Skip to Main Content | Colorblind Mode: On Off
The Avant-Garde
Chapter Outline
15. THE AVANT-GARDE The jazz avant-garde-also known as "free jazz" or "The New Thing"-explodes into the narrative of jazz history around 1960; it can be understood as a modernist agenda that underlies the entire history of jazz. With bebop, jazz evolved as a "modern art," and it continued to challenge conventions and defy the preconceptions of audiences. In this chapter, we examine the avant-garde "pioneers," Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor, to see how progressive ideas of jazz performance and composition finally become so outrageous that many people simply refuse to recognize it as jazz. We meet the new generation of avant-garde performers (Eric Dolphy, Albert Ayler), and learn what older musicians (Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane) made of the new scene. We examine the theatrical representations of Sun Ra and the collective activism of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), which includes the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, and Muhal Richard Abrams. We also consider the reaction to the avant-garde, usually known as post-bop, through the 1960s music of Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, and Andrew Hill. Finally, we take the avant-garde scene from the 1970s to the present through Loft Jazz (e.g., David Murray) and M-BASE (Steve Coleman, Greg Osby).
  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 and political thought and action. Supporters applauded social changes; detractors bemoaned the threat of moral laxity and political anarchy.
    2. One generation's avant-garde is the next generation's mainstream. Two prominent avant-garde movements of this century gathered steam following the world wars. Jazz was vital to both.
  2. The First Avant-Garde Wave
    1. The 1920s avant-garde deliberately set out to break with the artistic past. It was a response to the 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. Major European artists found inspiration in jazz.
    3. Within jazz, practically every new style was considered avant-garde. This is especially true of bebop during the 1940s. Swing was criticized by purists for being too commercial; on the other hand, bop was criticized for breaking the connection between jazz and the popular audience. Instead of following the dictates of the market place, bop went avant-garde.
    4. Even so, bop was still accessible. Although it had changed many of the musical characteristics of swing, bop still had a strong beat, standard harmonies, and recognizable melodies, and it maintained the rules of musical coherence. The second avant-garde challenged these rules.
  3. 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.
    2. These conditions created a different avant-garde, one that reflected uncertainty and anguish instead of the modernist optimism of the 1920s. The new avant-garde celebrated the plebian and the absurd (e.g., Waiting for Godot, 1952). Life was seen as meaningless.
    3. The most potent expression of these trends was found in two twentieth-century forms: movies 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.
    4. 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 the 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
        5. Cecil Taylor's first album indicated the suggested term that stuck: Jazz Advance (1956).
      2. The term avant-garde became an umbrella term for this new music. The meaning of the word is not accurate now because this school of music is fifty years old, with its own tradition. On the other hand, it continues to question the principles of mainstream music.
    5. Breaking Points
      1. Postwar jazz musicians enlarged the boundaries of mainstream jazz. The avant-garde stretched them to the breaking point. The key figures, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, and John Coltrane, had very different approaches, but they all challenged the status quo.
        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.
      2. As the avant-garde developed, it refused to be pinned down, so a twelve-bar blues might follow a free improvisation in the same set.
      3. The appearance of Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor on the scene divided the jazz world. Depending on whom you asked, they were either geniuses or charlatans. Many musicians (such as Duke Ellington) and critics considered them a threat.
    6. 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 the later 1940s he heard Charlie Parker and loved his innovations. But his own style was greeted with hostility. In 1949 he moved to New Orleans, where he met drummer Ed Blackwell. He went to Los Angeles, where he stayed, unnoticed, for five years, learning theory and writing what were going to be some of his benchmark pieces.
      3. 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. In 1958 he was signed to a Los Angeles label, Contemporary, and recorded two albums accompanied by Higgins, Cherry, and few bop musicians suggested by the label.
      4. The titles of these albums were provocative: Something Else!!!! and Tomorrow Is the Question: The New Music of Ornette Coleman. John Lewis persuaded Atlantic Records to sign Coleman and bring him to New York to record. Lewis also got him the gig at the Five Spot and arranged for Cherry and Coleman to attend the Lenox School of Jazz in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. 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.
      5. Musical Style
        1. There are two clear aspects of his style:
          1. His compositions are strongly melodic and emotional; even his detractors acknowledge that.
          2. His saxophone sound is very 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. He did so in a controlled and patterned way.
        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. His approach to pitch was central to his innovations. He rejected preset harmony. 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. The stark texture of alto sax and trumpet playing melody over a rhythm with no accented beats and solos with no governing structure and no familiar frame of reference assaults our musical sensibility.
        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.
      6. "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 a clinker near the end, which can happen when any two musicians create harmony together.
      7. 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: "Abstractions" and "Variants on a Theme of Thelonious Monk." Here his improvisations are in the context of strict notation and backed by a small string section and some jazz musicians, including Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet.
          2. On the 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, except for introductions and the order of solos.
          3. Coleman did not abandon notation. 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.
          4. 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. The piece was supposed to be for orchestra and his group, but he was forced by the record company to appear by himself with the orchestra. The group played in later live performances of this piece.
          5. 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.
    7. 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.
      3. His personal style alienates listeners. He never speaks on stage except to start a performance, which he usually does with poetry. His concerts can last three or more hours. He never performs the same work twice, even if long rehearsals were involved.
      4. He insists that listeners be prepared (as are the musicians). He considers himself in the tradition of Duke Ellington, Bud Powell, Thelonius Monk, Lennie Tristano, Erroll Garner, and Horace Silver-all percussive players. Taylor takes that element to an extreme.
      5. 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. She died when he was still very young. At fourteen, Taylor developed an ulcer and became increasingly introverted and devoted to music. He kept studying piano and started on percussion. 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 recognized as a source for much of the avant-garde.
        2. During vacations he played with jazz bands, including that of Johnny Hodges. 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. He 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 much of a reaction. By 1960 he was considered one of several progressive musicians playing around Greenwich Village, but not a leader.
        5. The turning point came in 1961 when he started to play with tenor player Archie Shepp, who later recorded with Coltrane and who 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.
      6. 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 on to 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 we 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, including Max Roach, Elvin Jones, and various avant-garde drummers, but after Murray left he formed a close bond with drummer Andrew Cyrille from 1964 to 1975. Cyrille then formed his own ensemble. Their way of playing was very interactive, like a conversation.
        5. Taylor was very different from Coleman, who wore his emotions on his sleeve, avoided piano, had no formal education, found the African American timbral sound ideal, used relatively conventional notation, and eventually went to fusion (Dancing in Your Head).
          1. 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. "Bulbs"
        1. This piece was recorded by a Taylor quintet under the aegis of Gil Evans. It starts with the instrumentalists echoing Taylor's opening figures.
        2. The piece contains traditional triads, whole-tone and pentatonic scales, chord clusters, and free passages. The nine melodic units reappear in different contexts. His percussive attacks, melodic and rhythmic patterns, and dissonant harmonies animate the piece.
        3. Lyons's solo is Bird-like in its timbre and fluidity. Lyons whimsically quotes from Franz von Suppé's Poet and Peasant. Near the end of the recording there is a burst of polyphony, a kind of avant-garde New Orleans style.
      8. Mature Taylor
        1. Up to this point his recordings weren't selling and his live performances were not well received by the audience. In 1962 he went to Copenhagen, where he performed with Albert Ayler and made some recordings with his trio that were very free rhythmically. Back in the States he found little work and made no recordings until 1966,now when he made Unit Structures and Conquistador! He then taught for several years as colleges in the Midwest.
        2. In 1973 he returned to New York and released a self-produced album. His music seemed more generous. 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.
      9. 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 motif and then explores several tonal centers over the entire keyboard. He uses contrasts in texture and levels of dissonance to produce drama.
  4. 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 anti-Vietnam War movement, 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 made the bass clarinet a jazz instrument.
      3. He built his style on bebop but took the harmonies and his timbre further out. His sound on the alto saxophone and bass clarinet was strident and liberal in terms of intonation, an influence from Coleman. That he could control intonation made him more acceptable to Mingus.
    4. Albert Ayler (1936-1970)
      1. Ayler hit the scene with an extreme musical style that threw everyone for a loop.
      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." He sat in with Taylor in Copenhagen in 1962, which helped liberate him from bop.
      3. Back in the 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, and his rejection of conventional jazz offended some but influenced others such as Coltrane.
      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 tried to reach a rock audience but failed. He committed suicide at the age of thirty four.
      5. "Ghosts"
        1. This is his signature piece. He recorded it many times and it was on his first important album, Spiritual Unity, two times. It contains three primary elements of his music: old-time religious fervor, marching, and singable melodies. The statement is followed by free improvisation.
        2. This 1966 version contains no solos and the theme is never stated clearly. The musicians play around it. Each musician knows how to fill in the right spot in the music without overwhelming it.
        3. There are three sections here: intro; collective interpretation of the theme; coda. It has strong rhythms but doesn't swing. There is a martial feeling at times. The theme is very singable.
  5. 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. Although there was a core group who supported the main figures of the avant-garde, it was never going to be commercially successful. Taylor was sixty when he received a MacArthur grant, Coleman supported himself with non-musical ventures, and other jazz musicians taught in colleges and universities.
    3. During the late 1960s rock was attracting people who a generation earlier would have been jazz fans.
    4. There are three paradoxes, given the avant-garde's outside status:
      1. It influenced a surprising number of established musicians.
      2. It was more inclusive than any previous jazz style.
      3. It has proved to be a durable as mainstream jazz.
    5. First Paradox: Older Musicians.
      1. Musicians such as Miles, Rollins, Mingus, and Coltrane addressed avant-garde techniques and overcame their initial skepticism.
      2. Coltrane is a good example.
        1. 1958: sideman on Taylor's Hard Driving Jazz. Coltrane was intrigued by Taylor's procedures.
        2. 1960: co-leads, with Don Cherry, an album called The Avant-Garde.
        3. 1961: hires Dolphy and records Live at the Village Vanguard, which contains a fifteen-minute version of "Chasin' the Trane."
        4. 1965: eleven avant-garde musicians for the free jazz album Ascension.
      3. 1962. Sonny Rollins records Our Man in Jazz with Don Cherry and Billy Higgins, which includes interactive dynamics and extended improvisation. In 1963 he toured Europe with Cherry. Although he returned to bop-based music, his experience with avant-garde musicians left its influence on his more expressive improvisational style and his aggressive sound.
      4. Lesser-known musicians were later venerated for their work, which was left in obscurity for most of their careers (Herbie Nichols, Andrew Hill).
      5. Sun Ra (1914-1993)
        1. One of these lesser-known artists was Sun Ra (born Herman Blount in Alabama). He came to Chicago in the 1930s with a college dance band and then led his own group. He was imprisoned as a conscientious objector during the World War II. In 1946 he 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 and festivals. His performances were elaborately theatrical and included singers dancers, staging, and costumes, with music that knew no genre or style boundaries (e.g., fusion, John Cage collaborations, "Hello Dolly") and played by a large ensemble. He made dozens of albums including The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra.
    6. Second Paradox: Openness to All Forms
      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. The avant-garde did not like clichés but was open to historical styles and achievements. Sun Ra is a good example.
      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; Horace Tapscott, organist and composer, organized the Underground Musicians' Association in Los Angeles; In New York, Cecil Taylor, Andrew Cyrille, and Archie Shepp tried to launch the Jazz and People's Movement. None of the collectives lasted very long, with the exception of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), which lasted for forty years.
      4. Muhal Richard Abrams (b. 1930), AACM and AEC
        1. The AACM was started in Chicago by pianist, composer, and bandleader 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.
        2. Abrams also insisted on a strict code of behavior and morality. He acted as a model to younger musicians.
        3. 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. Hundreds of these instruments covered the stage and were used before the "big" instruments.
        4. The AEC members used makeup, and Bowie always appeared in a lab coat. 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.
        5. Bowie went further with later bands including Brass Fantasy and New York Organ Ensemble, which played a wide-ranging repertory of pop, swing, rock and roll, country music, and hip-hop. For a group that insisted on original composition, there was an investigation of repertory outside jazz. Anthony Braxton from the AACM wrote many original pieces but also ran a series looking at the compositions of Charlie Parker.
      5. The AACM in New York: Leroy Jenkins (1932-2007) and Henry Threadgill (b. 1944)
        1. The AACM started to record in 1966 for a small progressive label, Delmark, but no one outside Chicago took much notice. They did attract some attention in Paris in 1969, but their real breakthrough was when Abrams went to New York in 1976, where he made a lot of recordings with various kinds of ensembles.
        2. 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. Jenkins combined classical and jazz techniques and encouraged collective rubato improvisation ("The People's Republic"). Sirone and Cooper developed solo bass and percussion recitals for the first time in jazz. After the Revolutionary Ensemble broke up, the members played with Taylor.
        3. 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. He built an instrument made of hubcaps called a hubcapphone. Air played Threadgill originals as well as Scott Joplin rags and Jelly Roll Morton pieces.
        4. Threadgill later started groups known for their unusual instrumentation such as trombone with French horn, two electric guitars, and two tubas.
    7. Third Paradox: The Eternal Avant-Garde.
      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. It rescued jazz from commercial compromises but was still open.
      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 from California, who pioneered "conductioning," a method of cueing that allowed him to improvise orchestral pieces.
      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
  6. The Loft Era (1974-1986)
    1. 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.
    2. In 1987 the Knitting Factory opened a large performance space that encouraged musicians to cut across idioms to reach a broader audience. It 1994 it moved to a three-story building with several performance spaces available simultaneously. The regular musicians had a major impact on the arts scene. Saxophonist and composer John Zorn combined classical avant-garde and klezmer music; James Blood Ulmer meshed "harmolodic" jazz with Delta blues and country music.
    3. The key word for the loft scene was "eclectic."
    4. David Murray (b. 1955)
      1. Murray synthesized the avant-garde and the jazz tradition. He came from Oakland, California, where he played in a family band that played in church and frowned on jazz. His mother died when he was fourteen, whereupon he joined a soul band. He switched from alto to tenor saxophone after hearing Sonny Rollins. He also memorized many of the great tenor solos of Hawk, Lester, Ben Webster, and his favorite, Paul Gonsalves.
      2. He came to New York in 1975, when he was twenty, to research his thesis on the tenor saxophone, but he loved performing so he quit school to play full time. 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 kinds 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, who was replaced after his death by Arthur Blythe. Murray also played in the Clarinet Summit on bass clarinet, which he popularized. He also played with musicians from other cultures such as a percussion ensemble from Guadeloupe.
    5. "El Matador"
      1. Murray collaborated with established jazz musicians on various projects. One was pianist Don Pullen, who played with Mingus and had his own quartet co-led with saxophonist George Adams). Pullen played on Murray's Shakhill's Warrior. After Pullens's death, Murray recorded a tribute album with Canadian organist D.D. Jackson (The Long Goodbye). One of the tracks is "El Matador."
      2. They explore Spanish scales in "El Matador," which is dear to Pullen (At the Café Centrale, 1988). In contrast to the Pullen piece, this piece is dark and solemn, and it progresses to climactic cries on the saxophone.
  7. Avant-Garde Visions
    1. 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. Yet it struggled to survive. In New York, avant-garde jazz musicians created their own venues and labels. John Zorn created the performance space Tonic and the label Tzadec. Bassist William Parker and his wife helped start various arts organizations, including the Vision Festival in 1996, which included jazz, dance, and poetry.
    2. The Vision Festival eventually became a major nonprofit arts producer and political advocate for what it called avantjazz, emphasizing internationalism and multimedia performances. Still, the avant-garde is unknown outside a few major cities.
Print This Page

Norton Ebooks

The ebook version Jazz offers the full content of the print version at half the price.

Norton Ebooks

The Norton Gradebook

Instructors and students now have an easy way to track online quiz scores with the Norton Gradebook.

Norton Gradebook