similar way), or like witnessing three very fine comedians let loose without a straight man. When the Bailey-Lewis-Zorn social unit is expecting the musical equivalent of the comic foil, but is confronted with none, Bailey, Lewis and Zorn have to spontaneously configure and reconfigure to adopt alternative subject positions: they have to be something other than interventionist players even though that’s what they’re good at.
Hmm… does that make sense?

Thanks again for the comment.

S, tig

Dominic Lash said...

Hey - thanks for the comment on my comment! I love what you write about Yankees - very interesting and very persuasive. Also, I fully grant that there are different Baileys, some definitely contradictory. But if you could point me to a concrete place in Bailey's writing where he was tokenistic about race I'd appreciate it? (I grant, also, that he didn't do any extended writing on the subject - but surely that's not the same thing?)

Keep up the good work!

the improvising guitarist said...

Many thanks for the comments, Dominic.
Okay, I think I need to broaden this out into a post of its own rather than continuing in the comments. For starters I may need to rethink my gung-ho language, but I also want to be careful since the last thing I want to appear to be doing is a character assassination.
Having said that, although Bailey is one of my models (I’m tempted to say ‘hero’, but I don’t want to get into that kind of worshiping here), I think I should flag up the problematic in (some of) his rhetoric. As far as citing examples in Bailey’s writings go, my plan is to look at the second edition of Improvisation; specifically the chapters that deal with jazz….

…He [Bailey] didn’t do any extended writing on the subject—but surely that’s not the same thing?

Same thing as tokenism? Perhaps not. On the other hand, the non-engagement with (and consequent invisibility of?) the issue, I think, is actually part of the problem (I plan to return to this…).
One last thing before I go: I was avoiding the word ‘racist’ in this discussion. I did this not because there’s no such thing, but because it can put an hand-edged boundary between ‘the good guys’ and ‘the bad’—between ‘progressives’ and ‘reactionaries’—and that’s not really the politics I wanted to be discussing in this context.
Anyway, thanks for the comments: I’m very grateful that you’ve kept me on my toes about these issues and made me approach this (hopefully) with a little more sensitivity and care.
I’ll get back to this, with a little luck, shortly….

S, tig