History of Jazz

Free Jazz

(1960's)
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Free jazz is a term often used to categorize a new direction in jazz in the 1960's. Experimental, provocative, and challenging for many listeners, free jazz was characterized by a high degree of dissonance. Pitch and tone quality were manipulated by players on their instruments to produce squeaks, shrieks, and wails. New sounds from non-western music traditions like those of India, China, the Middle East, or Africa were sometimes used. Collective improvisation, where all players improvise simultaneously and independently without the framework of a chord progression, was also common. All this sometimes lent to the feeling of "organized chaos." Free jazz was praised by some of the prominent musicians of the time, but was not widely accepted by the public.

Two of the major contributors to the evolution of free jazz were alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman and pianist Cecil Taylor. Other free jazz musicians included saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, and composer, pianist, and bandleader, Carla Bley.

Did you know?

  • The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) is a Chicago-based organization dedicated to supporting and promoting free jazz and other "non-mainstream" jazz. It was started by Muhal Richard Abrams and Fred Anderson in the early 1960's.


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