John Corbett on a new pocket-sized field guide to free and spontaneous music
John Corbett, A Listener's Guide to Free Improvisation (University of Chicago Press, 2016)
John Corbett, A Listener’s Guide to Free Improvisation (University of Chicago Press, 2016)

What led you to write A Listener’s Guide to Free Improvisation?

I’ve been involved with improvised music from several different standpoints over the last 35 years, as a listener, as a critic, as a teacher, as a presenter, and as a producer.  In the process of moving around in the music’s netherworlds, I noticed that many potential listeners were curious about it but just had no way to enter, no accessible points of reference.  It’s sometimes seen as “difficult” or “complex,” and it can be both, but approaching free music is very different from listening to music composed using mathematical algorithms or with elaborate preconceived harmonic inventions.  To listen to it you basically need to be attentive.  That’s it.  But that’s also not easy.  Having some historical framework can help, and the more experience you have as a listener the better.  But it’s really open to new listeners, and I wanted to find a way, in as down to earth a way as possible, to suggest that openness.  To invite new listeners from other walks of music and to give a few tips on listening, things that might help get over the initial hump.    (more…)