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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.

2. For information on ordering The Instrumental History of Jazz 2-CD set, click here.

I. Free Jazz

jazz images 1

Anthony Braxton

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Malachi Favors

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Charlie Haden

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Pharoah Sanders

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Miles Davis

A. The Music


Free jazz was at the forefront of jazz and went through its most concentrated growth and development from 1959 – 19701



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. 



Free jazz was simply based on sound. 



Free jazz musicians experimented with making all kinds of sounds on their instruments, including squeaks and squawks. 



It was called free jazz because without having to follow predetermined chord progressions, musicians were “free” to play whatever they wanted. 



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. 



The musicians still listened and reacted to each other very much, perhaps more than any other style of jazz. 



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.). 



Because of this, many find the music unusual and difficult to listen to. 



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. 



Unlike bebop in which there would be one soloist at a time with chordal accompaniment, free jazz involved more collective improvisation, that is, everyone in the band improvised at the same time, continuously reacting to each other. 



All styles of jazz have evolved over time from earlier styles; the main precursor of free jazz was modal jazz



Bebop, cool, and hard bop compositions were based on predetermined chord progressions. modal jazz tunes, however, were based on a predetermined mode, that is, a certain musical scale (a scale is particular series of seven notes). 



In bebop, cool, and hard bop, the chords change very quickly; in modal jazz, on the other hand, the modes (the musical scales to be used for improvisation) change very slowly, often just once or twice in a chorus. 



Playing modal jazz, the musicians did not have to worry about the chords changing fast and frequently (as in bebop tunes) and could concentrate on improvising on just one scale (mode) for a long time; with only having to think about how they would mix up and play the seven notes in the mode, the musicians could concentrate more on the melodies they were spontaneously creating (improvising) and the expressiveness of their playing. 



The most important modal jazz recording of all time is Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue



The next step in the evolution of jazz was to do away with chord changes and modes all together and thus, free jazz was born. 



The most important free jazz artist is saxophonist Ornette Coleman



1959 was a great year for jazz. 



Besides free jazz, all styles of jazz were being played and listened to including hard bop, cool, and modal jazz. 



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). 



Listen to examples of free jazz 



Cecil Taylor’s "Enter Evening" and the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s "Full Force" on The Instrumental History of Jazz2 



Ornette Coleman’s "Lonely Woman" (click below): 

Audio Snippets

speakerspacer Lonely Woman - Ornette Coleman

B. Cultural Implications



Free jazz represented the loosening of standards of behavior in the turbulent 1960s



Free jazz was predominantly played by African American musicians and often expressed anger and dissatisfaction regarding the lack of civil rights in American society. 



Free jazz was primarily an East Coast, urban (e.g., New York) phenomenon. 

Video Clips

videospacer Art Ensemble of Chicago - Pan Burundi
videospacer Cecil Taylor - Piano Solo
videospacer Miles Davis - So What
videospacer Ornette Coleman - Changing the Directon of Jazz
videospacer Ornette Coleman - Live in Cologne
videospacer Ornette Coleman - Lonely Woman
videospacer Ornette Coleman - Theme From a Symphony
the Herbie Hancock institute of jazz
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