The Beginnings of Free Form
While capturing free form on CD or vinyl remains difficult to master, live gigs are something else. From small gigs in places like Wood Green Art Centre in the late '60s, crowds have continued to tune into improvisation and free form music.
As far as experimenting is concerned, Day drily expressed that that some of his more offbeat developments had nothing to do with "experimenting," but came from practical considerations:
"Russell Hardy played really quietly but he was a great pianist. I was a drummer and very loud, so I and the audience were missing out on Hardy's great playing. To help with this I first shaved my drumsticks down. Even these proved too loud sometimes, so I played using knitting needles and that worked. People thought I was improvising and I was, but not for the reasons they assumed!"
Whatever the reasons, free form seemed to emerge during the 1960s, and whether you put this down to the political and world situation at the time or feel this was simply the next logical step in the evolution of jazz, free form was different; it was radical and pushed musical boundaries. Musicians and audiences welcomed it with open arms.
Brötzmann considers free form playing as vital and important, but acknowledges it is sometimes hard to go against what is popular and mainstream:
"In society, to do something against the mainstream you have to be aware that you have hard times to face and you have to decide for yourself which way to go."
Brötzmann accepted, from a young age, that when he decided to play free form he would take his own time and perhaps make very little money. He does not argue with making records to keep the cash flowing on occasion (he does it himself), but does not agree with making records in a "popular style" and then coming back to your own style. Brötzmann made his decision back in the '60s, but acknowledges that, for young people today, it is more difficult to plough their own furrow.
There are different pressures both financially and socially due to the changing social and economic scenes, but if you want to say something you have to, in Brötzmann's words:
"Use your own language. There is no other way to speak. If you switch styles you can corrupt your own language."
To young people, he adds:
"Just play, just do it, just try. If you fail you fail. If you succeed, you succeed; it should not matter but just do it."
And what does free form mean to the players? Brötzmann was an artist before he was a musician and sums up the differences:
"You can be an artist and a musician; it is the same person doing both. The difference is that music is not only a musical experience but a social one. You are playing with somebody else and the exchange of voices is the main thing. The difference to working in studios alone with a canvas and materials is that you are creating something together and sometimes you can get a feeling of, 'Yes, that was it,' which is very different to being in the studio where you make your own choices. Pictures can be thrown away or corrected but with music there is nothing to correct and you cannot take it back. It is more of a risk but it is great being on stage with people trying to create something good and maybe more. It is also about connecting with the audience. With music the audience is n front of you. I love that."
Gustafsson, on the other hand, says:
"Free form is a genreeven if you hate categorizations, but it is hard to avoid it if you are trying to discuss and define matters. In the whole history of jazz there has been a striving for freedom in one way or another to improvise music until we get to what you call free form and free jazz."
He is right (again).
Free form is a growing genre still; it has had its fallbacks and the lack of venues is having an effect, but the Fre-Formation series will explore the history, development and current scene as well as discussing where it is going.
Discussing what free form playing gives to musicians, they are adamant. Musicians like Brötzmann will tell you that playing is nothing to do with meditation or similar experiences but if you give 100 percent onstage and feel completely empty this is a process similar to meditation. One thing many players notice is how it is mainly women who are able to say they got "lost in the music," so perhaps they are more sensitive and tune into free form quicker than men? For musicians and the audience a performance is very personal and each gets out of it what they want.
Gustaffson's opinion is that:
"We do this to really become 'one' with the music and the ones you play with; to become in the same state of mind. It is really hard to describe but you know when it is happening, that is for sure. This interaction between people is something rather unique."
Gustaffson, in his wonderful direct way, sums up the situation with playing free form beautifully:
"The music is like life, only better!"