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MUSIC Learning how to listen

Bassist BARRY GUY talks to Chris Searle about jazz improvisation as the source for his latest album

BASSIST Barry Guy was born in London in 1947, the son of a tram conductor who went on to work in the tea trade and the BBC.

At school, he learned to play his twin sister’s recorder, then a one-string tea-chest bass when a “thump” was needed. As a teenager, he was a Beatles and Rolling Stones fan, but his life changed when his dad brought home a Giants of Jazz record featuring Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey.

When he left school, he found drummer John Stevens and the Little Theatre Club, with “its powerful personalities who pushed me towards new musical horizons,” he says.

Revolutionary trombonist Paul Rutherford — “a wonderful human being” — hung out at his local pub in Blackheath. They had a similar interest in new, extended instrumental techniques outside the general jazz canon.

Those horizons have never dimmed throughout Guy's musical life. Always an innovator, his artistry has continually discovered new soundscapes and musical beauty for over half a century. “Charles Mingus was my first bass hero,” he says, “and Gary Peacock and Scott La Faro pointed me towards fluency and space.”

Pianist and poet Cecil Taylor — who he eventually got to work with — is among the jazz greats he aspired to play with, alongside pianist Bill Evans “for the harmonic space he allowed for the bassist” and saxophonist Albert Ayler “for his sheer expressive power.”

His new record Illuminated Silence was created with Yokohama-born pianist Izumi Kimura and Connecticut drummer Gerry Hemingway. Recorded live in Ireland, Izumi's permanent home and where Guy lived for a decade, it exudes a magical, poetic enchantment which was greatly appreciated by the audience in Dublin.

Guy loves Irish literature and Samuel Beckett’s work is his “constant companion and inspiration.”

So too are his collaborators. Kimura “has a wonderful quietness and inner strength, coupled with a powerful and ever-developing piano technique, which adds up to a real, expressive way of delivering her ideas,” while seasoned performer Hemingway “brings an intellect to the proceedings that is both analytical and free.”

There’'s a huge contrast between this record’'s sheer serenity and Guy’'s vision of contemporary life. “The landscape is bleak,” he says. “Our best way is to play and write music that expresses a solidarity of purpose.

“I often say that politicians should get involved in improvised music. They might learn how to listen.”

He says that he learnt the qualities of equality and sharing that are so essential to his music from his parents’ “warm hearts and kindness” and, as for improvising music, “humility and hard work is essential. There are no short cuts.”

Illuminated Silence is released on FSR Records.

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