In 1958, guitarist Jim Hall, in notes to a Jimmy Giuffre record, used the term "instant composition" to describe improvising. A few years later, Misha Mengelberg, knowing nothing of this, recoined the term, and it stuck. A quiet manifesto, those two English words countered notions that improvising was either a lesser order of music-making than composing, or an art without a memory, existing only in the moment, unmindful of form. Misha's formulation posited improvisation as formal composition's equal (if not its superior, being faster).
Yes but: Misha says he was thinking of "instant coffee," stuff any serious java drinker (count Misha in: espresso cup rattling in its saucer announces his approach to a stage) recognized as a sham substitute, however aggressively sold. He deflates his lofty idea even as he raises it. He's also praised the "instant poetry" that came out of the Fluxus art movement he was involved with around then: put individual words on strips of paper, place in a jar and shake. Years later it became a commercial novelty: words on tiny magnetic tiles you can arrange on a refrigerator door.
For Misha mid-'60s Fluxus was inviting because it stood for nothing, had no ideals to defend. What bound together Fluxus's conceptualists, shock artists, early minimalists, musical comics et cetera was a need for a performance format that could accommodate them all. One solution was that symbol of '60s kookiness, the multimedia Happening. Those events belatedly helped inspire Mengelberg's absurdist-circus theater shows with Wim T. Schippers in the '70s and '80s, and the fluid play of styles, unbinding rules, lyricism and barnyard humor that characterize the ICP Orchestra today.
Nineteen sixty-seven, 30 years ago: Misha was as happy to think about music as play it. He said in an interview not long after, for me a few gigs a month is plenty. But his drummer of six years, Han Bennink--who'd sparked their little tours with visitors like Johnny Griffin and Eric Dolphy, and played sans Misha with everyone from Sonny Rollins to Marion Brown, (and a former art student who thought Happenings were contrived jive)--was as always eager to play, a lot, and working, a lot, with early Dutch punk Willem Breuker.
Willem was a kindred spirit on several levels. He had hellfire as a tenor saxophone or bass clarinet player, untutored enough (and eclectic enough in his tastes, jazz being just one of his interests) to sound like nobody so much as himself. He was also a conceptual composer full of odd ideas: barrel organ music out of John Cage; a piece conducted by a toy, which no one could see because it was for radio. Willem gives himself fair credit for helping to bump Han and Misha out of Monkish postbop and into a new improvised music.