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Free Jazz Versus Free Improvisation

Dom Minasi By

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I will not mention names, but when a journalist calls some musicians jazz musicians, they are dead wrong. There is no jazz in their playing and that's what's wrong with the Jazz Critic Polls at the end of the year. Many of the players are not jazz players. They need to be put in another category such as Improvised Music or The Improvisers Club.

Can Free-Form Jazz and Improvisation be tasteless? Oh yeah! That is why so many of the straight-ahead players of today dislike it and put down the musicians who play it. It took many years for the likes of Schoenberg and other 20th century composers to be accepted and although free form has been around for a long time now, it is still not accepted in the world of jazz. Some free jazz musicians have an elitist attitude and it reflects in their demeanor and the way they present themselves and the music, which makes it not about the music, but more about their egos and themselves.

As I stated earlier, taste or musicality is an essential part of any performance whether it is blues, bebop or free. There is also another component to mention. Free jazz emerged during the loft scene in New York City during the sixties. It was a time of turmoil. Civil rights, the Vietnam War, drugs all culminated into a very angry time and free jazz reflected that time and it is still thought of as angry music by many, but like all things it has evolved and changed. Listen to Joe McPhee and Trio X. There's no anger there, just beauty, and there are many free jazz players out there who reflect that beauty in their playing.

Because of its unacceptance here in the US, free-jazz players have a hard time making a living. In order to perform, they are playing for the door or on passing-the-hat type of gigs, which is demeaning. Record companies only put out completed masters recorded and paid for by the musicians, who have to buy back at least one hundred CDs. It is a win-win for the record companies and a lose-lose for the musicians, but that's another story. (See my two-part article: What's The Point)

Is free-form jazz different than free-form improvisation? I say it depends on who is playing it. Can free form musicians play with free jazz players? Most certainly yes, but the key ingredient is listening. If you don't listen and play off of one another, you are playing for yourselves, which is all ego-induced and does not make it musical.

I can't stress enough that musical creativity is the answer to acceptance of free music. John Coltrane was the first to make avant-garde jazz popular, if only for a short time, but he was able to do it because his playing had evolved to that point and you could hear it in his early recordings straight through to the end of his life, but throughout his career he was, above all, musical!

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