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Fre-Formation

Free Form Evolution

By Published: July 13, 2012
Day concedes that if you are an aspiring jazz player and perhaps more if you are free form, improvising or experimental, it is a hard game and not easy. He advocates, "Seize every opportunity. Get good tools when you see them, take gigs whatever else is offered to you. Play with as many musicians as you can and be polygamous. Everyone plays their own way but it is also important to play with others. There are few prima donnas in jazz, and you will find musicians support each other. Experiment in all kinds of genres. You will not know what your own creativity is until you join a group. Then your creativity will be drawn out. It is hard to get gigs but don't let it put you off if you want to do something.''

Stephanie Portet of the Sunset-Sunside club in Paris, says that, in her opinion, the rising musicians play free form now—and it is the small venues which are the most important for this—but she does not believe a musician can live now by just playing jazz.

Parker notes, "There are always new faces arriving. The rewards of playing this way are too great for those hooked to be easily put off by the lack of interest or the lack of money."

Of the UK scene, Parker says it is, "amazingly strong and diverse and seems to thrive on adversity. The cultural authorities have been ignoring it for the past twenty years, hoping it would die of starvation, but they have not reckoned with the determination of people to follow their hearts."

So, are there younger players coming into the free form scene? Wilkinson believes there are."I would say there are definitely younger players coming to the scene on a regular basis, but age is a relative thing and I wouldn't describe any of them as youngsters. We are talking late twenties and thirties. Some of them are coming from jazz into free music. These tend not to be as 'free' as the less schooled players, carrying a lot of technical luggage with them. I wouldn't say it is a genre which is attractive to kids."

Sheppard echoes the thoughts of many when he says that musicians have a responsibility to make music for the world and it is important to take care of them. Players should play what they want but may have to compromise, sometimes, in order to take the audience with them."The listener is part of the equation," Sheppard says. "You may have a band but you have to play to people and relate to them. It is about being responsible. Put everything into it, whatever your style. Be truthful." He then adds playfully, "Play John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
!"

Whatever happens to free form—however it develops and wherever it is played—it remains a small but remarkably resilient genre. Established players like Parker, Brötzmann, Gustafsson and others continue to draw good-sized audiences and there is always going to be a cohort of listeners willing to consider new ways of playing and new philosophies in music. Some are drawn to its differences, some to its lack convention and some—the majority perhaps—because music, whether jazz, free from or classical, even, is one way to speak, communicate and make links with people. It is a language which knows no boundaries, borders, colors or learned correctness. It unites, divides and makes inroads into the mind. Free form, in particular, aims at that innermost part of the mind, the subconscious, and does not need to be defined; yet it has more true definition than the world of material possessions can ever have.

Payne, perhaps, sums it up when he comments, "I believe there is a divine music. It goes on; it's automatic, without anger, greed, lust, attachment and egoism. I think I experienced this once with a free music blow at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, and I hadn't been taking drugs; just mu tea and brown rice.'' With reference to Kenny G, Payne adds, "Personally, I like Pharoah Sanders
Pharoah Sanders
Pharoah Sanders
b.1940
saxophone
, Stan Getz , Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler
1936 - 1970
sax, tenor
and Lester Young
Lester Young
Lester Young
1909 - 1959
saxophone
. I also like a cream cake from time to time, but if I have too much I get a tummy ache. Now where's the alternative medicine?"

Free form players have that knack of producing—sometimes only fleetingly—a moment of sublime magic. I got hooked at Camden clubs by players whose names I cannot even remember now. I was young. For others, the moment comes later but when it does, it lifts the soul and does not let go. Suddenly you know how you want to play.

Free form is not limiting and you do not have to only play free form or have too much of a good thing, but however many small bites you take, you can always go back for more if the chances to listen to it remain. After all, it's a free world.

There is definitely a future—last night I listened to a saxophonist playing McGarry, Runswick and Rae. She played free, altering the tempos, timing and rhythms, and she mesmerized. This player—so small she needed a harness instead of a strap—was only 11!


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