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Tony Oxley

One of the founders of jazz-based free improvisation in the U.K., from 1963 to 1966 Oxley was one-third of Joseph Holbrooke, a pioneering group based in Sheffield that also included guitarist Derek Bailey and then-bassist (later composer) Gavin Bryars. The group started out as a relatively conventional jazz outfit, but by 1965 it had begun playing totally improvised pieces. The group's relative isolation from other currents in British free music -- drummer John Stevens' London-based Spontaneous Music Ensemble was a contemporary -- purportedly helped the band develop a unique approach. After the members moved to London in 1967, Oxley became the house drummer at Ronnie Scott's, a famous mainstream jazz club. He also continued working in experimental contexts. After winning Melody Maker's reader's poll, Oxley was given the chance to record as a leader. His first album was The Baptised Traveler (1969); the record reflected Oxley's steadfast interest in free improv. In 1971, with Bailey and saxophonist Evan Parker, Oxley established Incus Records, which became England's premier free jazz/improv label. Oxley also worked with the London Jazz Composer's Orchestra. In the mid-'70s, he formed SOH, a trio with the saxophonist Alan Skidmore and bassist Ali Haurand. The group lasted until 1984. From that point onward, Oxley performed with many, if not most, of free jazz's leading figures. Of particular note was his work with the Feel Trio, a venture with pianist Cecil Taylor and bassist William Parker, lasting intermittently from 1988-1991. In the '90s, Oxley led and recorded with the Celebration Orchestra. He continued to play and record with a number of European new music stalwarts, including saxophonist John Surman and trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, for the ECM label. In the late '90s, Oxley began playing in a duo with Bailey, renewing a partnership that exerted so much influence on the course of British experimental music. The live Triangular Screen, drawn from two different concerts, appeared on Sofa Records in 2000. Floating Phantoms arrived in 2002. Advocate, which paired Oxley with guitarist Derek Bailey, came out on John Zorn's Tzadik Records in 2007. Oxley was also an accomplished painter working in an abstract figurative vein. He died on December 26, 2023, at the age of 85.
© Chris Kelsey /TiVo


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