Free Form Evolution
On this, saxophonist Ken Vandermark says, ''I think it's necessary to start by trying to define the terms and vocabulary being used. Personally, I don't think that labels like 'free form,' 'free improvisation,' or 'free jazz' are very helpful. In the case of free jazz, if the title was applied in a similar fashion to the category of music known as bebop, it might have some practical value, at least designating a period and style of music within a set of understandable parameters. Instead, the term 'free jazz' is used to 'define' everything from Ornette Coleman's music from the early 1960s to Joe Morris' music of 2012more than half a century of varied activity by artists all over the globe. The term in this case defines nothing. The same is true for the way 'free form' and 'free improvisation' are generally utilized. Are they descriptions of a type of musical activity, or a style of music and, if a style, from what period? What does the word 'free' actually implyfreedom from structure, or the replacement of one kind of structure with another? [Music is organized sound. Its organization, whether spontaneous or pre-determined, indicates structural ramifications.] Until there are some specific definitions in terminology, the discussion about contemporary jazz and improvised music will remain hyper-subjective and confused. A clear set of vocabulary has to be developed; the term 'free form' is not clear."
Today, musicians have the freedom to develop free playing to a far greater extent than the pioneers of the'50s and '60s. Some play completely free, others improvise, whilst others still experiment with scales, rhythms and tempossometimes all in the same piece! Like Vandermark says, it is hard to define something which now transcends such a timeframe and range of styles.
Yet, just as it appears to have the chance to develop at a greater pace than ever before, free form is becoming limited by the grinding wheels of commercialism. Players have seen massive changes in their musical freedoms and our times have seen a huge drop in venues willing or able to support free form musicians playing to small but loyal audiences.
In these economy-driven times, some venues shy away from any form of improvised or experimental music-making, preferring instead to offer customers something they know, does what it says on the tin and gives them music they expect. This attitude stifles the evolution of music of any form but free playing most of all. A few venues remain supportive but in others, managers remain steadfastly indifferent to music which threatens their sense of what is established, what draws people in and they feel the need to offer people what they expect and know. The motivation is money, not the music.