The Beginnings of Free Form
Most free form musicians have a grounding in traditional jazz, classical music or both. Without this the musician cannot perform, fully understand or produce good contemporary or improvised free jazz. These genres provide the building blocks upon which to build. However, there comes a time when excellent musicians must decide whether to stick within the traditional/classical boundaries of playing or play free form. A few do both, but most players who decide to play free form play little else because it stretches them in different ways. Classical and traditional playing have their own beauty, and free form players would take nothing away from it, but free form allows them the possibilities of exploring, and finding new ways to evolve and express themselves.
There are those who argue that free form jazz is a misnomer because experimental, improvised and free playing abandons most of the rules which made jazz, well, jazz in the first place. The more the dependence on fixed and established forms is eliminated, the less jazz-like the result. Others would advocate free form as a natural evolution of the traditional jazz genre and, just like evolution, changes are still happening. Some see free form as taking jazz back to its beginnings, with its primal rhythms and noises. Most free form players readily acknowledge the debt they owe to jazz players of the past. Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Art Blakey, Sidney Bechet and Bix Beiderbecke all introduced more to the music. Bechet brought the soprano sax recognition as a solo instrument and Beiderbeckean improviser rather than a free form player as suchadded his own pure sound to the tunes. Free form players today even mention players of the '30s and '40s like Charles Mingus who spoke of, ''playing a pulse but not having to state time.''
Brötzmann, acknowledged as one of the founding fathers of free form playing, comments that:
''Improvised music is not Dixie or New Orleans or Be-bop but a thing which depends on people like Duke Ellington in the 20s and always depends on the person. Bebop was a process in the connections and influenced Rollins and others. Later musicians can always learn from the guys before.''
Brötzmann is grateful he got to play with some of the greats of previous times. You can celebrate youth, but looking back is part of the process and always, new developments are a consequence of what has gone before. Looking back is why we can turn our heads after all.
A little younger than Brötzmann, the Swedish Gustafsson acknowledges that the evolution of free form owes much to musicians of the past:
" What Beiderbecke was doing, along with Armstrong, Mingus, Ellington, Bird and others was to open things up but they were not free players by definition.''
Then he reconsiders and adds:
"They might have been free. Yes, they were."
Meaning that, for their time, they bucked the trend in what was accepted but had to avoid being too radical if they wanted to work, yet they also set the scene for players who followed.
On the subject of Beiderbecke, Brötzmann is quick to point out he was a German-American, but does not think he saw himself as playing against convention, though he definitely developed his own way. Bechet took the soprano sax, which until then had been a novelty instrument, and got it taken seriously.
Brötzmann, a man with his own definitive style of playing, initially insists he was not influenced by anyone directly but, after a bit more thought, adds that he was influenced by Bechet and Beiderbecke, learning from older guys just by observing and playing with some of them:
"Bechet and Beiderbecke just played. They had their own style and other players found themselves drawn in. As these movements of players who went a little against the grain grew, more players dared to improvise and later free form had the stage set for its true emergence. Without the few taking those small steps, free from would never have developed. It is hard to categories free form or pinpoint when it first really emerged. It naturally took a long time to develop. It did not suddenly 'appear' in the '60s. Players like Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk underwent a lifelong process until they got to somewhere they wanted to be musically, and it is still the same, whether you are a free form or traditional player. Evan Parker started playing his own way and developed his own free style over time. Sonny Rollins started as a teenager but is still playing his own stuff and in a style he has developed over six or seven decades."
"It does not make sense to jump on any fashionable movement one week and then another the next."
Ian Storrer comments: