An Interview with John Gray on Free Jazz Scholarship

Source: The Wire.

In 1991, Greenwood Press published the sturdy black hardcover book titled Fire Music: A Bibliography Of The New Jazz, 1959–1990. The work of independent researcher John Gray, the book presented – after a Val Wilmer foreword – the most exhaustive picture ever assembled of the print coverage of free jazz since its inception. The bibliography’s more than 7000 entries referenced books, magazines and indexes of ephemeral literature covering musicians ranging from Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman to Chris McGregor, Evan Parker, Frank Wright and hundreds of other players with less visible profiles.

The product of systematic research, Fire Music was not intended for mainstream distribution but for the library market. It has nevertheless acquired a particular status among students of avant garde jazz history. By bringing together such a large amount of heterogeneous material, Gray has provided future writers on the music with a reliable guide to existing documentation and studies of the music. Three decades after the original publication of Fire Music, Gray produced its companion volume: Creative Improvised Music: An International Bibliography Of The Jazz Avant-Garde, 1959–Present. Its publisher, scholarly imprint African Diaspora Press, has also been the outlet for Gray’s research on other major genres in black music, from reggae to hiphop.