Avant Garde Jazz

As the 1950s gave way to the swinging 60s some jazz musicians followed their classical music counterparts in trying to break down the most essential elements of what jazz — up to that point — had been. So they experimented with new forms, they abandoned the adherence to a key centre and harmonic sequence that were the cornerstones of pervious forms of jazz. They tried to break down the regular rhythmic patterns of jazz into more fluid movements, often by speeding up or slowing down the music. They experimented with new techniques, such as overblowing on the saxophone, and they incorporated elements of musical language from other cultures, such as African, Asian, Arabic and Indian music.

This new style came to be known by many names — the terms  'free jazz', 'atonal jazz', 'free improvisation' and 'modern jazz'. One of its main champions was saxophonist Ornette Coleman, who abandoned the traditional chord sequence in favour of a radically freer approach to harmonic language. His early 1958 recordings, 'Tomorrow is the Question!’ and 'Something Else!!!!' demonstrate his abandonment of the traditional 32-bar song form and its inherent harmonic structure of four lots of 8-bar sections in the conventional pattern A - A - B (middle 8) - A.

When Coleman moved from the West Coast to New York he was signed to the Atlantic record label, and this show of faith by a major label lent credibility to the new genre. His albums 'The Shape of Jazz to Come' and 'Change of the Century' certainly didn’t lack modesty in their prophetic, self-aggrandising names, but, to be fair, they did mark a radical extension of his ideas about free jazz. This culminated in the landmark album 'Free Jazz' in 1960, and thereafter the genre was named after this album.

Other notable exponents of free jazz include the pianist Cecil Taylor, saxophonist Albert Tyler, saxophonist and bandleader Sun Ra, saxophonists John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy and key European musicians Evan Parker and Albert Mangelsdorff.

Key Artists

Ornette Coleman

Cecil Taylor

Albert Tyler

John Coltrane

Eric Dolphy

Evan Parker

Albert Mangelsdorff

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