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Free Jazz and Fusion




1. All styles of jazz from Dixieland to contemporary are still being performed and recorded today. All style dates given are approximations of when each respective style came to the forefront of jazz and experienced its most concentrated development; of course, styles and dates overlap.

I. Free Jazz

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Anthony Braxton

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Miles Davis

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Malachi Favors

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Charlie Haden

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Pharoah Sanders

A. The Music


Free Jazz was at the forefront of jazz and went through its most concentrated growth and development from 1959 – 1970.1 

B. Musical Freedom


Unlike previous styles of jazz whose compositions (songs) were based on a series of predetermined chords, Free Jazz compositions were not based on a series of predetermined chords.

  1. Free Jazz was simply based on sound.
  2. Free Jazz musicians experimented with making all kinds of sounds on their instruments, including squeaks and squawks.
  3. It was called Free Jazz because without having to follow a predetermined structure, musicians were "free" to play whatever they wanted.
  4. Without having to worry about what chord they were on and what chord comes next, musicians were free to experiment with sound and explore emotions with their music.
  5. The musicians still listened and reacted to each other very much, perhaps more than any other style of jazz. 

C. Atonality


Because there were no chords to follow, Free Jazz (for the most part) was atonal; that is, the music was not based on a "tonal system" like most other music (pop, rock, other styles of jazz, classical music, etc.).

  1. Because of the atonal nature of Free Jazz, many find the music unusual and difficult to listen to.
  2. However, if you approach listening to the music without any preconceived notions of how music is "supposed" to sound, Free Jazz is very artistic and expresses deep emotions. 

D. Collective Improvisation


Unlike Bebop in which there would be one soloist at a time, Free Jazz involved more collective improvisation; that is, everyone in the band improvised at the same time, continuously reacting to each other.  

E. Ornette Coleman


One of the most important Free Jazz artists is saxophonist Ornette Coleman

F. The Year 1959


1959 was a great year for jazz.

  1. Besides Free Jazz, all styles of jazz were being played and listened to, including Hard Bop, Cool, and Modal Jazz.
  2. Landmark recordings include John Coltrane's Giant Steps (Hard Bop), Dave Brubeck's Time Out (Cool Jazz), Miles Davis' Kind of Blue (Modal Jazz), and Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come (Free Jazz). 

G. Listening Examples


  1. Cecil Taylor's "Enter Evening" and the Art Ensemble of Chicago's "Full Force" on The Instrumental History of Jazz
  2. Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" (click below) 

Audio Snippets

speakerspacer Lonely Woman - Ornette Coleman

H. Cultural Implications of Free Jazz


  1. Free Jazz represented the loosening of standards of behavior in the turbulent 1960s.
  2. Free Jazz was predominantly played by African American musicians and often expressed anger and dissatisfaction regarding the lack of civil rights in American society.
  3. Free Jazz was primarily an East Coast, urban (e.g., New York) phenomenon.

the Herbie Hancock institute of jazz
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