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Derek Bailey Interview: September 2001

By Published: March 24, 2005

AAJ: With you saying that the LA Company will be a completely different bunch of musicians, it has answered some of the questions I was raising about the New York Company. For instance, on Mark Wastell's website is a list of groups of which he is a member, including Company. It seemed as if Company was becoming you plus IST plus Will, maybe plus other additions.

DB: Oh no. None of those guys are in the LA Company. I don't know who's in it. I don't actually know any of them. I can't remember any names of them.

AAJ: So Company isn't moving towards becoming a nucleus of musicians, an identifiable entity?

DB No, no. It was more like that when I started.

AAJ: Even though Marseilles and then New York used the same nucleus...

DB: I've kind of done that before, kind of got a set thing and used it again. That's what I did in New York, with these five guys against five people from New York. And that worked fine actually. But I always used to invite most people in pairs so they had somebody familiar to start with. Sometimes I'd invite somebody and ask them to invite somebody, so they'd got some structure in the early stages. Now it doesn't matter. Even if none of these guys in LA know each other, it just doesn't matter because they'll know what it's all about.

But no, there is no set...There are certain people that I think of as Company type players. The one who stands out for me is Tristan Honsinger, who was in the first Company Week here, and the last one and one or two in between. He is a certain type of player. If there was no such thing as free improvisation, you'd have to invent it so that he could do something; he couldn't do it any other way. Although, he is very interested in dance and theatre. I think that for most players, it suits them during a certain period. Like George Lewis might have found Company to be his best way of working for two or three years. He played in Company for two or three years. But then they go off on something of their own but are still available for this thing.

I don't think it is any different from what it was, except that the method is now familiar so you can't set up some internal shock situation. Like Will is very good to throw in because of his totally different relationship with the audience, but they are very hard to find now. Personally, I've found that the kind of thing that I like is going into somebody else's area and not playing their music but doing whatever I do in their area.

AAJ: Looking at your vast discography, there are very few people who you have had regular recordings with. You are very diverse in who you record with. You are always seeking out new situations.

DB: I wouldn't want to be ideological about it but I think of it as being the best way to approach this kind of playing. I don't think it works in other music, other kinds of playing. But for freely improvised music that approach seems to suit it. And now everybody does it anyway. Everybody did it initially because there isn't any other way of getting into this music other than playing with people you don't know, playing with anybody. So it was always a basic thing about this music. But for some years it got "regular-groupitis".

AAJ: But even within those parameters, the people you have played with are from a far wider spectrum than anyone else I can think of - drum'n'bass with DJ Ninj, Japanese rock with The Ruins, and then the pi'pa at the other extreme.

DB: I do find it stimulating to work like that, particularly over the last few years, because of this mutual acceptance in freely improvised music. It has settled down. There are still some great players and people to play with; probably the best thing is to play with another free improviser, but with this other stuff, you actually learn something or I feel I learn something, but I have vast reservoirs of ignorance to chip away at! For instance, to work with Jamaaladeen Tacuma and Calvin Weston was really revealing to me. They are such good musicians to start with, and they are so sharp and reactive. They weren't going to be thrown by what I did. Jamaal knew what I did but Calvin didn't necessarily. I did a gig playing duo with Calvin that was very nice. But they've got a particular area; for years they have worked as this free funk rhythm section with all kinds of people.
The only person I have played with regularly in recent times is Susie Ibarra, who I've played with ... I wouldn't say regularly, but maybe twice a year over the last three or four years. I've played with her twice so far this year and we should play again in December. Playing three times in a year, I've not done that with anyone for years. But I do get a lot of enjoyment out of playing with her, I must say. Unfamiliar other people are vital as far as I'm concerned. It just seems to make sense if you are going to work in this area of music.

AAJ: Are there future collaborations that you are looking towards? Are you proactive or reactive?

DB: I am reactive. One of the people who has really been helpful in recent years is Zorn. The Ruins was suggested by Zorn. And Min Xiao-Fen was Zorn's idea. The first time we played together was when we made that duo record. She was terrified of making a freely improvised record; she didn't think it was possible. So sometimes I suggest things to people or I put them together when I've got a chance to invite people. This electronics guy I'm playing with in LA, Casey Rice, I like what he does. I'm not much into current electronic stuff, what I think of as lounge electronics, mumbling electronics. He's not quite like that. I don't know what Casey is. I've yet to find out exactly. He's not a performer. He's the sound-man for Tortoise. That's his job. But I made a record, at somebody's invitation, for a label called Bingo, which is called Playbacks and the idea of this was that the guy who set it up invited different people to send in tracks and I played with them. It was ostensibly, I suppose, a drum'n'bass record. It didn't turn out like that, although there was some drum'n'bass. Groups sent in tracks; there was a very nice group called Tied and Tickled - have you ever heard of that group? - I think they are a German group. So this guy drummed up a dozen pieces from different people. I liked all of it. It doesn't matter; I just played with whatever they sent in. But there was a track from this guy Casey Rice who lives in Chicago, and I liked it very much, so I have tried to engineer it to play with him. When I get a gig that is more in his area, I invite him. Sometimes he can't make it, this one he can make. We'll see what happens.

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