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John Corbett’s “A Listener’s Guide to Free Improvisation”

A smart, breezy new book aims to demystify the art of free improvisation

Struggling with the work of free improvisors like Peter Brötzmann? Read on.
Shortly after I moved to Chicago in 1994, I began regularly attending shows at a small coffeehouse/performance space called the Lunar Cabaret. Most of the … Read More "John Corbett’s “A Listener’s Guide to Free Improvisation”"

Shortly after I moved to Chicago in 1994, I began regularly attending shows at a small coffeehouse/performance space called the Lunar Cabaret. Most of the leading voices on the local avant-jazz and improvised music scene-Ken Vandermark, Mars Williams, Hamid Drake, Michael Zerang, Jim Baker, Weasel Walter-cycled through the space in a variety of contexts. One week might offer organized bands like the Vandermark Quartet or Caffeine, the next a free-for-all with a cramped stage of improvisors playing toy instruments.

It was an ideal immersion for a not-yet-21-year-old who had just begun exploring the music and had no opportunity to see it live in his native Wilmington, Del. Ultimately it was a foundational experience, a Rosetta stone for a notoriously daunting art form that turned me into a lifelong listener. That transition might have been even smoother if I’d had a copy of A Listener’s Guide to Free Improvisation (The University of Chicago Press), a handy new field guide to spontaneous music by John Corbett, who, as it happens, was already a well-known writer and presenter on the Windy City scene when I arrived 22 years ago.

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