Free jazz

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Peter Jacquemyn , Carl Ludwig Hübsch , Barre Phillips (from left to right) at the Peter Kowald Memorial 2012

On the one hand, free jazz is a historical term for (harmoniously) free improvisational play in jazz since the 1960s. On the other hand, it is a paradigm that still radiates today , which offers the possibility of free development of ever new forms in jazz and beyond (e.g. in intuitive music ). The term itself can lead to misunderstandings, since a freedom in relation to the conventional playing postures of jazz is only used to a limited extent and, in addition to complete freedom in form (free form jazz), there are also improvisations based on compositions and composition-like agreements on structures .


The term is derived from the record of the same name , which Ornette Coleman recorded in 1960 with a double quartet (with, among others, Don Cherry , Eric Dolphy and Charlie Haden ). The development of free jazz took place in the USA and a little later also in Europe. The pioneering influence of such American musicians as John Coltrane , Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra , Albert Ayler , Pharoah Sanders , Anthony Braxton , Roscoe Mitchell , Cecil Taylor , Alice Coltrane , Jeanne Lee , Sonny Sharrock or Rashied Ali is undisputed . who, from today's perspective, are still among the most creative representatives of early free jazz.

Since the end of the 1950s, young Afro-American and European jazz musicians have been experimenting with unprecedented new sounds: with a breakthrough into the space of free tonality, with a task of functional harmony or dissonant (i.e. tension-laden) chords that were previously unimaginable in jazz . This expansion of the musical material had already been prepared in 1941 by the Tristanoschule , but also by George Russell , Paul Bley , Charles Mingus , Jaki Byard , Jackie McLean and through the chamber music experiments of Jimmy Giuffre . The shocking effect of this music - in the early 1960s also called "avant-garde jazz" or "The New Thing" - was increased even further by innovative playing techniques and unusual sound and noise effects such as extremely high pitched, shrill, "screaming" and "whistling" sounds "," Squeaking "or" grunting "sounds. There was also an emphasis on intensity, which was unknown in earlier jazz styles. Never before was in the jazz history on Powerplay set and intensity in a so ecstatic sense of value.

"The strength and hardness of the New Jazz and a revolutionary, partly extra-musical pathos were all the more vehement, as ... a lot had accumulated that was now coming in over the comfortable jazz audience that had become accustomed to Oscar Peterson and the Modern Jazz Quartet " Joachim Ernst Berendt in his "Jazz Book". The audience reacted mostly negatively because they perceived free jazz as unreasonable, and the musicians also intended it as a challenge, as a protest of the younger generation against racial discrimination, social injustice and outdated conventions.

Since the mid-1960s, independent of its predecessors ( Joe Harriott developed an independent approach in 1960), a European free jazz emerged. B. Derek Bailey , Willem Breuker , Peter Brötzmann , Gunter Hampel , Peter Kowald , Joachim Kühn , Maggie Nicols , Evan Parker , Friedhelm Schönfeld , Manfred Schulze , Irène Schweizer , John Stevens , Dick van der Capellen or Keith Tippett were involved.

To this day, the most diverse forms of playing have emerged from the European free jazz of the 1960s. Some second and third generation musicians such as B. Joëlle Léandre , Thomas Lehn , or Tony Buck are more in the European musical tradition with their music. Others such as B. Theo Jörgensmann , Mats Gustafsson , Axel Dörner or Christopher Dell are increasingly integrating jazz elements into their music. This process has not yet been completed and suggests interesting developments.

Stylistic features

Free jazz has continued to develop since the 1960s and has become very heterogeneous. A simple stylistic typology is therefore only possible to a limited extent. The early free jazz is still based on melodic, harmonic and rhythmic basic patterns of the jazz tradition. The instrumentation mostly corresponds to the line-up of the typical bebop combo. The following characteristics are therefore by no means applicable to all groups and sound carriers of free jazz.

  • Abolition of harmonic tonality, occasionally also twelve-tone music or use of serial tones, but above all free atonality .
  • Free rhythm (only becomes a style feature from Sunny Murray's innovations )
  • Influences from different styles, especially world music according to Joachim Ernst Berendt
  • Removal of the separation between sound and noise
  • No more separation between the solo and accompaniment part, whereby the musicians communicate and develop their pieces
  • The “ lead sheet ”, which is considered a typical jazz characteristic, increasingly no longer exists in free jazz

The further development of jazz shows that a division into styles is often difficult and therefore only rarely makes sense. In particular, the transition between free jazz and freely improvised music has so far hardly been determinable.

Outstanding free jazz albums of the 1960s and 1970s

One of the longest-lived groups in the genre, the Alexander Schlippenbach Trio with Alexander von Schlippenbach (left), Evan Parker (center), Paul Lovens (right), 2010 in Niederstetten



  • Andre Asriel : Jazz. Aspects and Analysis. 4th edition. Edition Lied der Zeit, Berlin 1985, pp. 211–231.
  • Bert Noglik : Improvised music in the wake of free jazz. Continuum, arbitrariness, stylistic pluralism. In: Ekkehard Jost : Darmstädter Jazzforum 89 (=  Darmstadt contributions to jazz research. Vol. 1). Wolke, Hofheim 1990, ISBN 3-923997-40-X , pp. 14-22.
  • Nina Polaschegg: emancipation "in" jazz, emancipation "from" jazz. Is free jazz a cultural revolution or an emancipation? In: Arnold Jacobshagen u. a. (Ed.): Rebellious Music. Social protest and cultural change around 1968. Dohr, Cologne 2007, ISBN 978-3-936655-48-3 , pp. 245-262.


  • Jacques Aboucaya, Jean-Pierre Peyrebelle: You be-bop au free jazz. Formes et techniques d'improvisation chez C. Parker, M. Davis, and O. Coleman. Presses universitaires du Mirail, Toulouse 2001, ISBN 2-85816-588-2 .
  • Philippe Carles , Jean-Louis Comolli : Free Jazz. Black power. Gallimard, Paris 2001, ISBN 2-07-040469-2 (EA Paris 1971).
    • German: Free Jazz, Black Power. New edition. Wolke, Hofheim 1980, ISBN 3-9800387-0-X (EA Frankfurt / M. 1974).
  • Todd S. Jenkins: Free Jazz and Free Improvisation. To Encyclopedia. Greenwood Press, London, 2004 (2 vols.)
    1. A-J . ISBN 0-313-33313-0 .
    2. K-Z . ISBN 0-313-33314-9 .
  • Ekkehard Jost: Europe's jazz. 1960-1980. Fischer-Taschenbuchverlag, Frankfurt am Main 1987, ISBN 3-596-22974-X .
  • Ekkehard Jost: Free Jazz. Style-critical studies on jazz of the 1960s. Schott , Mainz 1975, ISBN 3-7957-2221-7 (English title: Free Jazz ).

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