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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 continues to challenge conventions and defy the preconceptions of audiences. In this chapter, we examine the avantgarde “pioneers” Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor to see how progressive ideas of jazz performance and composition finally became so outrageous that many people simply refused to recognize the music as jazz. We meet the new generation of avant-garde performers (Eric Dolphy, Albert Ayler), and learn what older musicians (Rollins, Coltrane) made of the new scene. We examine the theatrical representations of Sun Ra and the collective activism of the AACM, which included the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, and Muhal Richard Abrams. We also consider the reaction to the avant-garde through the 1960s music of Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, and Andrew Hill. Finally, we take the avantgarde scene from the 1970s to the present through Loft Jazz (e.g., David Murray) and M-BASE (Steve Coleman, Greg Osby).

  • Ornette Coleman, Lonely Woman
  • Cecil Taylor, Bulbs
  • Cecil Taylor, Willisau Concert, Part 3
  • Albert Ayler, Ghosts
  • David Murray/Ed Blackwell, Duet

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