Free jazz is what happened when the jazz pioneers of the 50's and 60's became fed up with the rigidity of previous jazz forms and pushed on the envelope. This expanded the musical definitions of jazz in very imaginative ways. Free jazz is still evolving as musicians continue to move forward with new ideas and technologies.
Popular figures in Free jazz:
John Coltrane - Coltrane's passion for experimentation led him to come up with the three-on-one "sheets of sound" method of playing three notes at a time on his sax. Once he said about Miles Davis, "Miles gave me plenty of freedom." Coltrane used this freedom to push the limits of jazz.
Ornette Coleman - Winner of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in music, Ornette Coleman is a living institution. His 1960 recording Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation, featuring two quartets recorded in stereo, was one of the most controversial jazz records of the time.
Bill Dixon - Trumpeter and recipient of the BMI Jazz Pioneer Award, Dixon is not only a great player and improvisor, he's also a distinguished professor who has contributed greatly to the study and analysis of jazz. He is one of four principals featured in a 90-minute documentary film on the avant-garde music of the '60s called Imagine the Sound.
Matthew Shipp - A leading avant-garde piano player, Shipp was quoted as saying, "I have no influences. I existed together with God and the piano before time began and my piano playing is the direct result of the fact that my mind and the cosmic mind that sustains the universe are in harmony. So, when I play, I intercept electro magnetic frequencies directly from the mind of God and can convert them into lyrical phrases on the piano. If at any time it sounds like another pianist its because the universe is one organism and there is one underlining language field so what I articulate on piano can resemble what another part of the one cosmic brain would articulate on the piano."
Eric Dolphy - An inventive alto player who used human and animal-like sounds to make his instrument sound like it was speaking as he sprayed out avant-garde improvisations. Dolphy performed with both Mingus and Coltrane and evolved into an excellent band leader.
David S. Ware - An alto, tenor, and baritone sax player, Ware learned circular breathing by practicing with Sonny Rollins in New York during the 60's and played often at the Five Spot and the Village Vanguard. His free form style has influenced many up and coming sax players, as has his group, Apogee.
Chico Hamilton - Played drums in numerous jazz combos, especially in the 50's and 60's that helped define the instrumental makeup of jazz ensembles. He played with dozens of the best jazz musicians of all time, including Mingus, Charles Lloyd, Paul Horn, Buddy Collette, Gabor Szabo, as well as Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and Count Basie. Chico received the New School University Jazz & Contemporary Music Programs Beacons in Jazz Award in recognition for his "significant contribution to the evolution of Jazz."
Lennie Tristano - One of the great innovators and improvisors of jazz, pianist Tristano's use of harmonic language, polytonal effects, and counterpoint transformed jazz into contemporary classical music.
Popular figures in Free jazz continued:
Charles Mingus - Jazz composer and bassist, Mingus was one of the most important figures in twentieth century music. Performing and recording with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Bud Powell, Art Tatum and Duke Ellington, Mingus was also a fine piano player and leader among musicians. His recordings, some of which included The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, Pithecanthropus Erectus, Mingus Ah Um, The Clown, and Tijuana Moods, are a testimonial to his brilliance and stellar contribution to Jazz.
Sun Ra - A spacy and colorful character, named after the Egyptian god of the sun, Ra conducted his "Arkestra" which was made up of many lineups over the years. He made extensive use of electronic keyboards and was a pioneer of space music and free improvisation.
Cecil Taylor - Pianist Taylor has composed and played some of the most challenging and creative music in jazz. An extremely strong and energetic player, Taylor often employed the use of tone clusters and poly rhythms in his music. Born in 1929, Cecil Taylor is also an accomplished poet.
Archie Shepp - In 1990 Archie, a master of the tenor saxophone, said, "Negro music and culture are intrinsically improvisational, existential. Nothing is sacred." Shepp experimented with the various forms of his African American musical heritage, including jazz, traditional spirituals and blues, and original compositions, in combonations ranging from duos to his Attica Blues Big Band.
Albert Ayler - Jazz critics always had trouble pigeon-holing tenor sax player Ayler's music, but as a musician playing with the likes of Don Chaney, John Coltraine, Ornette Coleman, and Cecil Taylor, Ayler was in the thick of the development of Free jazz and was always known for thinking outside of the box.
Jeanne Lee - A talented singer and music educator who chose to focus her artistic energies on the challenging demands of avant-garde jazz, rather than more popular jazz forms. Although she could sing standard jazz arrangements, she became one of the most predominant Free jazz vocalists using techniques such as improvisational scat singing and free voice. She appeared on the recordings of such diverse composers as John Cage, Rashaan Roland Kirk, and Anthony Braxton.
Sonny Sharrock - A jazz guitarist who performed with Miles Davis, Herbie Mann, Wayne Shorter, and Pharoah Sanders, Sharrock was known for is sax-like lead lines played forcebly on guitar. He, in fact, wanted to play sax but was prevented from doing so because of asthma attacks. He was part of an improvisational band in the 80's called Machine Gun.
Evan Parker - A member of the infamous Brotherhood of Breath band, Evan Parker developed "methods of rapidly layering harmonics and false notes to create dense contrapuntal weaves; these involved experiments with plastic reeds, circular breathing and rapid tonguing which initially were so intense that he would find blood dripping onto the floor from the saxophone," according to Wikipedia.
Paul Carman - A Los Angeles-based sax player who got his start performing and touring with Frank Zappa. He now leads an improvisational group called ESP and another experimental project called Triobits. Paul is the currator of the annual Aroma Jazz Festival in Idyllwild, CA.