Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Remembering Misha Mengelberg (1935-2017)

Misha Mengelberg with Thomas Heberer, The Stone, 2008
Last week pianist Misha Mengelberg has died, aged 81. Mengelberg was born in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1935. The son of the Dutch conductor Karel Mengelberg, his family moved back to the Netherlands in the late 1930s and the young Mengelberg began learning the piano at age five. He studied architecture briefly before entering the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. There, he won the first prize of a jazz festival in Loosdrecht and became associated with the Fluxus movement.

His influences count the likes of Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington and John Cage. Mengelberg was one of the very first perpetrators of the revolution of the free jazz/avant garde jazz of the 1960s but from an European perspective. His first appearance on a record is on Eric Dolphy's final recording, Last Date (1964). On that record appears also drummer Han Bennink, marking the beginning of a long friendship and collaboration.

Mengelberg and Bennink founded later a quartet with saxophonist Piet Noordijk and many different bassists. The quartet played at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1966. In 1967 Mengelberg co-founded the Instant Composers Pool, an organization that, similarly to the AACM on the other side of the Ocean, promoted avant garde jazz performances and records, with Bennink and Willem Breuker.

Mengelberg played with a large variety of musicians: quite often he performed in duo with fellow Han Bennink; other collaborations included guitarist Derek Bailey, and saxophonists Evan Parker, Peter Brotzmann, and Anthony Braxton. He also wrote music for other performers (leaving some space for improvisation) and oversaw some music theatre productions. On the other hand, he made known to the public the works of pianist Herbie Nichols.

Related Links:
Misha Mengelberg discography on Discogs

An interview with Misha Mengelberg by Dan Warburton

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