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Book Reviews

Bill Bruford: The Autobiography

By Published: March 2, 2009
Bruford also gives proper due to artists he recruited for his own projects—artists who raised his compositional/harmonic game like keyboardist Dave Stewart, guitarist Allan Holdsworth
Allan Holdsworth
Allan Holdsworth
b.1948
guitar
, saxophonists Iain Ballamy
Iain Ballamy
Iain Ballamy
b.1964
sax, tenor
and Tim Garland
Tim Garland
Tim Garland
b.1966
saxophone
, and pianists Steve Hamilton, Gwilym Simcock
Gwilym Simcock
Gwilym Simcock
b.1981
piano
and Michiel Borstlap—and, for one project, guitarist/pianist Ralph Towner
Ralph Towner
Ralph Towner
b.1940
guitar
and bassist Eddie Gomez
Eddie Gomez
Eddie Gomez
b.1944
bass
. But equally importantly, rather than patting himself on the back for his many accomplishments (and there were many), he describes them as paths taken with little choice; more than pursuing the avenues that Bruford did because he wanted to, he traveled down those roads because he had to. The drive to stretch or entirely dissolve musical boundaries and constantly push the envelope were endemic to the musical environments he placed himself in, largely ignoring matters of large-scale success. Why, after all, would he leave Yes on the cusp of massive popular acclaim to join the more experimental but less commercially successful King Crimson? Because he felt staying would mean nothing more than repetition, and Bruford was always driven by a desire to change, to grow, to evolve.

That Daevid Allen of Gong found Bruford "too professional" gets, perhaps, to the nub of why Bruford has been so successful—and why he's chosen this moment to retire. When artists stop playing, an unreasonable sense of entitlement often surfaces amongst their fans. But Bruford argues that chartered accountants retire, doctors retire, lawyers retire; so why can't he? That he is actually able to retire says more about how he's managed his career and life than anything else. While some artists are compelled to play until their last breath, others do so for one reason only: they can't afford not to. Bruford reveals himself to be a rather atypical conservative family man in a world often filled with cavalier musicians who are just the opposite. An artist who maximized the value of occasional financial windfalls, just as he accepted the more than occasional remunerative disasters, Bruford may have been moderate in lifestyle, but he has never been anything less than fearless in his lifelong pursuit of moving his music forward through bleeding edge integration of technological advancements and becoming a looser, more interpretive player. Even as he straddled the line between art rock's inherent complexity and jazz's looser, improvisational nature, Bruford remained, for four decades, a perennial student who based his career choices on a simple but absolute refusal to stand still.

Bill Bruford With King Crimson , Felt Forum NYC 1974



In the end, Bruford is retiring because he wants to and because he can. Too few musicians are in that position, and for the aspiring player, many of the life lessons revealed in The Autobiography are to be taken seriously, indeed. Bruford's balancing of life, art and family—not that it was ever easy—is something to aspire to and congratulate. But before he puts 40 years of performing on 100 albums and 3,000 concerts behind him, this book addresses matters anecdotal, technical (though not, perhaps, as deeply as some drummers might hope), practical, emotional and philosophical with style, panache and élan. All in a well-structured 352 pages that never become dry or academic, despite the wealth of information contained within.

If The Autobiography was purely a succession of serious life lessons it wouldn't be the entertaining read that it is. That Bruford manages to combine the serious with the comical, the practical with the absurd, and the truly happy with the viscerally cathartic reveals him to be as talented an author as he is a musician. He's made it clear that, while he's hanging his sticks up, he's not deserting music entirely, with plans to speak on the subject of a career in music, manage his burgeoning Summerfold and Winterfold record labels and more.

The Autobiography, along with two compilation discs—The Winterfold Collection 1978-1986 (Winterfold, 2009) and the double-disc The Summerfold Collection 1987-2008 (Summerfold, 2009)—may serve as notice that Bruford is making a significant change in his life. But with a new album due out this summer and an intrepid and always active mind, this is clearly not the last we'll have heard from a drummer, composer and bandleader who has been a fundamental part of so many lives, creating an unmistakable soundtrack to life that will never go silent, even if he never picks up his sticks again.

Read a chapter from The Biography, Chapter 10: Is it different, being in jazz?, provided exclusively by Bill Bruford and Jawbone Press to All About Jazz.

Photo Credit

Peter Hodgson, courtesy of Bill Bruford


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