Free jazz is an approach to jazz music that was first developed in the 1950s and 1960s. Though the music produced by free jazz pioneers varied widely, the common feature was a dissatisfaction with the limitations of bebop, hard bop, and modal jazz, which had developed in the 1940s and 1950s. Each in their own way, free jazz musicians attempted to alter, extend, or break down the conventions of jazz, often by discarding hitherto invariable features of jazz, such as fixed chord changes or tempos. While usually considered experimental and avant-garde, free jazz has also oppositely been conceived as an attempt to return jazz to its "primitive", often religious roots, and emphasis on collective improvisation.
Free jazz is most strongly associated with the 1950s innovations of Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor and the later works of saxophonist John Coltrane. Other important pioneers included Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, Joe Maneri and Sun Ra. Although today "free jazz" is the generally-used term, many other terms were used to describe the loosely-defined movement, including "avant-garde", "energy music" and "The New Thing". During its early- and mid-60s heyday, much free jazz was released by the independent ESP Disk label.
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.
Free jazz uses jazz idioms, and like jazz it places an aesthetic premium on expressing the "voice" or "sound" of the musician, as opposed to the classical tradition in which the performer is seen more as expressing the thoughts of the composer. Many free jazz musicians, notably Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane, use harsh overblowing techniques or otherwise elicit unconventional sounds from their instruments. Earlier jazz styles typically were built on a framework of song forms, such as the twelve-bar blues or the 32-bar AABA popular song form, with a set framework of chord changes. In free jazz, the dependence on a fixed and pre-established form is eliminated, and the role of improvisation is correspondingly increased. As guitarist Marc Ribot has remarked, free jazz musicians like Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler, "although they were freeing up certain strictures of bebop, were in fact each developing new structures of composition."
Full article ▸