John Corbett

Not to be confused with the Northern Exposure actor, John Corbett is an important figure on Chicago's fertile experimental music scene. A guitarist and electronics manipulator, Corbett's main contributions have nonetheless come from behind the scenes -- as an accomplished writer, journalist, educator, producer, and (beginning in 2000) the curator of the Atavistic label's Unheard Music Series reissue program. Born in Chicago in 1963, Corbett found his way to free jazz from the more abrasive and experimental sides of rock music; a mostly self-taught musician, he was initially inspired to take up guitar after hearing Derek Bailey. He began writing about improvised music while attending Brown University, where he founded a concert production agency in 1984. He went on to earn his doctorate at Northwestern, and took a teaching post at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1988. In 1990, Corbett began writing for Down Beat, eventually becoming a lead reviewer and senior contributor; he also freelanced for numerous other jazz and avant-garde music publications, and covered the Chicago scene extensively for local media. He hosted weekly radio shows on two different stations devoted to improvised music, and helped start a weekly concert series (not to mention annual festival) at the Empty Bottle, programming many of the biggest names in modern free jazz. In 1994, Duke University Press published his first book, Extended Play: Sounding Off From John Cage to Dr. Funkenstein. The following year, he received his first producer's credit, and went on to oversee releases by Fred Anderson, Ken Vandermark, Peter Brötzmann, Misha Mengelberg, Evan Parker, and Mats Gustafsson, among others. Previously an infrequent public performer, Corbett released his first CD for Atavistic, I'm Sick About My Hat, in 1999; in addition to playing guitar, he handled electronic sound treatments, and welcomed a number of so-called "Heavy Friends" from the Chicago scene. The same year, he cut a duo album with Gustafsson, Sticky Tongues & Kitchen Knives. In 2000, the German Random Acoustics label issued Battuto, and Corbett was installed as producer of Atavistic's Unheard Music Series, an archival project dedicated to reissuing lost free jazz landmarks or bringing previously unavailable recordings to the public for the first time anywhere (releases included work by Brötzmann, Joe McPhee, and Sun Ra). Twofer, a set of guitar duets Corbett recorded with cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm or bassist Torsten Müller, was released by Penumbra in 2001, and Corbett also teamed up with guitarist Davey Williams on Humdinger. In 2002, Corbett published his second book, Microgroove: Further Forays Into Other Music. ~ Steve Huey

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