Chapter Study Outline

  1. Forward March
    1. Avant-garde was originally used to denote the military advanced guard. It eventually came to refer to pioneering work in the arts. Avant-gardism was meant to liberate artists from tradition and often went hand in hand with progressive social thought.
    2. Two prominent avant-garde movements of this century gathered steam following the world wars. Jazz was vital to both.
      1. The first avant-garde wave
        1. The 1920s avant-garde deliberately set out to break with the artistic past. It was a response to World War I, the expansion of women's rights, and technological advances including radio, talking pictures, and transcontinental flight. This avant-garde was provocative but hopeful.
        2. Jazz was considered by the cultural elite to be an inspiration and resource for the avant-garde.
      2. The second avant-garde wave
        1. The conditions of the avant-garde of the 1950s and 1960s paralleled those of the 1920s: new colonial wars, occupations, the Cold War, the struggle for racial equality, demands for gender equality, and the unraveling of some settled social conventions. These conditions created a different avantgarde, one that reflected uncertainty and anguish instead of the modernist optimism of the 1920s. By the early 1960s, life was seen as meaningless.
        2. The most potent expression of these trends was found in two twentieth-century forms: film and jazz. The New Wave in cinema from France and Italy examined confusion and desperation. Jazz also developed ways to express its disavowal of tradition.
    3. What's in a Name?
      1. Earlier names for avant-garde jazz included:
        1. Anti-jazz, criticizing the avant-garde's apparent attack on mainstream jazz.
        2. Free jazz after the name of an Ornette Coleman album that also had a picture of a painting by the modernist Jackson Pollock on its cover.
        3. Black music indicating that the ferocity of the music reflects African American frustrations.
        4. New music, the New Thing, revolutionary music, and fire music.
      2. Cecil Taylor's first album suggested the term that stuck: Jazz Advance (1956).
      3. The term avant-garde became an umbrella term for this new music.
        1. Rhythm: discarded a steady dance beat for an ambiguous pulse or several at once.
        2. Harmony: discarded harmonic patterns based on scales and chords for an unpredictable harmony based on the needs of the moment.
        3. Melody: whether melodic or noise-heavy, melody was disengaged from traditional harmonic patterns and resolutions.
        4. Structure: blues and song forms were discarded for the creation of form through free improvisation.
        5. Instrumentation: in addition to typical jazz instruments, symphonic and world music instruments were used.
        6. Presentation: jazz was no longer entertainment; it was now serious and challenging— art for art's sake.
        7. Politics: its assertive posture placed it in the general context of the increasingly militant racial and antiwar struggles of the 1950s and 1960s.
      4. The appearance of Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor on the scene divided the jazz world. They were both hailed as geniuses and dismissed as charlatans. Many musicians (such as Duke Ellington) and critics considered them a threat.
    4. Ornette Coleman (b. 1930)
      1. In 1959 Ornette played a long engagement at the Five Spot in New York. Classical composers (Leonard Bernstein, Gunther Schuller) who heard him declared him a genius. Jazz musicians such as Miles David and Charles Mingus were derisive. By 2007 he had won the first Pulitzer prize ever awarded for an album (Sound Grammar).
      2. He grew up in Texas playing in R&B bands. In 1949 he moved to New Orleans, where he met drummer Ed Blackwell. In 1956 he formed the American Jazz Quintet with three major interpreters of his music: drummer Billy Higgins, bassist Charlie Haden, and pocket trumpeter Don Cherry.
      3. John Lewis persuaded Atlantic Records to sign Coleman and bring him to New York to record. The six albums recorded on Atlantic between 1959 and 1961 created tremendous controversy, even about the album titles, which seemed to embody the authority of the New Negro: The Shape of Jazz to Come, Change of the Century, This Is Our Music, Free Jazz.
      4. Musical Style
        1. There are two clear aspects of his style: (a) His compositions are strongly melodic and emotional; even his detractors acknowledge that. (b) His saxophone sound is jarring, which alienates people from his music. His use of a plastic saxophone contributes to the harshness of the sound. Coleman was after a sound like the human voice.
        2. He also used microtones, that is, pitches in between those found in a traditional scale.
        3. He argued that a pitch ought to reflect its context: a particular note in a happy piece should sound different when that same note is played in a sad piece.
        4. When he played a standard, he played off the melody, not the harmony. The harmonies followed from his melodic conception, opening up new avenues for improvisers.
        5. He dispensed with the piano because it hampered his freedom from the tempered scale and it promoted chords. Our musical sensibility is assaulted by the stark texture of alto sax and trumpet playing melody over a rhythm with no accented beats and soloing with no governing structure or familiar frame of reference.
        6. Rhythm and harmony were improvised, as was the melody. Cherry's sound merged with Coleman's on the themes, with the harmony provided by the responses of the bassist. The drummer provided the rhythm in breath-like patterns.
      5. "Lonely Woman"
        1. Written in 1954, this piece became his most frequently performed composition. His 1959 recording of it became popular because most of it consisted of statements of the melody with little improvisation.
        2. The introduction consists of Haden's double stops and Higgins's fast ride—cymbal rhythm, which has no discernible down— or upbeats. The melody is played by sax and trumpet and seems to float over the bass and drums. The piece swings, especially during Coleman's solo.
        3. There are two sections to the piece, each indicating a different harmonic area. Haden's playing suggests major and minor key changes. Cherry hits the wrong pitch near the end, which can happen when any two musicians create harmony together on the spot.
      6. Free Jazz and Harmolodics
        1. Ornette played on two important projects at the end of 1960.
          1. On December 19 and 20, he was featured on two pieces of Schuller's Third Stream album Jazz Abstractions. On December 21, he recorded Free Jazz with his double-quartet, made up of his musicians plus some from the Schuller session including Dolphy. In contrast to Jazz Abstractions, this music was freely improvised by all the musicians.
          2. The rest of his career can be seen as an attempt to juggle notation with improvisation. He coined the term "harmolodic" (a contraction of harmony, movement, and melody), a key feature of which is that musicians may improvise, even on notated music, in terms of register, key, and octave, as long as the music's melodic integrity is kept intact.
          3. He composed music for a wide variety of kinds of ensembles including chamber groups, orchestra, and rock bands. He also played trumpet and violin. In 1972 he recorded Skies of America with the London Symphony Orchestra.
          4. Coleman also put together a fusion band called Prime Time, which performed notated pieces. Each of the members of the band (James Blood Ulmer, guitar; Jamaaladeen Tacuma, bass; Ronald Shannon Jackson, drums) went on to form their own eclectic bands. Prime Time played some of the music of Skies of America.
    5. Cecil Taylor (b. 1929)
      1. Unlike the leaders of other styles of jazz, who share more or less the same kind of background, the leaders of the avant-garde come from divergent backgrounds: Coleman from rhythm and blues, Coltrane from jazz, and Cecil Taylor from classical music. Only Coltrane played with the other two musicians.
      2. Taylor was the first to record with his own group and the last to achieve recognition. His prodigious technique was never in doubt but his ability to swing or to play the blues or bop-derived jazz was questioned. His personal style alienates listeners. His concerts could last three or more hours.
      3. Early Years
        1. Taylor's mother was a pianist who started him on piano lessons when he was five; the same year, she took him to see Chick Webb at the Apollo. He enrolled at the New England Conservatory of Music in 1951 but soon started to resent the fact that African and African American cultures were not respected, which he recognized as a source for avant-garde music.
        2. After graduating from the New England Conservatory, he convinced the Five Spot to hire his quartet for six weeks in 1956. This club became the home of futuristic jazz and the place where he recorded Jazz Advance.
        3. The band included Steve Lacy on soprano saxophone, who had previously played in Dixieland and swing bands. The rhythm section consisted of classically trained Buell Neidlinger on bass and self-taught Dennis Charles on drums. Taylor, like Coleman, wanted musicians who would follow him into new territory. Jazz Advance consists of pieces by Monk and Cole Porter and free-form-like, atonal originals featuring a ferocious rhythmic attack.
        4. On the basis of this album he was asked to perform at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival, which he did without generating much of a reaction.
        5. The turning point came in 1961 when he started to play with tenor player Archie Shepp, who later recorded with Coltrane and made his own avant-garde recordings; with alto sax player Jimmy Lyons, who played with Taylor for twenty-five years; and drummer Sonny Murray, who profoundly influenced Taylor's approach to rhythm.
      4. Unit Structures
        1. Taylor did not write conventional scores. He preferred graphic indicators to indicate the direction of the music. The musicians did not see these scores. Instead he played what he wanted on the piano, and the musicians had to pick it up by ear and improvise on it.
        2. He called his method unit structures (also the name of one of his albums). He constructed his pieces from modules, or units, and the band worked and improvised through each unit in turn.
        3. Jimmy Lyons could transfer Taylor's ideas onto the saxophone with bebop timbre and phrasing, and he translated them and their potential to the rest of the band. Sonny Murray did away with the idea of pulse, which one can still hear in Coleman's band, and intensified the level of interaction based on the energy of the performance.
        4. Taylor played duets with many drummers, but after Murray left he formed a close bond with drummer Andrew Cyrille from 1964 to 1975. Cyrille then formed his own ensemble.
        5. Taylor was very different from Coleman, who wore his emotions on his sleeve, avoided piano, had no formal education, discovered the African American timbral sound ideal, used relatively conventional notation, and eventually went to fusion. By contrast, Taylor was emotional but virtuosic and intellectual, emphasized the piano's percussive qualities, studied modern classical theory and atonality, and avoided conventional notation; his dance connection was with ballet.
        6. His hands are a blur as he pummels the keyboard, creating cascades of sound. He seems to pluck the strings in softer sections, creating Romantic-like melodies.
        7. Over the next few years he garnered awards, grants, and critical acceptance. He also developed a cult following, especially in Europe, where in 1988, in Berlin, a festival devoted to him was staged, resulting in more than a dozen albums. He started to play major clubs internationally and led various kinds of bands. He remains the symbol of the unyielding avant-garde musician.
      5. Willisau Concert, "Part 3"
        1. Taylor's concerts usually consist of a long piece followed by some brief encores. At Willisau, Switzerland, his main, hour-long piece is a good example of his unit structure method in action. The first encore, discussed here, exemplifies his virtuosity and organizational coherence.
        2. He starts with a five-note motive and then explores several tonal centers over the entire keyboard. He uses contrasts in texture and levels of dissonance to produce a sense of drama.
  2. The New Thing
    1. The avant-garde divided the jazz world in half. On the one hand it was criticized for being too political. This was partly true when it came to civil rights, the Vietnam War protests, Black Power, and other movements. On the other hand, its supporters called the New Thing a people's music, even though it alienated more people than it attracted.
    2. Coltrane was well respected for mastering the bop idiom and the avant-garde. He became the unofficial referee between the two styles.
    3. Eric Dolphy (1928-1964)
      1. A reed player from Los Angeles, he played in dance bands during the 1940s and jammed with musicians such as Mingus. In 1958 he came to New York with Chico Hamilton's band. In 1959 he played off and on with Mingus until shortly before his own death. He was on Coleman's Free Jazz in 1960. He toured Europe with Coltrane in 1961 and appeared on several of his albums, including Live at the Village Vanguard.
      2. He often played with trumpeter Booker Little, including some live recordings at the Five Spot. He was also affiliated with the Third Stream and single-handedly made the bass clarinet a jazz instrument.
      3. He built his style on bebop but took the harmonies and his timbre further into areas of extreme dissonance.
    4. Albert Ayler (1936-1970)
      1. Ayler hit the scene with an extreme musical style that left audiences and critics struggling for apt descriptors.
      2. He came from Cleveland, where he studied alto saxophone, played in R&B bands, and then joined the army, where he switched to tenor. He experimented with the tenor's "hidden register."
      3. Back in the United States he released his album Spiritual Unity in 1964 on ESP-Disk, a tiny label that eventually became a major source for avant-garde jazz. His huge sound evoked strong reactions.
      4. From 1962 to 1970 he went through a number of styles, at one point focusing almost exclusively on composition. He led various groups, one of which had a front line of sax, violin, and trumpet, and played music that suggested classical music. He also tried to reach a rock audience but failed. He died at the age of thirty-four in an apparent suicide.
  3. Three Paradoxes
    1. The avant-garde carried jazz to the edge. It upped the emotional expressiveness of the music, unlike the classical avant-garde, which was more intellectual. But audiences reared on swing and post-swing found it unappealing.
    2. During the late 1960s rock was attracting people who a generation earlier would have been jazz fans.
    3. There are three paradoxes, given the avant-garde's outside status:
      1. It influenced a surprising number of established but neglected musicians.
      2. It was more inclusive than any previous jazz style.
      3. It has proved to be as durable as mainstream jazz.
    4. The First Paradox and Older Musicians
      1. Musicians such as Miles, Rollins, Mingus, and Coltrane addressed avant-garde techniques and overcame their initial skepticism.
      2. Sun Ra (1914-1993)
        1. One of the lesser-known artists was Sun Ra (born Herman Blount in Alabama). He came to Chicago, worked with an R&B band, and then worked as a pianist for Fletcher Henderson in 1946.
        2. He studied Black Nationalism and Egyptian history. He named himself Sun Ra and his band the Arkestra. His 1950s recordings included R&B, experimental jazz, unusual meters, early electric instruments, and synthesizers. His records were privately pressed and distributed by his followers, who were mostly from Chicago.
        3. In 1961 he came to New York, and by the middle of the decade he was working regularly in clubs, festivals, and throughout Europe. His performances knew no boundaries of genre or style (e.g., fusion, John Cage collaborations, "Hello Dolly") and were played by a large ensemble. He made dozens of albums including The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra.
    5. The Second Paradox and the AACM
      1. Previous to the avant-garde, jazz musicians played exclusively in their own style and never looked to the past.
      2. The very definition of avant-garde seems to indicate a futuristic outlook, yet avant-garde jazz was open to every kind of influence, including instruments not used in jazz up to this point, some from other parts of the world.
      3. The second generation of avant-garde musicians came of age in the 1970s and was schooled in the Midwest. They formed collectives, not unlike the fraternal societies of New Orleans. The collectives arranged rehearsals, secured work, and set the stage for the creation of new music. The Black Artists Group (BAG) arose in St. Louis. The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) lasted for forty years.
      4. The AACM was started in Chicago by pianist, composer, and bandleader Muhal Richard Abrams. He played in bop-based bands during the 1940s and founded the Experimental Band in 1961 as a vehicle for original new music. In 1965, he, along with some other musicians, started the AACM with Abrams as president. Each member had to write new music for the ensemble. Abrams noted that this was much like what jazz musicians did in the early days of jazz.
      5. Saxophonist Joseph Jarman was part of the most important band to come out of the AACM, the Art Ensemble of Chicago (AEC). Other members were Roscoe Mitchell (sax), Lester Bowie (trumpet), Malachi Favors Maghostut (bass), and Famoudou Don Moye (drums). The AEC popularized "little" instruments— bells, whistles, hand drums—which were used in AACM concerts to add some African content.
      6. Concerts were continuous and ended with a hard-swinging number or blues. They described their concerts as "Great Black Music: From the Ancient to the Future" and included free improvisation, notated compositions, and a variety of rhythms.
      7. Anthony Braxton from the AACM wrote many original pieces but also ran a series looking at the compositions of Charlie Parker.
      8. viii)The AACM's real breakthrough was when Abrams went to New York in 1976, where he made multiple recordings with various kinds of ensembles.
      9. Two other AACM bands started in New York were the Revolutionary Ensemble and Air. The former was created by Leroy Jenkins, bassist Sirone (Norris Jones), and percussionist Jerome Cooper.
      10. Flutist and alto and baritone saxophonist Henry Threadgill led Air with bassist Fred Hopkins and drummer Steve McCall in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Air played Threadgill originals as well as Scott Joplin rags and Jelly Roll Morton pieces. Threadgill later started groups known for their unusual instrumentation such as trombone with French horn, two electric guitars, accordion, two tubas, and oud (a Middle Eastern type of lute).
    6. The Third Paradox and the Loft Era
      1. By 1980 free jazz had come to mean free to play anything, not just music without rules. It had also exhibited at least as much staying power as swing or bop. There was a tradition of avant-garde music in various countries in Europe as well as the United States.
      2. During the 1970s, New York was the magnet for avant-garde musicians from all over: for example, saxophonist Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, and Hamiet Bluiett from the Black Artist's Group (St. Louis); saxophonist and bass clarinetist David Murray; alto player Arthur Blythe; flutist James Newton; bassist Mark Dresser; and composer-trumpeter Butch Morris.
      3. For all this activity, new venues were required. Some concerts took place in private homes and some in lofts transformed into full-time concert spaces in New York's abandoned warehouse district.
      4. During this era, the new music in New York was played in lofts, churches, and galleries and was recorded by small labels often owned by the musicians. This lasted for around twelve years, at which time the major labels and venues began to accept the new music. The key word for the loft scene was "eclectic."
      5. David Murray (b. 1955)
        1. Murray synthesized the avant-garde and the jazz tradition. He came from Oakland, California. He memorized many of the great tenor solos of Hawkins, Lester, Ben Webster, and his favorite, Paul Gonsalves.
        2. He came to New York in 1975. Initially hostile to the avant-garde, he eventually warmed to Archie Shepp and Albert Ayler. One of his best-known pieces is "Flowers for Albert."
        3. By the late 1970s he was recording prolifically with various types of ensembles. He played with musicians from all generations and was equally at home with or without preset harmonies. He had a rough timbre and good intonation. He composed blues and gospel-infused pieces and recorded spirituals ("Deep River"). He wrote complex pieces including orchestrations of solos by Coltrane and Gonsalves.
        4. He cofounded the World Saxophone Quartet along with three BAG musicians: Julius Hemphill, the main composer; Oliver Lake; and Hamiet Bluiett.
    7. By 2008 the avant-garde had been developing for fifty years and had influenced every kind of jazz in terms of timbre, instrumentation, and repertory. Still, outside a handful of major cities, the avant-garde remains largely unknown.

Chapter 15 Jukebox