Onttype15. What is Free Jazz?
John Coltrane on Ornette Coleman's free jazz influence on him.
“Yeah, well, I feel indebted to him [Coleman], myself. Because actually, when he came along, I was so far in this thing [the "harmonic structures"], I didn't know where I was going to go next. And, I didn't know if I would have thought about just abandoning the chord system or not. I probably wouldn't have thought of that at all. And he came along doing it, and I heard it, I said, "Well, that - that must be the answer.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Definition of Free Jazz
Free jazz, as the name implies, can be all over the place making it harder to pin down definitionally. Terminologically, the music produced during free jazz's nascent period from the 1960's and 1970's was labeled with several possible monikers, including "avant-garde," "energy music," and "The New Thing." During its early to mid-1960's heyday, much free jazz was released by the independent ESP Disk label.
Objections and Replies to Defining Free Jazz
At Berkleejazz Wiki the opening paragraph of "Free Jazz: Definition" raises possible problems or objections for defining free jazz.
“There is no universally accepted definition of free jazz, and any proposed definition is complicated by many musicians in other styles drawing on free jazz, or free jazz sometimes blending with other genres. Many musicians also tend to reject efforts at classification, regarding them as useless or unduly limiting.”  (bold and bold italic not in original)
Berkleejazz Wiki "Free Jazz: Definition" concludes:
“It would perhaps be best to call [much structured free jazz] modern or avant-garde jazz, reserving the term "free jazz" for music with few or no pre-composed elements.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Several of the claims made in the above Berkleejazz Wiki can be critiqued beginning with the ironic use of the phrase "free jazz" as standing for a characterizable form of music. Its features, appparently, are distinctive enough and bounded enough (the boundaries are well known) that it can be distinguished by the author(s) of "Free Jazz: Definition" sufficiently to distinguish it when incorporated into "other styles [of music]" or when it is "blended with other genres [of music]." Whatever the author(s) are using to distinguish when free jazz has been either incorporated into another style of music or blended with other genres can be utilized to define it. See Ontdefmusic1: What is a definition?
- See Abbreviations Table of Musical Instruments
- For table below, click or tap on musician's name to see Wikipedia biography. Click or tap on album/song title to see Wikipedia entry on that item.
Greatest Free Jazz Recordings
Charles Gayle, Ken Vandermark, Peter Brotzmann, and David S. Ware Cecil Taylor: Jazz Advance Eric Dolphy: Out to Lunch John Coltrane: A Love Supreme Albert Ayler, John Coltrane, Sun Ra
- Trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff
- Alexander von Schlippenbach's Globe Unity Orchestra
- Georg Gräwe, Theo Jörgensmann or Hannes Bauer, Conny Bauer and drummer Günter Sommer spread free jazz in the Socialist block. Bauer "formed Doppelmoppel, a quartet of two trombones and two guitars"  in 1982 and participated in the European Jazz Ensamble which celebrated its 20th Anniversary tour in 1996.
- UK the saxophonist Evan Parker who was highly influenced by John Coltrane took on the role of Brötzmann for Britain.
- The guitarist Derek Bailey and trombonist Paul Rutherford also developed the British scene. Both Paul Rutherford and Evan Parker experimented with solo improvisation for extended periods of their careers.
- Slava/Viacheslav/Ganelin, from Soviet Lithuania, came out with a bang in the late 70's, playing with Vladimir Chekasin /saxes/ and percussionist Vladimir Tarasov
Peter Brötzmann Peter Kowald Albert Mangelsdorff Conrad Bauer Evan Parker Paul Rutherford
saxophonist and composer Marco Eneidi Sabir Mateen Daniel Carter (both of whom are in the free jazz group TEST) Phillip Johnston (leader of the Microscopic Septet, among other groups) pianist Borah Bergman drummer Lou Grassi bassist Joe Gallant
Archie Shepp Joe Maneri
Internet Resouces on Free Jazz
- "Where Free Jazz Went Next: 20 Essential Records from! the 70's Underground" by Jon Dale, March 11, 2015.
- "Top Ten Favorite Free Jazz Albums"
The Politics of Free Jazz
- "Free Jazz and the French Critic," Eric Drott, Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 61, No. 3, Fall 2008, pp. 541-581. Published by the University of California Press on behalf of the American Musicological Society.
- ABSTRACT: From the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, free jazz was the subject of considerable public interest in France. The present article examines the conditions that fueled enthusiasm for American avant-garde jazz, focusing on the politicization of discourse surrounding the ‘new thing.’ Critics hostile to the movement felt that it undermined jazz's claim to universality, a cornerstone of postwar attempts to valorize the genre in the French cultural sphere. Yet the tendency to identify free jazz with various forms of African American political radicalism presented no less of a challenge for the movement's advocates. By constructing an image of free jazz that stressed its irremediable difference from the norms and values of European culture, writers were compelled to find alternative ways of relating it to contemporary French concerns. A reading of Philippe Carles and Jean-Louis Comolli's text Free Jazz Black Power shows how the authors' attempt to reinscribe African American cultural nationalism as an expression of transnational anticolonial struggle not only helped bring free jazz closer to the French experience, but also served as a way of working through the unresolved legacies of colonialism.
- Benoit Quersin, "La Passe Dangereuse," 1963, in The John Coltrane Companion: Five Decades of Commentary, edited by Carl Woideck, New York: Schirmer Books, p. 123. ISBN 978-0028647906.
- Berkleejazz Wiki on Free Jazz: Definition opening paragraph.
- Berkleejazz Wiki on Free Jazz: Definition final sentence before Free Jazz: History.