the history of jazz banner
The History Of Jazz - Part 7 - Free Jazz

If you are already a jazz aficionado you will already be aware of the following details so this article is aimed at those of you who are 'new to Jazz' or 'catching up'.

Whenever an artist is mentioned in the articles, YOU can send us your take on THEIR BIOGRAPHY and we will link it to a separate page with your credits. Send us the Biographies to info@jazznet247.net (We will reserve the right to edit before publishing) - See Louis Armstrong

The History Of Jazz - Part 7 - Free Jazz

By the Fifties jazz had become habituated to messianic figures 'The Leather Stockinged Geniuses'. The critic Gary Giddins once said  ' Who was it came along and taught the world a new musical language? Was it Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, Charlie Parker ... and who would be next? '

Was Ornette Coleman, an iconoclastic young altoist who had recently blown into New York from the West Coast, the new Bird?  It seemed probable at this time.

He had extremely disturbing musical ideas which defied conventional notions of harmony. His instrumental sound was raw, fresh and expressive in a novel way, just as Parker's had been. Previously  just like Charlie Parker and Lester Young, Coleman had been derided by older musicians and boppers like Dexter Gordon.

He had many of tile marks of a messiah but the jazz world was divided. Many, including the normally avant-garde Miles Davis and Charles Mingus were suspicious, openly suggesting that Coleman's playing showed not so much profound originality, but profound ignorance.

The radicality of Coleman's music divided the spirit of the times, it promised a great step forward, agreeable to the modern-minded Sixties and it proposed a new type of music which would be more clearly the possession of African Americans. This had been one of the initial motives of Bop, but that of course had been very quickly assimilated by white performers.

This new music, the 'New Thing' as it was sometimes called, was arguably a sort of a return to more purely African roots, jettisoning the European elements in jazz, conventional harmony and form and indeed some of Coleman's work does indeed suggest the most primitive Afro-American roots.

By the beginning of the Sixties a number of younger musicians were following Coleman's lead, including the tenor players Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp. By the mid-Sixties John Coltrane himself, another putative messiah had adopted Free Jazz. His major records in 1965 i.e. Ascension, Meditation, Kulu Se Mama were recorded with such collaborators as Shepp and an Albert Ayler follower called Pharoah Saunders who actually became the frontline partner in his regular band.

Although Coleman made the big splash others had already been working on parallel lines. The pianist Cecil Taylor had long been evolving a keyboard approach based on furious attack and dense textures and continued to develop along his own lines throughout the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties. His music is more inaccessible and arguably more musically rich than Ornette Coleman's.

Another isolated experimenter was Sun Ra, a musician who has the unique distinction among big band leaders of having been born on the planet Saturn (an alternative theory holds that he was once called Herman Blount and came from Alabama).

Sun Ra started leading bands he called the Solar Orchestra in the Fifties (always with the tenor player John Gilmore), evolving towards a style which mixed musical freedoms with great theatricality. His musicians danced and processed and might be dressed in spacesuits or flowing robes.

This theatricality was shared with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, a band containing the trumpeter Lester Bowie and reed players Joseph Jarman and Roscoe Mitchell. The excitement of seeing this band live, its supporters claim, was much greater than that which was captured on its recordings.

Another player from Chicago is the composer and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton, a performer whose work is occasionally beautifully persuasive, but often forbiddingly recondite (he was interested in the mathematical aspects of music which was interesting in itself).

The New Thing was a not a unified style like Bop or Swing, so much as a collection of coteries. Taylor's music, for example is not really compatible with Coleman's. Also it is not so much a musical language as a platonic ideal. Many musicians, for example the altoist Jackie McLean and multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy moved more or less 'outside', as it was called the boundaries of Bop.

To sum it all up! - As with much that happened in the Sixties there were many experiments attempted which didn't work and even fewer solutions were found. It was often the most strikingly expressive which was simplest, closest to the blues, the dirge, the cry, but to get to the sound that worked the listener often had to sit through lengthy stretches of rebarbative and self-indulgent chaos. This did not help the jazz gene in a musical landscape which threatened to banish jazz to a diminished popularity.

Not surprisingly it never developed much of an audience in the USA. Free Jazz found more of a home in northern Europe where it fitted into the existing tradition of esoteric modern classical music.

Many of the most prominent European players of the Sixties were affected by the Free Jazz movement including German trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff and British baritone saxophonist John Surman.  It was in fact in the Free Jazz movement of the Sixties that European jazz at last began to attain autonomy from its American counterpart.

Next Time in Part 8 - Fusion Jazz

Catch Up
The History Of Jazz Part 1 - Where It All Began
The History Of Jazz Part 2 - Jazz In The Twenties
The History Of Jazz Part 3 - The Age Of Swing
The History Of Jazz Part 4 - Then Came Bebop

The History Of Jazz Part 5 - The Sound Of Cool
The History Of Jazz Part 6 - Hard Bop

Wes George (former Webmaster with Sony Jazz UK)  
Blog Page - Facebook.com/streetjazzblogpage6 top of page
the history of jazz banner
The History Of Jazz - Part 8 - Fusion Jazz

By the late Sixties jazz was rapidly losing its audience. Bebop and Swing were both old hat though each had their followers as had Free Jazz, the new movement of the early Sixties had never won much of an audience outside of Europe.

In New York it was to be found much more often in the low rent lofts of Manhattan than in commercial clubs and even big stars like Miles Davis were finding their record sales and concert attendances were dipping.

Not for the first, or last time, people started to talk about the Death of Jazz, s omething had to be done and once again it was Miles Davis who did it.

Miles' conclusion was that jazz got dangerously 'out of touch' with its natural constituency who were young, urban Afro-Americans as after Bop they had slowly drifted away.  Bop and Cool were not very danceable. ‘The New Thing’ was even less so as all the person in the street could hear was a lot of very unappealing squeaks and gibbers.

The popular black music had long been Soul or Electric Blues. The jazz audience had in fact become largely middle class and white, even the younger middle-class white listeners had now turned more or less exclusively to Rock.

Miles decided that 'if you can't beat them you might as well join them'. He started to listen closely to Sly And The Family Stone, a pop-soul-rock band that was very successful in 1968 and slowly at first he began to move in the same direction.

On 'Miles In The Sky', 'Filles De Kilimanjaro', both from 1968 and 'In A Silent Way' there are new sidemen, the keyboard players Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul, British bassist Dave Holland and guitarist John McLaughlin and the sound was becoming truly electric, but the breakthrough album was 'Bitches Brew' (1969) which added a new drummer, Jack DeJohnette and unveiled a completely new style i.e. Jazz-Rock Fusion.

'Bitches Brew' is one of the most divisive jazz albums ever made. To some it is another of Miles's great steps forward, a session to put beside 'Birth Of The Cool' and 'Kind Of Blue'. To others it marked the point where he ceased to be of any serious musical interest and these were not necessarily the nostalgic, ageing fans of his earlier work, they also include the young neo-classical Beboppers of the Eighties like Wynton Marsalis.

Yet Davis never looked back, he adopted an electric trumpet with a wah-wah device and performed in ever more thunderously amplified contexts until retiring from music in 1976 for a period of intense dissipation and near mental breakdown. After he returned in 1981 he continued to toy with Pop music and even Disco sounds.

His sidemen of the Sixties were quick to follow suit. Within a year or two all of them had formed their own fusion bands, Chick Corea formed 'Return To Forever' (a gloriously period name), Zawinul and Shorter, 'Weather Report', John McLaughlin, the 'Mahavishnu Orchestra', and Jack DeJohnette, the 'Special Edition'.

All were very successful, soon more or less everybody was doing it and Hard Bop trumpeters whose ambitions had previously barely extended to owning a sports car were now flying around the world in private planes. These were delirious times, the most lucrative days for jazz musicians since the heyday of Swing.

Jazz-Rock wasn’t the only variety of Fusion going on, soon just about any musical form you can mention was being fused with Jazz and anything else that came to mind. John McLaughlin went in for Indian music and Flamenco, Chick Corea added Latin flavouring while the Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira worked with Miles Davis and Weather Report amongst others. His wife, singer Flora Purim joined him in ‘Return To Forever’.

Latin Jazz-which had been an accepted hybrid since Dizzy Gillespie started experimenting with it in the Forties grew in popularity and continued to do so dramatically through the Eighties.

Keith Jarrett blended jazz with classical music and Country and Western amongst other ingredients in his epic and very popular solo piano improvisations.

This wasn't the end of the blending that went on. The notion of mixing jazz with native elements introduced the possibility of jazz, or jazz-derived music that didn't imitate the American original.

The South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim bad been introducing African elements into jazz since the Sixties and in the Seventies and Eighties his music took on a more and more indigenous colouring. Others followed in the same path.

In Europe it was the Norwegian Jan Garbarek, after working with various permutations of Freedom and Fusion he began to explore the Folk music of Scandinavia and developed a bleak northern idiom which has little to do with Armstrong or Basie but still found a large audience.

This Euro-sound has appealed to other players like John Surtnan and saxophonist Tommy Smith in the United Kingdom, however how much of this was ‘good music’ is another question !  The first wave of Jazz Rock was often very slight stuff and Chick Corea's ‘Return To Forever’ is a perfect example of this. As the vogue wore on the Fusion bands got lighter and lighter weight.

Much of their music lacks the virtues of both Jazz and Rock. As for the other blends on the market, Garbarek and Jarrett for example, they too have very few of the traditional qualities of jazz but they have nevertheless found an audience.

Up to a point the question, ‘ Is it really jazz ? ’  is academic, the term ‘ Improvised Music ’  is often preferred for the more remote varieties of Freedom and Fusion, but the blurring of jazz identity in the Seventies undoubtedly led to its reassertion by the young neo-classicists of the Eighties.

The urge to Fuse is by no means dead, however Rock inflections and techniques colour the work of John Scofield and Bill Frisell for example, two guitarists who have been very prominent in the following years and in seam of a truly contemporary idiom the altoist Steve Coleman and band M-Base have attempted to fuse Post-Free Jazz with Hip-Hop.

As with so much Fusion the ‘ end product ‘ was sadly not as good as the ‘ ingredients ‘ which went into it.

Next Time in Part 9 - Neo Jazz

* Also see :- Louis Armstrong Biography
* Also see
:- Dave Brubeck Biography
* Also see :- John Hammond Biography
* Also see :- Nica de Koenigswarter Biography
* Also see :- 52nd Street
* Also see :- Tin Pan Alley

Wes George (former Webmaster with Sony Jazz UK)  
Blog Page - Facebook.com/streetjazzblogpage6 top of page
Last Page Next Review
image >
Read the latest PERSONAL NOTES edition
banner advert Visit the SmoothJazz.com Radio Guide

© JazzNet247 Radio Europe ( Austria ) 1994 - 2021  W : www.JazzNet247.net
Your Escape From Ordinary Radio since 1994  |  A LIVE365 WORLD AUDIO DAY 2020 Featured Station
In association with   LIVE365, USA  |  Deezer, France  |  ASL Music, USA  |  Shanachie Entertainment, USA  |  Gorov Music Marketing, USA
G. F. Software, Paraguay  |  MC Promotion, USA  | 
Future Groove, USA  |  Play MPE, Canada  |  The Jingles Factory, Italy