Is Free Jazz really still free?

[4 June 2008]

By John Bohannon

This clip taken from a 1981 documentary titled Imagine the Sound is a rare document of one of the avant-garde world’s greatest piano players, Cecil Taylor. Most footage that has been released of Taylor is of him with one of his illustrious bands - known for blowing the hats of and outraging any devout be-bop player and/or critic. But the reason this video needs to be revealed is because it gets down to the very core of Free Jazz in it’s essence.

With Free Jazz, many times people will claim is just a series of random notes or a giant wall of noise. But in fact, its anything but these absurd claims. As not only jazz music, but other genres of music have seem to have lost the true meaning of “improvisation” - Taylor reminds them that it is a reaction to feeling and emotion. This is something that can’t be taught within our school systems and only those that stretch to understand it, will be satisfied with its rewarding attributes.

Watching Taylor from the director’s point of view above the piano shows him nearly talking to the piano. He’s having a conversation with it rather than just playing it - sometimes there are moments of silence, at others its as if the room just crowded and the conversation picked up. Unfortunately, the representatives of the jazz world in 2008 (see Wynton Marsalis) are taking us so many steps back, that jazz in the mainstream world is becoming obsolete - its being talked about like classical music is talked about, as if its an art form that can be taught in schools.

There are remaining soldiers out there such as David Ware, 8 Bold Souls, Matthew Shipp, and even some of the veterans such as Ornette Coleman, Anthony Braxton, and even Cecil Taylor himself. We must place them outside of the realm of the term “jazz” and bring them in with our alternative world. They should be playing with the slew of avant-rock bands out there creating a buzz, to an audience that would actually give them a chance. Free Jazz is still as free as it ever was, it just needs to take that freedom down a different road.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/is-free-jazz-really-still-free/