The Development of Free Jazz
All music has to develop into something new and by the late 1950’s jazz was ready for a slight turn. A musical style called free jazz emerged with slight differences that has influenced most improvised music to this day. Some people despised this music’s lack of set form. They found it difficult to listen to because of the missing order and lack of pre-planed notes. Others embraced the new music and it’s emphasis on random feelings of emotion. For the men that developed free jazz it was a journey to find the “ultimate” expression in music.
There is no set definition for free jazz. “In free jazz, musicians improvise freely without adherence to time keeping patterns, conventional solo versus accompaniment roles, or the preset arrangement of harmonies (a chord progression) that commonly guided improvisation in earlier styles.(”Free Jazz” Encyclopedia Britannica Online)”
Ornette Coleman, one of the leading men in free jazz, when asked the definition of free jazz said “In most music the composition determines the song, in free jazz, however, the song determines the composition.” By this he means that in free jazz the song depends on what is going on around the musician instead of already determined notes. People could say that that is true with improvised music in general but in much of improvised music there are set chord progressions that limit the notes that can be played at certain times. Free jazz brought about a more open and natural type of improvisation in music.
There are a few major common elements in free jazz. Some times the music is based on the moment. The musician would play based on the mood in the room. He would ignore the chords and rhythms of the piece and use the energy in the room to make the piece best for that particular time. Sometimes there is collective improvisation in which some or all of the musicians are improvising at the same time. This is difficult because the musicians do not know what the other musicians are going to play next. And sometimes there is an odd or free time signature, and then music does not follow a strict tempo. A good example of this is mentioned in the book All you need is Love: the story of popular music. It says “Ornette Coleman… slowed down or speeded up the tempo of his quartet at will, thus destroying all sense of regular meter or symmetry.” These ideas developed over time in certain musicians and later other musicians learned these styles from them.
It is difficult to tell the history behind of free jazz with the many men that helped develop it. There were two men mainly credited with developing this style: Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane. Both men had separate careers but both created his own kind of free jazz.
Ornette Coleman was best known for free jazz. His Album Free Jazz is where the name of this music was derived. Inspired by the music of Charlie Parker, Coleman started playing alto saxophone at 14 in 1944. When he started playing he made a mistake when reading the music. This mistake made him look at harmony and pitch differently.He later learned how to play the tenor saxophone and played in an R&B band. People didn’t like his playing because it was not proper blues.
After playing with a couple of other bands he took work not related to music but still studied music theory. In the Mid 50’s he found other musicians that respected his ideas. Doing some recordings he formed the Coleman Quartet and started playing at the New York’s Spot Cafe. He later recorded several albums including Free Jazz. By the end of the 60’s Coleman added electric guitars to his music and formed the band Prime Time. He called his music “Harmolodics” to symbolize the equal importance of harmony, melody and rhythm.
Born in 1926, Coltrane played the alto saxophone at the Ornstein School of music in Philadelphia. He was influenced by the music that was later known as R&B.
Starting his career he played with a couple big bands. While playing for Dizzy Gillespie Big band he switched to the tenor saxophone. While Coltrane was playing with the Miles Davis band in 1955, Davis was criticized for his choice of a saxophonist because of Coltrane’s awkward sound. He was fired from Davis’s Band because of his heroin problems. That gave Coltrane the awakening he needed. He quit heroin and focused on his art.
He worked with many well-know artists and released some recordings as a leader instead of a sideman. As his music evolved he studied world religions and music of different cultures allowing him to add more “flavor” to jazz. In the mid 60’s he emphasized more on expression and put more aggressiveness in his music known as avant-garde, which is like free jazz.
During the 50’s and 60’s men like Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, and others developed a form of jazz know as free jazz that “violated traditional structures, tonalities, forms, chord sequences, modes of improvisation, rhythms, and even the tempered scale. (”Free Jazz” Dictionary of American Pop/Rock)” Some people do not like it because of it’s “total disorder.” Free jazz took classical jazz and brought it into the modern era.
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New York: Schimer Books 1982
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Accessed January 5, 2000
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Accessed February 7, 2000
“Free Jazz,””Coleman, Ornette,” Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia
Microsoft Corporation 1993-1997
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New York: Macmillan publishers limited 1980 Vol. 6
“John Coltrane,” Popular Musicians
Pasadena: Salem Press, Inc. 1999 Vol. 1
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Accessed February 7, 2000
Ornette Coleman on UBL.com – Music’s Homepage” UBL.COM
accessed February 7, 2000
“The Unofficial Home of Free Jazz”
Accessed February 7, 2000