The music wasn't unnamable because it was given many names. Among its listeners and critics there seemed to be no consensus of a universally accepted label to cover the varied innovative approaches to revolutionary jazz from the late 1950's through the 1960's. My awakening to the wide world of modern jazz occurred in my teen years. As a budding musician, I loved the preceding stages of this music's evolution and aspired to become adept at playing everything from 1930's "swing" through the early-1960's gospel-tinged "soul" jazz, with special emphasis on absorbing the most challenging 1940's "bebop" innovations of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. All the while, in keeping informed through incessant reading about jazz, I was fully aware that while the bebop revolution had been triggered by young musicians' dissatisfaction with their perceived creative limitations of the swing idiom, the music of my own era was entering another musical revolution by restless young musicians revolting against what the challenging bebop had become in its various descendant forms such hard bop, "mainstream" and "cool" jazz.
The introduction of modal jazz (favored by Miles Davis and John Coltrane) was a desire to push the boundries of jazz into unchartered territory. This produced some refreshing music somewhat different from previously heard forms. Modal jazz was not, however, a true pathway to freedom, being more restrictive harmonically than some of the more adventurous bop. The music of Thelonious Monk, Herbie Nichols and Randy Weston exhibited greater rhythmic and harmonic diversity and freedom. As such, their music inspired a new breed of musicians seeking a manner of expression unencumbered by many of the rules inherent with all the previous developments in the evolution of modern jazz. My own goal was to learn the music I loved, which meant the music that the new breed was rebelling against. As I progressed in my mission, however, I grew intensely curious about the exciting new development of "new breed" artists such as Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor. I would soon be trying to grasp both the bebop concept and free jazz explorations, the latter of which were collectively most often referred to as "The New Thing".
The controversy created by the musical mavericks of the late 1950's and early to mid-1960's was astounding. Most established jazz artists were very outspoken in their negative reaction, to the point it seemed that some mainstream players must have felt threatened by any public acceptance of a music so radically different than that which they had spent so many years learning and honing their improvising skills. You could hear some say: "If what they're doing is the right way, then all the years I've spent learning how to play was all for nothing?!" I personally never saw the arrival of this startling new music as a "replacement" but as an alternative. I did not believe the choice meant choosing one approach to the exclusion of the other. As for the players themselves...yes, each approach required a serious commitment for the fullest realization in performance. Artists who embraced and sought to perform both mainstream jazz and avant garde were scarce indeed.
I learned to recognize references to this new musical development by many names: Avant Garde, Free Jazz, The New Music, New Black Music, Outside Jazz, Free Form, The New Wave, Energy Music, The New Thing, and, in certain musicians' circles, "Outside Shit". The most hostile reactionaries designated it "Anti-Jazz"! The New Music was not based on standard songs, or song forms. Revolutioanary jazz compositions often had no conventional harmonic foundation, as in no chord progression. To improvisers of the earlier forms of jazz, this was a radical break and it created a dilemma for players at a loss for creating with no guiding framework. Among the more radical of new original jazz compositions were those with no key signature and no bar lines. The more open-minded musicians perceived new possibilities based on melody and rhythm and an organic development of those elements. The various innovators in this new realm found their own disparate and individualistic ways to play "free" music.
The Ornette Coleman concept is different from Cecil Taylor's, yet both composer-performers share credit as the pioneers of free jazz. They ushered in an era of exploratory inventiveness freed from restrictions applied to all the former stages in the development of modern jazz. One retained element in their music of the 1950's was the steady pulse, the swinging beat. Most listeners (especially musicians) were so shocked at the absence of chord changes, numerous jarring effects within improvised solos and abandonment of familiar tunes long favored by many jazz listeners, no one seemed to notice that the music still swung in the usual manner of conventional jazz. That would change: In 1962, while playing in Copenhagen with a trio sans a bass player, Cecil Taylor opted to further free his music from past conventions. Cecil suggested to his drummer that he provide a textural rhythmic interplay rather than a stated tempo. Sunny Murray, who had played with Taylor's group for over a year, became the first jazz drummer to completely abandon time-keeping. He is the father of free jazz drumming and a master at his art.
UPDATE: December 19, 2017
Sunny Murray passed away in Paris on December 7, 2017 at the age of 81. Mr. Murray had remained active in Europe with concert appearances and recordings. In freeing drums from its traditional time-keeping role, he expanded the coloristic, textural and expressive possibilities of his instrument. Considering the immense importance of his contribution to the development of creative improvised music, his name and his work should be better known. If Sunny Murray had received the recognition he deserved I would not be writing a description of his attributes and accomplishments. Better yet, listen to his music on the innumerable recordings available from multi-national sources. Sunny Murray, who was born September 21, 1936 in Idabel, Oklahoma, USA - died in France, a citizen of the universe! May he rest in peace.
more to come...
"More to come" proved an ironic and sorrowful prediction. In less than four months after the post dedicated to Sunny Murray, three other key figures in The New Music have passed: trombonist Roswell Rudd, bassist Buell Neidlinger, and pianist/composer/poet/ New Music pioneer Cecil Taylor. With the passing of Cecil, who was the first true free jazz innovator (his record debut "Jazz Advance" on the Transition label was issued in 1956) most of the first wave giants are gone. Two notable exceptions: Henry Grimes and Archie Shepp. Now deceased are Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Paul Bley, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Roswell Rudd, Albert Ayler, Sunny Murray and Cecil. I consider Sun Ra part of the second wave although his quirky post-bop big band performances date back to the mid-1950's. His particular brand of weirdness gradually grew into a unique free jazz for large ensemble in the next decade, in the midst of a whirlwind of avant garde activity by the first wave innovators and the rapidly emerging second wave represented by artists such as Milford Graves, Don Pullen, Michael Mantler, Carla Bley, Gary Peacock, Sun Ra, Pharaoh Sanders, Rashied Ali, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Lewis Worrell, Sam Rivers, Marion Brown and Charles Tyler, Frank Wright, .
I will list the recordings that comprise my personal collection of avant garde-free jazz-New Music as performed by the original, innovative creators.
JAZZ ADVANCE - Cecil Taylor 1956 - In my collection is the Transition LP reissue on Blue Note CDP 7 84462 2
Cecil Taylor, piano; Steve Lacy, soprano sax; Buell Neidlinger, bass; Dennis Charles, drums
SOMETHING ELSE! THE MUSIC OF ORNETTE COLEMAN - Ornette Coleman 1958 Contemporary LP C 3551 plus CD-R
Ornette Coleman, alto sax; Don Cherry, trumpet; Walter Norris, piano; Don Moore, bass; Billy Higgins, drums.
LOOKING AHEAD - Cecil Taylor 1958 Contemporary LP reissued on Contemporary OJCCD-452-2 (S-7562)
Cecil Taylor, piano; Earl Giffith, vibraharp; Buell Neidlinger, bass; Dennis Charles, drums.
TOMORROW IS THE QUESTION - Ornette Coleman 1959 Contemporary LP M 356
Ornette Coleman, alto sax; Don Cherry, trumpet; Percy Heath or Red Mitchell, bass; Shelly Manne, drums.
LOVE FOR SALE - Cecil Taylor 1959 United Artists UA
Bill Barron, tenor; Ted Curson, trumpet, Cecil Taylor, piano; Buell Neidlinger, bass; Dennis Charles, drums.
THE SHAPE OF JAZZ TO COME - Ornette Coleman 1959 Atlantic 1317
Ornette Coleman, alto sax; Don Cherry, trumpet; Charlie Haden, bass; Billy Higgins, drums.
CHANGE OF THE CENTURY - Ornette Coleman 1959 Atlantic 81341
Ornette Coleman, alto sax; Don Cherry, trumpet; Charlie Haden, bass; Billy Higgins, drums.
JAZZ IN THE SPACE AGE - George Russell Orchestra 1960 Decca GRP CD GRD-826
Soloists include pianists Paul Bley and Bill Evans performing duets of free improvisations.
THE AVANT GARDE - John Coltrane / Don Cherry 1960 Atlantic LP Reissue: Atlantic CD 7 90041-2
John Coltrane, tenor sax; Don Cherry, trumpet; Charlie Haden or Percy Heath, bass; Edward Blackwell, drums.
FATE IN A PLEASANT MOOD - Sun Ra and his Myth-Science Arkestra 1960 Saturn LP SR9956 - 2 - B
John Gilmore, tenor sax; Marshall Allen, alto sax; Ronnie Boykins, bass; Phil Cohran, trumpet; George Hudson, trumpet; Eddy Skinner, drums; Sun Ra, piano and leader.
THIS IS OUR MUSIC - Ornette Coleman Quartet 1960 Atlantic LP 1353
Ornette Coleman, alto sax; Don Cherry, trumpet; Charlie Haden, bass; Edward Blackwell, drums.
OUT THERE - Eric Dolphy 1960 Prestige New Jazz LP ---- CD-R digital transfer
Eric Dolphy, alto sax, bass clarinet, flute, clarinet; Ron Carter, cello; George Tucker, bass; Roy Haynes, drums.
PORT OF CALL - Cecil Taylor 1960 Originally issued on Candid LP as The World of Cecil Taylor. CD reissue: Past Perfect 220370-203
Cecil Taylor, piano; Buell Neidlinger, bass; Dennis Charles, drums. Also, Clark Terry, trumpet; Archie Shepp, tenor sax; Roswell Rudd, trombone; Steve Lacy, soprano sax; Charles Davis, baritone sax; Billy Higgins, drums.
JAZZ ABSTRACTIONS - John Lewis / Gunther Schuller 1960 Atlantic LP ----- CD-R digital transfer This music exemplifies the genre known as Third Stream Music which combines classical and jazz musicians performing compositions of an advanced and experimental nature. Among several jazz soloists featured on this recording are the avant garde musicians Ornette Coleman, alto sax and Eric Dolphy, bass clarinet.
FAR CRY - Eric Dolphy 1960 Prestige New Jazz LP ----- CD-R digital transfer
Eric Dolphy, alto sax, flute, bass clarinet; Booker Little, trumpet; Jaki Byard, piano; George Tucker, bass; Roy Haynes, drums.
FREE JAZZ - Ornette Coleman Double Quartet 1960 Atlantic LP CD reissue: Atlantic 1364-2
Ornette Coleman, alto sax; Don Cherry, trumpet; Scott LaFaro, bass; Billy Higgins, drums; Eric Dolphy, bass clarinet; Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Charlie Haden, bass; Edward Blackwell, drums.
Note: Eric Dolphy had a very busy (and musically rewarding) day in the studios, as both Free Jazz, and his own date Far Cry (the previous entry) were recorded on December 21, 1960.
EZZTHETICS - George Russell Sextet 1961 Riverside OJCCD-070-2 CD reissue
Don Ellis, trumpet; Dave Baker, trombone; Eric Dolphy, alto sax & bass clarinet; George Russell, piano; Stephen Swallow, bass; Joe Hunt, drums.
ORNETTE ON TENOR - Ornette Coleman 1961 Atlantic LP 1394 a digital transfer to CD-R also in collection
Ornette Coleman, tenor sax; Don Cherry, trumpet; Jimmy Garrison, bass; Edward Blackwell, drums.
ERIC DOLPHY AT THE FIVE SPOT, VOLS. 1,2,3. - Eric Dolphy 1961 Prestige LPs CD Reissue of Vol. 1 in collection. Note: Volume 3 is titled "Eric Dolphy and Booker Little Memorial Album".
Eric Dolphy, alto sax, flute & bass clarinet; Booker Little, trumpet; Mal Waldron, piano; Richard Davis, bass; Edward Blackwell, drums.
CARLA - Jimmy Guiffre Trio (a live recording of the Jimmy Guiffre Trio in Concert) 1961 Giants of Jazz CD 53257
Jimmy Guiffre, clarinet; Paul Bley, piano; Steve Swallow, bass.
JOHN COLTRANE LIVE AT THE VILLAGE VANGUARD (The Master Takes) - John Coltrane 1961 Impulse CD IMPD-251
John Coltrane, tenor and soprano saxophones; Eric Dolphy, bass clarinet; McCoy Tyner; Reggie Workman, bass; Jimmy Garrison, bass; Elvin Jones, drums.
INTO THE HOT - GIL EVANS ORCHESTRA (three selections are by the Cecil Taylor Unit) 1961 Impulse LP A-9: Impulse CD MCAD-39104
Personnel for the Cecil Taylor Unit: Jimmy Lyons, alto saxophone; Archie Shepp, tenor saxophone; Cecil Taylor, piano; Henry Grimes, bass; Sunny Murray, drums. On one selection add Ted Curson, trumpet and Roswell Rudd, trombone.
ART FORMS FROM DIMENSIONS TOMORROW - Sun Ra and his Solar Arkestra 1962 Saturn LP No. 9956
John Gilmore, tenor saxophone & bass clarinet; Marshall Allen, alto saxophone & percussion;; Pat Patrick, baritone saxophone, clarinet, misc. percussion; Ronnie Boykins, bass; Clifford Jarvis, percussion; Ali Hassan, trombone; Jimhmi Johnson, percussion; Clifford Thornton, trumpet; John Ore, bass; Manny Smith, trumpet; C. Scoby Stroman, percussion; Tommy Hunter, percussion; Sun Ra, piano, sun harp & percussion.
THE ARCHIE SHEPP-BILL DIXON QUARTET - Archie Shepp - Bill Dixon Quartet 1962 Savoy LP MG-12178 also: CD-R
Bill Dixon, trumpet; Archie Shepp, tenor saxophone, Don Moore, bass; Paul Cohen, drums. On two selections, Reggie Workman plays bass and Howard McRae plays drums.
THE FIRST RECORDINGS - Albert Ayler 1962 Sonet LP SNTF 604 also in collection as CD-R
Albert Ayler, tenor saxophone; Torbjorn Hultcrantz, bass; Sune Spangberg, drums.
LIVE AT THE CAFE MONTMARTRE - Cecil Taylor 1962 Fantasy LP 6014 Also: "Trance" Black Lion CD BLCD 760220
Cecil Taylor, piano; Jimmy Lyons, alto saxophone; Sunny Murray, drums.
SECRETS OF THE SUN - Sun Ra and his Solar Arkestra 1962 Saturn LP 9954 also in collection as CD-R
John Gilmore, tenor saxophone & bass clarinet; Marshall Allen, alto saxophone, flute; Tommy Hunter, drums; Ronald Boykins, bass; Calvin Newborn, guitar; Al Evans, flugel horn; Pat Patrick, flute; Eddie Gale, trumpet; Sun Ra, piano, gong & sun harp; Art Jnkens, "space voice"; Jimhmi Johnson, percussion; C. Scoby Stroman, drums.
FOOTLOOSE - Paul Bley 1962 (one track only. Other tracks with different personnel rec.'63 & '65) CD-R of the Savoy LP
Paul Bley, piano; Steve Swallow, bass; Pete LaRoca, drums.
HOLY GHOST - Albert Ayler (with Cecil Taylor Unit) 1962 Revelation CD This Albert Ayler CD release is a 9-disc boxed set. Disc No. 1 includes a lengthy radio broadcast performance of Ayler sitting in with Cecil Taylor's group, a significant and historic recording.
Jimmy Lyons, alto saxophone; Albert Ayler, tenor saxophone; Cecil Taylor, piano; Sunny Murray, drums.
TOWN HALL CONCERT * 1962 - Ornette Coleman Dec. 1962 ESP-DISK 1006 LP
Ornette Coleman, alto sax; David Izenzohn bass; Charles Moffett, drums.
more to come.....