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Derek Bailey and the Story of Free Improvisation by Ben Watson

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This book is “designed to be contradictory, argumentative and unfinished” Ben Watson announces in his introduction. An uneven mix of criticism, Marxist theory, digression and insult is undoubtedly the book as Watson describes it, though not in the provocative way he suggests.

The best of it comes early on, where Watson allows the guitarist and free-improv avatar to reminisce in long block quotes about his English wartime childhood and early professional years spent playing dance music in ballrooms and pit orchestras. Bailey comes across as a dry wit refreshingly free of ideology or hot air: “When somebody says they would rather work in a factory than play music that they don’t like or don’t believe in, the answer’s obvious. It means they’ve never worked in a factory.”

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