The opening years of the 1960s found the jazz world dominated by bop. But if bop was a revolution against big band conformity and the tight structure of swing, it wasn't revolutionary enough for this explosive decade. As the Civil Rights... [more]
The opening years of the 1960s found the jazz world dominated by bop. But if bop was a revolution against big band conformity and the tight structure of swing, it wasn't revolutionary enough for this explosive decade. As the Civil Rights movement heated up, as the Beats flouted social convention and baited those in power, as Abstract Expressionism liberated painting from the boundaries of figuration, and poets like Frank O'Hara crossed the line into free verse, musicians would feel a need to "free" jazz from restrictive chord progressions and traditional bar lines. Before long free jazz was leaving all forms of tonality and organized composition in its dust.
It started small, with a few isolated experimenters. In Boston a guy named Cecil Taylor was banging on a decrepit piano, surrounded by broken glass; on the opposite coast, a guy called Ornette Coleman practiced his sax in the dank shadows of an old garage as the Los Angeles sun baked the pavement outside. As their music began to gain a public, many were puzzled by the discord and cacophony they heard. Coleman addressed his critics with a line reminiscent of a jazz refrain: "I don't know how it's going to sound before I play it than anyone else does." Solos began to have little in common with the tune, or even music in general, and many a musician walked off the stage on which Coleman played.
But no one would so easily turn his back on the great John Coltrane. A seasoned veteran who had collaborated with the likes of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and of course, Miles Davis, Coltrane commanded more respect than Coleman. Trane adopted the ideas of Coleman, thus lending legitimacy to even the avant-garde notions behind free jazz. On albums such as "Impressions" and "Ascension" (and even on the masterpiece "A Love Supreme," which is only free around the edges, so to speak), Coltrane invokes a spiritualism and an affirmation of universal love heretofore unheard of in jazz.
At the time of Coltrane's death in 1967, his musical offspring were already taking the free jazz movement in new directions. They included Eric Dolphy, Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane, and Sun-Ra -- who once insisted in a radio interview that he was from Saturn... what could be freer than that? Today, musicians such as John Zorn carry on the tradition started by these earlier revolutionaries, experimenting with diverse instruments, music from various world cultures, and always freedom of form. [show less]