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Now, Free Jazz arose in the 1960s during the Civil Rights movement, so as African-American people were fighting for freedom on the street, they were also fighting for freedom in music. So even the name ‘Free Jazz’ is a politically loaded term. Now, this isn’t a history lesson so I’m not going to bore you with the details, but you should always keep historical context in mind when listening to any kind of music. And it’s also worth saying that some people doubt whether true atonality can really exist, because if you listen hard enough you can always hear some kind of tonality or tonal centre, even if it’s with frequent modulations. But that’s a matter of contention which isn’t worth getting into here. And so, the ultimate goal of Free Jazz is freedom of expression through free improvisation, and this was achieved by breaking musical rules. Not breaking them necessarily, but doing so whenever you wanted or whenever you felt like it. And interestingly Free Jazz is not completely free. Free Jazz musicians still employed tonal centers and thematic development in order to give some kind of structure to their song or improvisation. So perhaps complete freedom without any kind of structure is undesirable.
Now, Free Jazz is not easy to listen to and it’s not supposed to be. You have to really know what you’re listening to. Free Jazz is like conceptual art, the idea behind it is just as important as the music itself. It’s not like a Mozart song which just innately sounds pleasant. You really have to understand what you’re listening to in order to appreciate it. And sometimes it’ll sound like a cat walking on top of the piano, but other times it will sound very powerful and very emotive. Cool, that’s it from me. Thanks for watching and again, feel free to leave any questions or comments.
The album Free Jazz 1960 by alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman began with his small group soon to be followed by others like John Coltrane ,Eric Dolphy and Cecil Taylor creating free jazz….
they had showed the world that experimentation in Jazz was indeed there and the directions that could be taken were, to the say the least, fascinating.click here for a great review
FREE JAZZ AND ATONALITY EXPLAINED
Hey guys. So this video is going to be about Free Jazz. Now, Free Jazz, as the name implies, is all about freedom. The goal of Free Jazz is to allow greater freedom of expression through completely free improvisation. Now, each artist naturally expresses him or herself differently, and this is precisely why Free Jazz is in a notoriously difficult genre to define. It’s not about any particular characteristic or technique. Instead you can only define free jazz in the negative. Free Jazz is the systematic rejection of musical norms and established rules in favor of personal expression.
Now, the whole trend of Modern Jazz is towards greater freedom in improvisation, and the way this was done was by reducing the importance of chords. Now, this is because chords restrict your improvisation by forcing you to work within a given harmonic framework or chord progression. By reducing the importance of chords you free up your ability to improvise. So, your more traditional jazz, which is tonal, uses functional harmony, in a particular major or minor key, with a tonal centre.
There’s a strict chord progression which inevitably is leading you back to the tonic chord. Now, this restricts your improvisation. The goal of the soloist is simply to restate the chord changes by targeting guide tones and avoiding avoid notes, like playing a 2-5-1. Now, this led to the creation of Modal Jazz ,which is of course modal, and uses non-functional harmony, with or without a tonal centre (though usually with), but is still based within a diatonic mode.
Now, this allows the soloist greater freedom in improvisation because there are no more guide tones or avoid notes. The goal of the improviser is to create an interesting melody within a given mode or scale. So while you have more freedom to improvise than in tonality, because you disregard the chord progression, you’re still restricted to a particular mode, like D Dorian. So, then the next logical extension of this trend was the creation of Free Jazz, which is often atonal, but not necessarily so, with or without a tonal centre, and is not in any particular diatonic key. Instead, you can say that it’s chromatic. So this allows the soloist almost complete freedom in improvisation because you don’t have to worry about chords or keys or modes anymore. The soloist can literally play any of the 12 notes in any order. All of the notes are equal and there are no guide tones or avoid notes like in tonal music, or even character tones like in modal music. Now, different Free Jazz musicians approached this idea in different ways and I’ll cover some of these in this video.
Now, it’s also worth mentioning that 20th Century Classical music also made use of atonality. After a brief period of free atonality in the early nineteen hundreds, classical composers, like Schoenberg, created a very rigid and structured and academic way of playing atonally, which was called Twelve Tone Serialism. Now, the goal of Twelve Tone Serialism was to create music that completely lacked any sense of tonality. Now the way you do this was to use each of the twelve notes or ‘pitch classes’ without repeating any, in such a way that no tonality is established.
Now you can google Twelve Tone Serialism yourself, I’m not going to cover it here because this lesson is about Jazz, not Classical music. But I mention it because Jazz is far less academic about atonality. The high degree of structure found in serialism is not found in Jazz. Now this is probably because it’s too difficult to improvise using such rigid and complex rules and because it completely defeats the purpose and the point of Free Jazz, which is to have more freedom in improvisation. There’s no point breaking all rules just to create new ones.
So in Free Jazz, you don’t have to play atonally, if you want you can play totally. You’re allowed to, that’s perfectly fine. But you don’t have to. It’s entirely up to you. But, of course, Free Jazz is about more than just playing atonally. As I mentioned in the beginning, Free Jazz is the systematic rejection of musical norms and there are plenty of other musical norms to reject. And the way you do this is just by putting the prefix ‘poly’ or ‘a’ in front of everything.
So, for example, traditional songs are usually tonal, so Free Jazz is generally polytonal – so the use of two or more keys simultaneously – or atonal – that is, the use of no fixed key at all. Traditional songs usually have one fixed set tempo, so Free Jazz can be polytempic – that is, the simultaneous use of two or more tempi – or atempic – that is, there is no fixed tempo, there’s a constant slowing down and speeding up. Although in practice Free Jazz is generally played at 1 fixed tempo, but it doesn’t have to be. Traditional songs also follow some kind of rhythmic pattern, so Free Jazz can be polyrhythmic – that is, the use of two or more conflicting rhythms at the same time, like playing triplets over duplets. Traditional songs are also generally written in a single meter or time signature – that is, they’re either and 3/4 time or 4/4 time. Now, a time signature is just a regular accenting of a particular beat. For example, in 3/4 time you would access every third beat.
So 1-2-3-1-2-3, or in 4/4 time you can access the 1 and the 3 or the 2 and the 4, so 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4 So then, Free Jazz can have polymeter – that is, the simultaneous use of two or more meters, so like playing in 3/4 in your left hand but 4/4 with your right hand – or in ameter – that is, not having any kind of regular meter or accenting of notes. And again, in practice, Free Jazz generally has a regular pulse but no regular meter. So it still has a beat that you can tap your foot to, but no beat is accented any more than any other beat. Traditional songs also generally have a standard and fixed song form. For example a 12-bar blues or a 32 AABA form. Now Free Jazz may or may not have an obvious form. It may have 8 bar sections that you can label AABA, or it may have 8 and a half bar sections or it could have no bars at all with no discernible sections.
When performing traditional music most musicians practice and learn a song before their performance, whereas Free Jazz is often designed to be spontaneous, so musicians may not have rehearsed beforehand. And traditional songs are also generally symmetrical and smooth, whereas Free Jazz is often asymmetrical and disjointed with irregular phrases or irregular rhythms or irregular melodies. Eric Dolphy, for example, who is a Free Jazz musician, was a big fan of using large interval jumps in his solos.
So do things like [music]. Although he played the clarinet, I think, rather than piano, but you get the general idea. So right, you name it, if a musical norm existed Free Jazz musicians wanted to break it. Now, it’s worth discussing how various jazz musicians approached atonality. So first let’s look at John Coltrane. Now, in songs like ‘India’ he took non-functional chords, like are found in Modal Jazz, but improvised over them using a lot of chromaticism. So he wasn’t just playing in a single mode. In fact, he played outside the mode more often than he played inside the mode, so the whole modal framework, kind of, collapsed. The mode just, kind of, functioned as a starting point from which to depart into atonality. He also often created noise rather than sound by doing things like overblowing his saxophone. So you don’t get a nice smooth note anymore, you get a harsh and distorted squeal, or wail, or shriek, which just sounds like noise. So go listen to that song and hear for yourself, but essentially by using non-functional chords, and by playing kind of Modal type chord progressions, it, kind of, gives you a reference point from which you then go into atonality.
Right, or something like that. So I was just playing non-functional quartal chords in my left hand, like you would find in any modal jazz song, and then improvising using all 12 notes in my right hand. And without establishing any kind of tonality or modality. Right, listening to that improvisation you can’t tell me that that was in, for example, D Dorian. I was using a lot of notes outside of the mode and jumping around with big, sort of, angular and disjointed intervals that failed to create any, kind of, sense of tonality. But then, in his later album ‘Ascension’, Coltrane moved more towards using collective improvisation.
Now next, let’s look at Ornette Coleman.
Now, his album ‘The Shape of Jazz to Come’ went one step further and he simply got rid of chords altogether. So, historically, the piano was part of the rhythm section of a jazz band. It was in charge of establishing the harmony and the tempo by Comping. So Coleman got rid of the piano and instead he just had a saxophone, trumpet, bass and drums.
So there was no instrument in charge of playing chords. So by removing all the chords, the soloist was free to literally play anything, because there is no harmony to adhere to. But, interestingly, even though he got rid of chords, Coleman still retained a tonal centre, which was played as a kind of pedal point in the bass. So, this tonal centre or ‘focal tone’ acts like a kind of base from which to explore atonality. So, if we pedal point the note D, you could start at the base, that is the note D. Then go and explore, and then return back to base, which kind of grounds the solo and gives you a reference point. And then you can go explore and improvised again. Right, if there are no chords, there’s no underlying harmony, and no key. So you’re free to play literally whatever you like. Now, Coleman is generally credited with creating Free Jazz and, in fact, the name of the genre was taken from his album ‘Free Jazz’, which is just a long collective improvisation.
He also came up with the theory of ‘Harmolodics’, which is essentially the idea that all musical elements, that is, harmony, melody, speed, rhythm, time, phrasing, they’re all equal and none should take precedence over any other. So, for example, the melody or the improvisation should not be constrained by the harmony or the tempo, any more than the chords should be constrained by the melody or the meter of the song. Now, the last person I wanted to discuss was Cecil Taylor. Now he’s a Free Jazz pianist who abandoned the Modal framework used by Coltrane and the Tonal Centres used by Coleman and instead he made wide use of tone clusters to avoid playing in any particular key or tonal centre. Now, a tone cluster is just playing three or more neighboring notes at once. So you could have a chromatic tone cluster by playing chromatically neighboring notes.
Or a diatonic tone cluster by playing diatonically neighboring notes, like CDE, in the scale of C major. Or you could have pentatonic tone clusters which played neighboring notes from a pentatonic scale, for example, the C pentatonic scale. Now, all tone clusters are classified as ‘secundal chords’, that is, chords built out of seconds. Either a minor second a major second or a augmented second. But, essentially a tone cluster is just a fancy academic word for mashing the keys. Now tone clusters create a strong atonal dissonance and can create the illusion of bending a string, which is obviously impossible on the piano. So, for example, playing an F and an F sharp together can give the illusion that you’re playing a micro-tone, so like F and a half sharp.
So you should go have a listen to Cecil Taylor improvising in a Free Jazz manner, because it really is something else. But essentially, he did a lot of this type of stuff. Cool, and so this is what I meant when I said that Free Jazz is quite hard to classify. Three different free jazz musicians use three different approaches to free improvisation and atonality. That is, the modal, the tonal centered and the tone clustered. And all of which are classified as Free Jazz. Now, getting rid of tonality and chords creates two problems.
Firstly, you lose the structure and form of the song and secondly you lose that sense of motion that chords provide. Now, despite the rejection of musical forms and chords, Free Jazz is not completely formless. All music, in order to be music rather than just noise, requires some kind of structure. And so Free Jazz musicians created a new way of structuring music. So improvisation was not just left to pure chance, this is not aleatoric music. So, Free Jazz removed chords in order to focus on melody, so it makes sense that they also structured songs around melody. Now, this idea is called thematic or motivic development. So you take a motif and then you change it, you transform it, you invert it, you retrograde it, you diminish it, you augment it, and then you keep changing it and changing again. Then you might play a different motif and play that one and change that, and change further and further, then go back to your first motif and change that one, and so on.
So your first motif could be something like this [music] and then you change it to [music] and then you change it again [music] and then you play a different motif [music] and then you go back to that first motif again but then change it slightly more [music] then go back to the second motif but change it [music]. So improvisation, despite being free, was often quite structured. So then, you’re allowed to play whatever you want, but once you’ve played something and created that motif you can then structure your entire composition around that idea or motif. So then, by rejecting harmonic structure, Free Jazz musicians instead used melodic structure as the basis for their songs. Now functional harmony is also what creates a sense of motion and movement in music. That is movement towards the tonic. But that little chord progression feels like it’s, kind of, moving forward towards the tonic. Now, without this functional harmony the music feels like it’s not really going anywhere. Now, that’s fine. Many Modal songs just, kind of, floating around. But if you want to create a sense of forward motion in place of functional harmony you need other techniques to create that sense of movement.
And an idea used in Free Jazz to create exactly that sense of music is that of ‘energy’. And this concept of ‘energy’ essentially involves the variation of all other musical elements. That is, your timber, your rhythm, your tempo, your meter, your dynamics, the register you’re playing in, the density, the dissonance. So then you can increase energy by playing louder, faster, higher, staccato, or play more notes. And then moving from low energy to high energy and then back to low energy again creates that sense of motion. For example [music] Right, I increase the energy by increasing the volume, and the register, and playing a bit more staccato, playing more notes. And then I decreased it again by slowing it down and bring it back down here. And that created a kind of sense of movement from low to high, back to low, in place of that functional harmony.
Now, it’s easy to play while ignoring chords. But chances are if you do that it’s gonna sound terrible. It’ll sound like you’re making mistakes. So what then is the difference between Free Jazz and a cat walking across a piano? So, the answer to that question is that: firstly, Free Jazz has that non-harmonic structure. That is, it has melodic structure and it has the increase and the decrease of energy. Whereas, a cat walking across a piano is, kind of, missing that structural element. And secondly, Free Jazz improvisation also requires conviction and emotion. You need to play something strong and convincing to replace the chords. You have to play confidently. You have to play like you know what you’re doing and you’re doing it intentionally. And that really is the big difference.
You have to believe what you’re playing and want to be playing those wrong notes. Whereas, again, a cat walking across a piano doesn’t really have any feeling or conviction or emotion behind the notes it’s accidentally stepping on. So, Free Jazz often tries to capture an emotion or a scene. That is, it’s often expressionistic or impressionistic. And this is generally stated in the title of the song. For example, a song called ‘Peace’ is about peace. A song called ‘Lonely Woman’ is about a lonely woman.
And so the song and the improvisation should sound different depending on what mood or emotion or picture you’re trying to paint. Free Jazz improvisation over a song called ‘Sadness’ should sound different to Free Jazz improvisation over a song called ‘Energetic Puppies’. And Free Jazz also often involves the establishment and the demolition of beauty. Sort of, creating that contrast, playing something very melodic, and then destroying that melodic beauty with something really jarring and unpleasant. Now, some of the techniques and ideas that underlie and characterize Free Jazz are: firstly, the rejection of strict chord progressions or even chords completely; the rejection of formalism and the embrace of expressionism and impressionism. That is, the idea that melody and timber is more important than harmony; the content and emotion is greater than form. As i mentioned before, there’s the technique of using tone clusters or the idea of harmonics. And Free Jazz musicians were often interested in creating new sounds from their instruments, so doing things like overblowing or playing microtones or things like that.
So creating noise rather than sound. And creating really conversational melody lines and sounds so that the instrument actually sounds like it’s speaking words rather than playing notes. In fact, Ornette Coleman sometimes played a trumpet or violin, neither of which he actually knew how to play properly, but instead he, kind of, used them to produce sounds and rhythms without necessarily producing notes.
Free Jazz musicians would also often use extended techniques, that is, unusual techniques for a particular instrument. So on the piano, for example, you could do open palm smashes, or elbow attacks, or forearm rolls, or knuckle rolls. Right, all to create different sounds and different tone clusters. The Free Jazz musicians also sometimes used unusual instruments. And underlying the idea of Free Jazz was the idea of ‘Primitivism’, that is, the idea that Jazz was returning back to its roots, to the uneducated out-of-tune folk music, the call-and-response, in the raw emotion of Blues and early Jazz, before it was, kind of, made academic and commercial and Europeanised with the concept of, you know, formal harmony and keys and right and wrong notes and things like that. The African-American slaves in the eighteen hundreds didn’t have any kind of formal musical training or education and yet they still managed to create the Blues, which was all about emotion.
And it didn’t have to be in tune, or stick to strictly 12 bars, or be in 4/4 time. And, in fact, who after having their heart broken sings in tune? Right, it’s all about emotion. It’s not about, sort of, academic keys and formulas and theory. So Free Jazz, in that sense, is supposed to be just you pouring your heart out, playing what’s in your soul. Now, Free Jazz also employed collective improvisation, that is, everyone in the band was improvising at the same time with no set key, tempo, or harmony. And Free Jazz made extensive use of this collective improvisation, which again, was a throwback to early Dixieland Jazz, which also used collective improvisation – though generally in a particular key. And this is supposed to be a, kind of, ultimate self expression of music. Just a bunch of musicians playing whatever they want but constantly listening to each other and reacting to each other.
And ultimately, as I mentioned before, Free Jazz is about complete freedom of expression through completely free improvisation above all else. Now, it’s hard to give you an example of Free Jazz, as I can’t really do collective improvisation by myself. But I can play Ornette Colemans most famous and best-known song, which is entitled ‘Lonely Woman’. Right, so as you can see that had no chords. It just had a D tonal centre, pedal point in the bass.
The melody is largely in the key of D minor but with quite a few chromatics thrown in. So again, the D is like a base from which to explore. There’s a steady and constant rhythm but there’s no meter. That is there is no regular accent of beats. You couldn’t tell if that was in 3/4 or 4/4 or 5/4 time. And the melody doesn’t seem to quite fit over the accompaniment in terms of tempo and phrasing. Now, that D Pedal Point is just a tonal centre. Because there’s no third or seventh we don’t know if it’s a major or a minor chord, and that’s really up to the melody. If the melody plays F-sharp, it sounds like D Major. If it plays an F natural, it sounds like D minor. So the left head isn’t really playing a chord, its left open the possibility for the melody to imply some kind of chord over that D pedal point.
And you can’t really tell where the bar lines are. The melody just, kind of, floats ambiguously around that constant rhythm. And if you go back and listen to the actual recording, the melody is played an octave apart but it’s not quite played in unison. Occasionally, there’s a, kind of, delay. Now, in the actual song there’s also a steady drumbeat that keeps the whole thing moving forward; and the bass doesn’t just play a D pedal point, it also plays a, sort of, counter melody over the top. But all of that is, of course, quite hard to replicate on the piano just by myself. So you really should go and have a listen to the actual song, the actual recording, to see what it actually sounds like. Now, it’s also worth giving you a little bit of context about Free Jazz and atonality, as it really does help you understand the genre a bit better.
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