Misha Mengelberg

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Born: June 5, 1935; Kiev, Ukraine  
Pianist Misha Mengelberg leads the Dutch ensemble ICP Orchestra, and is known for his role in the development of creative music in 1960s Netherlands. Usually in groups with explosive drummer Han Bennink, Mengelberg has mixed composition and improvisation for decades, and during his long and full career, became one of the most distinctive pianists in avant-garde jazz.

He was born in Kiev in 1935, the son of pianist/conductor Karel
Read more Mengelberg, and immigrated to Amsterdam during childhood. Mengelberg was entrenched in playing chess and the piano by his teens and listening to his biggest jazz influences, namely Thelonious Monk. His compositions while studying classical music at the Royal Conservatory in the Hague were heavily conceptual and hearing John Cage intensified his experimental leanings. Mengelberg won jazz competitions, and by the early '60s, led a quartet, including drummer Han Bennink, that became a trio that backed Johnny Griffin in 1963 and Eric Dolphy for a few gigs in 1964, including the concert released as Last Date. Mengelberg played the 1966 Newport Jazz Festival and in the Dutch group that played with Cecil Taylor in 1967. Mengelberg won the Wessel Ilcken Prize, then he and Bennink met saxophonist Willem Breuker.

Out of these three arose the ICP (Instant Composers Pool) label and numerous projects, but a rift in the '70s sent Breuker in another direction, and led Mengelberg to form the ICP Orchestra. Mengelberg helped instigate arts funding reform to include improvisation, resulting in the BIMHuis venue and STEIM (Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music, begun with Louis Andriessen), serving as president of BIM and director of STEIM. He also performed with Wim T. Schippers from 1974-1982. Mengelberg's ICP Orchestra had a shifting lineup before stabilizing in the '80s that included Bennink, Wolter Wierbos, Michael Moore, Ab Baars, and more. Due to the group's size, Mengelberg's "instant composing" tenet shifted to "conducted improvisation," and ICP performed and recorded for the next few decades. Mengelberg has collaborated with many of the best in European and American avant-garde jazz, including Evan Parker, Peter Brötzmann, and Ken Vandermark. He has recorded for labels including Hat, DIW, and Soul Note. ~ Joslyn Layne Read less

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