Parker Burwell Toop credit Jak Kilby


Our Friends in the North

I visited my friend Adam Woolf in Sheffield last week, a wonderful pianist and multi-instramentalist, who has found a place in the heart of  that city’s long-established improvising community. We were visited during my stay by the great guitarist John Jasnoch, who was kind enough to provide me with his micro-CD That Other Worldly Feeling and his collaborative tape with Adam, the curiously-entitled Bring Me My List of Eleven People, I Need To Speak About the Past, which I was emphatically told had a sensible source.

This is so far, so cosy, but I became irritated when I subsequently looked up Jasnoch in Ben Watson’s controversial hagiography of Derek Bailey, still on of the few texts (apart from mine, natch!!) that discusses ‘provincial’ improvisers. I dedicated a separate chapter in my own Convergences, Divergences & Affinities to the magnificent work, throughout the seventies, by improvisers from other  UK cities, who contributed to the creation of a much broader musical palette than most commentators of that period generally allow. There is definitely a book out there waiting to be written about the contributions of cities like Bristol, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Glasgow to the free improvisation scene of that time. However;

Ben Watson, who should know better, to be frank, mentions Jasnoch in the following terms in his Derek Bailey hagiography of 2004 (which has, admittedly, caused a shitstorm of opprobrium in his direction among the musicians he rather disingenuously discusses/disses):

“There have been several spirited attempts…but to these ears they fall short, producing a bad imitation (of Derek Bailey, that is), exploiting the free brief without emptying the notes of associative content, failing to achieve the negation that makes room for genuine dialogue” (page 261).

This doesn’t make any clear sense to the average reader, obviously, and is insulting to Jasnoch, whose playing, as far as I can hear, is nothing like Bailey’s. However, there have been so many lazy journalistic cliches that compare ANY guitarist who doesn’t sound like Joe Pass to Sheffield’s finest. Watson goes on to add a gratuitous, damning-with-faint-praise, insult to uncalled-for injury by opining, on page 376, that “though Jasnoch’s notes always sounded lovely, they were too coarse to negotiate what the ensemble was playing”…”Jasnoch’s style reveals deficiencies” (as opposed to Bailey’s “thinner, more gorgeous notes”).

I know, it’s all bollocks, but I do feel that Watson’s rather patronising polemic has disadvantaged avant guitarists ever since his book emerged in 2004.

Guitarists like John Jasnoch, Henry Kaiser, Ian Brighton, Fred Frith, John Russell,Roger Smith, etc, etc. deserve to be heard on their own terms, not in relation to the late, great DB, which seems to have been their fate, such is the stature of the Sheffiedian. ‘Listen Without Prejudice’, as I believe another London-centric musician once said, and hear what each man has to say. They form a succession of hugely talented string players.

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Banner and book cover photo credit: Jak Kilby