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Help me understand free jazz


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Showing 1-13 of 13 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 13, 2012 3:23:34 AM PST
I love jazz, just about all genres, but I don't get this. Are there some transitional albums I could listen to so I can understand where this is going, basically why it is music? Don't suggest your favorite free jazz musicians, I have tried Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman. Or is this something that you just do or don't get? I'm looking for ways to get from where I am to where I can enjoy listening to this.

Posted on Nov 14, 2012 2:59:27 PM PST
Dennis,
It seems that not too many forum contributors want to jump in and help you with your problem. Many could, I believe, if they took the time. Unfortunately, I'm not the man to really help you with your voyage of discovery but I can provide some small snippets of information to help you. Others better qualified may be able to point you in the direction of particular recordings.
What I can tell you is that "playing free" is a very difficult discipline to conquer. Many jazz musicians have gone down the freedom road with differing degrees of success. However, even those who successfully play free often return to the more normal bases for creating jazz improvisations. Amongst the "free" players, the music produced by some is very accessible to fans generally used to listening to jazz based upon a theme or some at least a structure of some sort. From my own perspective, some is totally inaccessible and, I think that these very extreme players have probably disenfranchised quite a number of fans though all seem to have a small but very dedicated group of fans who honestly believe that they can do no wrong. The jump to listening to free players can be huge and cause a lot of confusion but if you are serious about trying to understand more of what they are trying to do, you simply have to expose yourself to more of their music. As I said, I'm not really the guy to advise you in this respect because my sphere of interest is far too broad. It encompasses virtually everything that could be loosely termed jazz and blues music. You need to get responses from more of those forum members that focus on the avant garde and free jazz and there are a few of those on the site. But, in the interim, you might try listening to soprano saxophonist Steve Lacey and some of the guys that he played with. I've always found his music to be totally accessible but there are many more guys out there whose music I am sure you would enjoy. I will leave it to other forum members to make additional suggestions.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 14, 2012 4:11:55 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 14, 2012 4:13:12 PM PST
Zolar Waka says:
Believe it or not, Cecil Taylor is a better place to start than Ornette. Personally, if I had to do it over again, I'd start with Roscoe Mitchell (which is where I went right after Dolphy, Trane and Sanders, if I recall correctly) or Threadgill. The jazz forum has gone to sleep as of late. I'd suggest searching for the Avant Garde Jazz thread, most recent post about 3 weeks ago, and take a look. This is not an easy question to answer.

Posted on Nov 14, 2012 10:40:56 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 14, 2012 10:41:19 PM PST
Larkenfield says:
There's a long and extensive thread you might
enjoy on the UK Jazz forum: http://goo.gl/HS5hI

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 15, 2012 4:15:10 AM PST
Ahmad says:
I think it lies in the early avant garde. These albums are the earliest avant garde I can think of:
Ornette Coleman: The Shape of Jazz to Come
Cecil Taylor: Jazz Advance
Eric Dolphy: Out to Lunch
John Coltrane: A Love Supreme

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 15, 2012 6:34:22 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 15, 2012 7:40:25 PM PST
Zolar,
I've never heard any of Roscoe Mitchell's recordings and I don't ever wish to. But, I have heard him live a few times and I must have a Roscoe blind spot because to me, without wishing to be contentious, his alto sound reminds me of a the braying that a donkey makes when being castrated. I made this remark to a fellow jazz photographer when we were both at one of his performances and he was in total agreement with me.
Given his AACM and Chicago Art Ensemble pedigrees, I'm completely turned off by his playing. And, I hardly think that he's the man to listen to for someone wishing to get into free jazz. I'd really love some perspectives and explanations of his "music" from musicians who have a much deeper musical knowledge than me. Sorry to have to totally disagree with your perception about him being the man to start with for a new listener to free jazz. Moreover, advising Dennis Smith to troll through the entire avant garde thread would simply confuse the guy in my opinion and even if he did, I don't think that, given the volume of postings that are there, he would be any the wiser. Just my opinion for what it's worth.
I tried Googling "Articles on free jazz" and on Thomas Chapin's website www.thomaschapin.com there is a very erudite article by Chris Kelsey which gives a very good explanation in respect of what free jazz is all about. I suggest beginning there. As I initially said what is needed here is for someone with an extensive collection of "free jazz" recordings is to pick out those which are not too large a jump away from more normal improvised music.
Chris Kelsey, by the way, is both a musician,educator and critic who regularly contributes articles to a number of periodicals and has put out a number of CD's under his own name.
Also, check out Chris Kelsey's soprano demo on YouTube by searching "Chris Kelsey. A Monk diary - Friday 13th". The guy can play a bit so should know what he is talking about.
Right now, Mr.Smith, that is the best that I can do for you.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 16, 2012 3:32:27 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 16, 2012 3:35:19 AM PST
Ahmad says:
Campbell,
Thanks for the link to the article about free jazz; I was looking to read about free jazz.

[edit]
Here's the direct link to the article about free jazz:
http://thomaschapin.com/articles-feature-articles/193/free-jazz-a-subjective-history

I think Smith needs recommendations as well.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 19, 2012 6:25:09 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 19, 2012 6:29:38 AM PST
Zolar Waka says:
Trust me, I wouldn't recommend Mitchell to you, and didn't.

The point I was making is that there are 2 ways to get into free jazz. (1) From the beginning. (2) In the modern. For someone looking at the beginning, as this guys seemed to have done based on his initial post (Taylor and Coleman), I recommended Mitchell because of his '66 recording "Sound" would lead a listener to the Art Ensemble and the AACM, which opens a million doors for exploration.

...or the modern...which means you would start with people like Wm. Parker and Threadgill (mostly because his last few albums received so much press and made everyone gush like they'd only just heard Threadgill's music and are thus widely available and very accessible).

There are a lot of ways to get into free jazz. I recommended Mitchell because his album "Sound" seemed to me to be the first true synthesis of jazz and free. Also, it's entirely possible to start with Mitchell or Threadgill or Parker and still get enjoyment out of free/avant, even if you don't like Taylor or Coleman. I think, however, if you don't like Taylor, you shouldn't try too hard to get into free jazz...if that's the case, a lot of free jazz avenues of listening will end in frustration.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 19, 2012 5:31:46 PM PST
D. Perrine says:
Dennis, For transitional albums I would suggest just following the course of Miles Davis' albums from the '60s. However I'm not sure why you feel a need to "get from where I am to where I can enjoy listening to this." There's so much great jazz in the other "just about all genres" that I don't really see why you feel a need to develop an appreciation for something that you don't enjoy. It's my theory that one reason jazz lost a lot of it's audience, is that the critical establishment insisted on promoting a type of music that turned off many whose ears were accustomed to traditional ideas of melody, harmony, form, timbre, etc. On the other hand, younger listeners today, who grew up with industrial music, death-metal, etc. seem more likely to appreciate free jazz than the older styles. As for "why it is music," I'd just say that to the extent that it's a product of players expressing ideas or emotions through sound, it's music - but not necessarily music for the masses.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 19, 2012 11:26:18 PM PST
D. Perrine says:
Browsing another discussion group I was reminded of a free jazz album that you might find much more "accessible." It's a live recording called "Outlaws" by Jeremy Steig and Eddie Gomez. This isn't the angry screeching stuff but just highly intuitive music by two guys that have been playing together forever. Much of it almost sounds composed. The poster on the other thread suggested that you'd have to be on heroin to appreciate this but I don't think that you'd have to resort to such extreme measures.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 20, 2012 11:16:42 AM PST
Robert Cox says:
D. Perrine
2 good posts! I couldn't have said it better myself.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 9, 2012 5:53:51 PM PST
"Are there some transitional albums I could listen to so I can understand where this is going, basically why it is music? Don't suggest your favorite free jazz musicians... I have tried Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman. Or is this something that you just do or don't get?"

Noone really knows. Free jazz in all of its variety, in one way or another, renders musical elements; rythym, harmony, melody, sonority, form, to the extreme boundaries.

Music appreciation is peculiar and unworthy of serious attention. It is what it is, and you are what you are. Love it or leave it.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 10, 2012 7:24:25 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 10, 2012 8:05:10 AM PST
Autonomeus says:
Did you listen to Ornette's "The Shape of Jazz to Come"? It doesnt' sound as radical as it really is -- if you can't relate to it then it's possible free jazz is not for you. Ornette is rooted in the blues -- if you can't dig his "Lonely Woman" then I don't know what to tell you.

"This Is Our Music" is another great introductory Ornette disc, reuniting him with New Orleans drummer Ed Blackwell (his original drummer) who brings great polyrhythms to the mix, a quite different sound from Billy Higgins, who played on the first two Atlantic records. Some listeners I fear go straight to "Free Jazz," which is much less accessible, a double quartet without recognizable tunes or heads.

Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" and the live 1960 Village Vanguard recordings with Eric Dolphy are both good introductions.

One way to hear the transition to playing free/outside is to follow Trane from "Giant Steps" to the Village Vanguard sessions and "A Love Supreme" and then to his later totally outside recordings with Rashied Ali replacing Elvin Jones on drums.

Some on the thread have mentioned Miles, but Miles was never into playing free. He did a lot of modal playing, and then moved into electronic fusion, which freaked out a lot of the old guard, but it was never that radical compared to Ornette/Cecil/late Trane. I don't think any Miles is transitional to free jazz.

Cheers, Richard
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Discussion in:  Jazz forum
Participants:  9
Total posts:  13
Initial post:  Nov 13, 2012
Latest post:  Dec 10, 2012

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