Misha Mengelberg was born in Kiev in 1935 - the son of a Dutch composer/conductor/pianist and a German harpist - but is a lifelong resident of Amsterdam, where he teaches counterpoint at the Sweelinck Conservatory. He wrote his first piece for piano at age four and has been composing pretty much ever since, in the jazz and classical fields. Crucial early influences include jazz pianists Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols, the composer John Cage, whom he heard lecture at Darmstadt in 1958, and the absurd-art movement Fluxus, with which he was involved in the 1960s.
Mengelberg graduated from the Royal Conservatory in the Hague in 1964. The same year he made his first issued recording, Eric Dolphy’s “Last Date“. That album also features drummer Han Bennink, with whom Misha has had a longstanding duo. In 1966 Mengelberg’s quartet appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival in the USA. The following year Mengelberg, Bennink and Willem Breuker founded the Instant Composers Pool, a landmark in the development of an independent Dutch improvised music, which draws on jazz but does not restrict itself to any one style or aesthetic. (By the time of its 30th anniversary in 1997, ICP Records was the longest " running musician-owned label in improvised music). In the same period he wrote several “game pieces“ for musicians, notably “Hello! Windyboys“ (1968), over a decade before such gaming became common.
In the 1970s Mengelberg was artistic director of the electronic music workshop STEIM (Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music), served as first chairman of the Dutch improvising musicians’ union BIM, and began leading the Instant Composer's Pool Orchestra. He also recorded in trios with Bennink and either South African saxophonist Dudu Pukwana or German reed player Peter Brozmann, and in duet with is wife’s parrot Eeko. Along with Breuker, Mengelberg is largely responsible for the creation of Dutch “music theatre“, which contains heavy doses of absurdity and improvisation, musical and theatrical.
In the '80s Mengelberg presented many music theatre productions and embarked on repertory projects exploring the music of Herbie Nichols, Thelenious Monk and Duke Ellington, with ICP (documented on their CDs “Two Programs - the ICP Orchestra Performs Nichols-Monk“ and “Bospaadje Konijnehol I”, both on the ICP label) and quintets with Bennink and saxophonist Steve Lacy, heard on the albums “Regeneration“ and “Change of Season“ (Soul Note). His recordings in the ‘90s include two acclaimed trio CDs taped in New York with drummer Joey Baron, “Who’s Bridge“ (Avant) and “No Idea“ (DIW); the solo piano recital “Mix“ (ICP) and a duo recording with Bennink, “MiHA“ (both on ICP), and “Jubilee Varia”, a 1997 recording by the ICP Orchestra (hatOLOGY). He also participated with improvised meetings with various European and American musicians, for several labels.