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Val Wilmer: Dues And Testimony

Ian Patterson By

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"I don't see myself as a historian of that music, free-jazz or whatever you want to call it. When it comes to that period I think I'm a sort of documenter. I'm a journalist, so it's a social history, without being sociological. Any analysis is very personal and subjective."

With the growth of academic research into all aspects of jazz, perhaps the time is ripe for more considered analysis of the free-jazz years, because there's no escaping the politics that surrounded it, feeding into and feeding off the music. Nor is there any escaping the affirmation of African ancestry in the rhythms, extensive use of African percussion and in the attire of many of the free-jazz practitioners. Most importantly, there's no denying the conceptual boldness of the free-jazz pioneers that questioned the hitherto accepted notions in jazz of melody, harmony and rhythm.

The reissue of Val Wilmer's As Serious As Your Life... may yet revive interest in free-jazz. It would be timely too, because, as Wilmer cautions, "the further off in time the fewer witnesses there are."

Wilmer bore eloquent witness to the free-jazz phenomenon for many years. Hopefully, someone else will follow her example and strive to better understand music that remains controversial to this day. An open mind will be essential. "If you only know your own world," says Wilmer, "how can you possibly know anything?"

Photo: John "Hoppy" Hopkins, courtesy of


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