Guerrilla Scholarship: How John Gray compiled his Free Music bibliographies

Starting out by hand transcribing items of interest in the New York Public Library collection to more recently evolving into extensive Internet searches, John Gray has spent 30 years using all the resources he can to gather published information on Improvised Music. In this interview with The Wire’s Pierre Crépon, he explains how his new volume, Creative Improvised Music: An International Bibliography of The Jazz Avant-Garde, 1959–Present, amplifies and updates the information contained in a study published in 1991. As part of his research into Black expressive culture, which suffered from a the dearth of available resources and with underrepresented compared to what was available for the so-called canon of Western Eurocentric culture, Gray initially combed through reference books, magazines and indexes of ephemeral literature to collect information on important figures including Frank Wright, Albert Ayler, Chris McGregor, Evan Parker and on many much less famous. Describing the scope of his research methods, Gary explains that since the 1990s, writing about the music he collects has expanded worldwide from that of critics and fans to contributions from musicologists, cultural historians and literary scholars. While major figures such as John Coltrane have been extensively chronicalled, what Gray still finds lacking in the area are biographies of those he describes as “ some of the music’s other giants” such as Cecil Taylor, Sam Rivers and Muhal Richard Abrams.