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Artist Profiles

In Memoriam: Derek Bailey

By Published: February 7, 2006
Bailey continued to perform and record solo, however, up until motor neuron disease robbed him of the ability to play. His final release, Carpal Tunnel—issued by Tzadik just five months before his death—featured him not just unaccompanied but boldly exploring his debilitating illness. The first 10-minute track features Bailey speaking about losing muscular control in his hands as he plays (Bailey was fond of speaking and playing at the same time, and released a number of what he called "chats over the years). The five tracks that follow were recorded at three-week intervals, the suggestion being to document his deteriorating ability. Close listening does reveal a loss of finesse in the playing, but that's easily overshadowed by the emotive quality of the playing. As ever, Bailey's playing is arresting. It's not so simple as to be melancholy or celebratory. It resonates at a much deeper level, transcending lyricism and suspended in time.

In 1976, the magazine Musics asked 30 musicians to respond to the question "What happens to time-awareness during improvisation? While some answers stretched to more than a page of text, Bailey responded simply "The ticks turn into tocks and the tocks turn into ticks. Like his playing, Bailey lives on, existing outside of time.

Photo Credit
With Steve Beresford, Uithorn, Holland; 1977 by Gérard Rouy

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