Birthplace: Sheffield, Yorkshire, England
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Musician, Artist
Executive summary: Free improv pioneer
Tony Oxley began his pursuit of music in 1953, performing with local Sheffield players for the next several years before joining The Black Watch Military Band, with whom he toured Europe and North America. After leaving the band in 1960 he created his own quintet and developed a style of jazz that was influenced by his time spent in the States. Towards the middle of the 60s he formed the trio Joseph Holbrooke with guitarist Derek Bailey and bassist Gavin Bryars; the three started out playing the conventional jazz that Oxley's previous bands had dispensed, but by 1965 had moved on to their own unique take on free improvisation. Eventually the group moved to London, where Oxley took a job as the house drummer at the popular jazz club Ronnie Scott's while continuing to explore more radical forms of music on the side.
In 1968 Oxley put together another band of his own, and the following year released the first album under his own name, The Baptised Traveler. A reliable outlet for improvisational music was still lacking at the time, and so with fellow musicians Bailey and Evan Parker he created Incus Records in 1971; Incus quickly became one of the leading independent labels in the country, and it remains an active concern to this day. Throughout the remainder of the 1970s he worked within a variety of improvisational contexts, sometimes in large ensembles (The London Jazz Composer's Orchestra), but more freqently in small groups (the trio SOH).
In the ensuing decades, Oxley has regularly created new bands to explore different approaches to music, such as The Celebration Orchestra (beginning in 1984) and The Feel Trio, a unit including dynamic improvisational pianist Cecil Taylor that operated between 1988 and 1991. In the 90s he renewed his working partnership with Derek Bailey, and the two staged a series of performances together in 1995 and 1997. In addition to his musical pursuits, he has maintained a parallel career as an abstract painter.
Joseph Holbrooke Drummer/Percussionist (1964-67)
The London Jazz Composers Orchestra Drummer/Percussionist
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