A history of Jazz Music

by Piero Scaruffi
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TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.
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(These are excerpts from my book "A History of Jazz Music")

Free jazz: the disciples

The second generation of free-jazz musicians were, generally speaking, less interested in innovation and more interested in expressing meaning. Their art typically embodied a theory of the world, and tried to explain it in sounds. The emphasis kept shifting from jazz as a discipline of how to play instruments (or, worse, a device to help night clubs sell alcohol) to jazz as a lyrical discipline of how to represent the human condition in music.

Arkansas-raised tenor saxophonists Sam Rivers, who had studied at a conservatory of music, represented the highbrow alter-ego of Ornette Coleman's free jazz.
Relocating in 1964 to New York, Rivers debuted with Fuchsia Swing Song (december 1964), featuring a quartet with teenage drummer Tony Williams, pianist Jaki Byard and bassist Ron Carter, that was poised halfway between hard bop and free jazz. Rivers struck an unlikely balance within each piece, particularly Luminous Monolith and Downstairs Blues Upstairs, that do not seem to belong any known genre except that they evoke everything from blues to swing to free. Even in relatively straightforward tracks such as Ellipsis and Fuchsia Swing Song Rivers compensated for the simpler material with a style that was an elegant (if somewhat stiff and highbrow) synthesis of styles. The dynamic range was further broadened on Contours (may 1965), featuring a quintet with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Joe Chambers. The five players engaged in some of the most cerebral counterpoint of the era in four lengthy tracks: the nine-minute Point of Many Returns, the ten-minute Dance of the Tripedal, the twelve-minute Euterpe, the nine-minute Mellifluous Cacophony. The sophisticated, austere, atonal Rivers persona came out vividly on the six compositions of Dimensions And Extensions (march 1967), for a sextet with Donald Byrd (trumpet), James Spaulding (alto saxophone, flute), Julian Priester (trombone), Cecil McBee (bass) and Steve Ellington (drums). While a lot less "humane" than John Coltrane or Ornette Coleman, Rivers was no less bold and innovative. In fact, he added the sensibility of the European avantgarde to the creative furor of free jazz. His progression towards a more abstract sound culminated in the 48-minute live improvisation of Streams (july 1973), that basically wed the painful exuberance of free jazz with the surgical explorations of the classical avantgarde. He employed a 64-piece orchestra for Crystals (march 1974), his most ambitious and complex work, that at times (Exultation, Tranquillity, Orb) achieved a degree of intricacy unparalleled in any musical genre, each instrument delving into labyrinthine patterns and asynchronous soliloquies. Due to budget constraints, Rivers would not be able to continue the "orchestral" experiment until Inspiration (september 1998) and Culmination (september 1998).
Another facet of Rivers' art surfaced when he formed a trio with British bassist Dave Holland and drummer Barry Altschul, documented on The Quest (march 1976) and Paragon (april 1977). He also recorded Waves (august 1978) and Contrasts (december 1979) for quartet, and at least the duets with Alexander von Schlippenbach on Tangens (november 1997) are noteworthy, but Rivers' talent was fundamentally crippled by a record industry that was not willing to invest in large-ensemble recordings. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Atlanta-raised alto saxophonist Marion Brown, who relocated to New York in 1965 and almost right away, still an unknown, played on John Coltrane's Ascension, rapidly became one of the most radical but also most romantic of the free improvisers. His Quartet (november 1965), featuring two basses (Ronnie Boykins and Reggie Johnson), drums (Rashied Ali) and either trumpet (Alan Shorter) or tenor-saxophone (Bennie Maupin), was one of the most forceful free session of the age, the natural successor to Coltrane's masterpiece. The 22-minute Capricorn Moon and the 18-minute Exhibition displayed two sides of his art, but both were characterized by a unique skill to mix the visceral and the lyrical. Juba Lee (november 1966), recorded with Boykins' bass replaced by trombonist Grachan Moncur III, Ali replaced by drummer Beaver Harris, and the notable addition of pianist Dave Burrell, was slightly less effervescent but more intimate music (512e12, Juba-Lee, Iditus). Why Not (october 1966) was also a transitional work, highlighted by Brown's skills as a composer of ballads and by the elegance of the quartet (pianist Stanley Cowell, Rashied Ali and bassist Norris "Sirone" Jones) in interpreting them (La Sorella, Fortunata, Homecoming). Three for Shepp (december 1966) was, de facto, a faithful continuation of Archie Shepp's Four For Trane (three of the six tracks were Shepp compositions). Acclaimed by the jazz pundits, it was actually the least original or Brown's albums. His compositional skills are much more evident on Porto Novo (december 1967), particularly in Porto Novo (a trio with bassist Maarten van Regteben Altena and percussionist Han Bennink) and the otherworldly And Then They Danced (a duo with trumpeter Leo Smith). The lyrical, nostalgic and melancholy aspect of Brown's art fully blossomed on Afternoon of a Georgia Faun (august 1970). An extended line-up, centered around Brown on alto, Anthony Braxton on all sorts of wind instruments, Bennie Maupin on three more winds, Chick Corea on piano, Andrew Cyrille on drums, Jack Gregg on bass, Jeanne Lee and Gayle Palmore on vocals, and everybody alternating at several percussion instruments, Djinji's Corner may have been only a pretext for virtuoso exhibition (particularly of Lee, possibly the greatest jazz vocalist of all time), but the pastoral Afternoon of a Georgia Faun marked a departure in Brown's art: free jazz as a music of tender feeling. This was the counterpart to Coltrane's spirituality, a return to greener pastures by the intrepid voyager. Brown pursued his newly-found soul with Geechee Recollections (june 1973), dedicated to his childhood and containing Karintha and three-part Tokalokaloka, and highlighted by mesmerizing alto and trumpet (Leo Smith) work, with Sweet Earth Flying (may 1974), that juxtaposed his sentimental alto with the keyboards of Muhal Richard Abrams and Paul Bley and was divided between the five-part Sweet Earth Flying and the four-part Eleven Light City,
Unlike most of his colleagues, who recorded too much, Brown recorded too little. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Philadelphia-raised tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp cut his teeth in Cecil Taylor's quartet (1960-62) and with Bill Dixon (1962), and then (1963) joined the New York Contemporary Five, a quintet with Don Cherry on cornet and John Tchicai on alto saxophone that implemented the principles of Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz (1960) on their Consequences (october 1963), particularly Consequences (the only track with Cherry). Shepp played on John Coltrane's Ascension (1965) and became one of the first saxophonists to take Coltrane's new style literally. Four tracks of Four For Trane (august 1964) were Coltrane compositions, performed by Shepp, trombonist Roswell Rudd, Tchicai, Coltrane's bassist Reggie Workman and Coleman's drummer Charles Moffett.
Shepp's festival of dissonance, Fire Music (march 1965), was no less revolutionary than Coltrane's masterpiece. In fact, it was even wilder and harsher, like a volcanic eruption of notes that superficially defied any logic, although at the end they left a sense of cathartic rebirth. Only two pieces were by Shepp, Hambone and Los Olvidados, but they both displayed innovative elements, the former relying on minimalist-like horns and the latter painting an abstract soundscape. Shepp was even more convincing on On This Night (august 1965), accompanied by vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and a rotating cast of bassists and drummers, at least in his On This Night and Mac Man. Shepp used free jazz as a pretext to build up a dramatic style of saxophone playing, that was closer in spirit to rhythm'n'blues than to bebop or swing. He never really settled on a stable group, save a quintet with Rudd documented on Three for a Quarter One for a Dime (february 1966).
Shepp was clearly much more influenced than Coltrane by contemporary black politics and by the African heritage. The drawback of Shepp's art is that, no matter how original, it never sounded quite as sincere and profound as Coltrane's. Where Coltrane was simply his own creation, largely independent of the times, Shepp seemed more prone to follow (whether free jazz or "Black Power" or Afrocentrism) than to lead. There were more authentic free-jazz players, there were more sincere jazz politicians, and there were more fervent Afrocentric musicians; but probably noone else came close to fusing all three elements into one organic body of art as he did.
This socio-musical-philosophical fusion peaked with the three-part suite A Portrait of Robert Thomson (dedicated to revisitations of blues, gospel and jazz) and with the Middle-eastern Basheer on Mama Too Tight (august 1966), again performed by a rotating cast of avantgarde musicians. The African element became explicit with the 18-minute The Magic of Ju-Ju for African percussion instruments and tenor saxophone on The Magic of Ju-Ju (april 1967). After The Way Ahead (january 1968), his first recording with a pianist, that sounded like a partial retreat, Shepp penned the 20-minute Yasmina A Black Woman on Yasmina (august 1969), accompanied by three members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and assorted percussionists. After another half-hearted effort, Kwanza (mostly february 1969), possibly his best ensemble ever (vocalist Jeanne Lee, trumpeter Lester Bowie, pianist Dave Burrell, bassist Malachi Favors, drummer Philly Joe Jones) helped him deliver the more meditational performances of Blase', My Angel and Tuareg on Blase' (august 1969). Shepp played soprano on Black Gypsy (november 1969), basically divided into two suites (not composed by him), Black Gipsy and Epitaph of a Small Winner, but that great season was rapidly winding down. He seemed increasingly less interested in jazz (whether "free" or not) and more interested in rhythm'n'blues and funk music. This phase culminated in the more conventional and heavily-arranged "songs" of Attica Blues (january 1972) and The Cry Of My People (september 1972), quite a repudiation of free jazz. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

From the very beginning, Los Angeles-raised Don Cherry displayed an anti-virtuoso attitude that contrasted with the ruling dogmas of jazz music. Cherry shunned both acrobatic exhibitions and radical experiments in favor of humility and pathos (thus appealing more to the rock crowd than to the jazz crowd). His style focused on the idiosyncratic timbres of his pocket trumpet and on languid phrases that evoked ancestral worlds via the abstraction of exotic styles, predating Jon Hassell's "fourth world" music (and the whole world-music bandwagon) by more than a decade.
His first major statement was The Avant-Garde (july 1960) with John Coltrane on sax, Charlie Haden on bass and Ed Blackwell on drums. When Cherry left the memorable Ornette Coleman quartet that had recorded Something Else, The Shape of Jazz to Come and Free Jazz, he joined the New York Contemporary Five, a quintet with Archie Shepp on tenor and John Tchicai on alto saxophone that implemented the principles of Free Jazz on their Consequences (november 1963).
Cherry's new musical and philosophical direction was dramatically different (especially for someone who always professed to abide by Coleman's "harmolodic" principles). He assembled a quartet with Argentinian tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri, drummer Ed Blackwell and bassist Henry Grimes, and structured Complete Communion (december 1965) as two side-long improvisations, each structured as a sort of improvised suite: four melodic themes each (Complete Communion/ And Now/ Golden Heart/ Remembrance and Elephantasy/ Our Feelings/ Bismallah/ Wind), and each theme delivered to the players for "communal" improvisation (i.e., on equal terms). Cherry (at the ostensible leader) is quite subdued, his pocket trumpet unable to stand up to Barbieri's exuberant saxophone and to the creative and sometimes chaotic rhythm section: but that was precisely Cherry's point. Cherry marked the end of the "melodramatic" phase of jazz, in which the leading instrument was supposed to set the world on fire, and opened a more "existentialist" phase, in which the leading voice is one of downcast meditation.
The Symphony For Improvisers (september 1966) was the next logical step. With a septet that now included Karl Berger on vibraphone and piano, Pharoah Sanders on tenor saxophone and piccolo, and a second bassist, Cherry constructed two suites just like the previous ones, Symphony for Improvisers/ Nu Creative Love/ What's Not Serious/ Infant Happiness and Manhattan Cry/ Lunatic/ Sparkle Plenty/ Om Nu, except that the melodic themes were downplayed and the primal energy was emphasized. The resulting soundscape was a color version of the chiaroscuro of Complete Communion. Where Is Brooklyn (november 1966), for a quartet with Sanders, Blackwell and Grimes, closed that first creative season in a more conventional way, with five independent pieces highlighted by the 18-minute Unite.
Cherry moved onto his pan-ethnic phase with Eternal Rhythm (november 1968), featuring a looser, extended chamber orchestra with Albert Mangelsdorff and Eje Thelin on trombone, Bernt Rosengren on tenor, 0boe, clarinet and flute, Sonny Sharrock on guitar, Karl Berger on vibraphone and piano, Joachim Kuhn on piano, Arild Andersen on bass, and several of them (plus Jacques Thollot) also on percussion. Cherry managed to bestow an aura of dignified elegance and an almost religious sense of communion with far-away civilizations onto the two medleys composed/improvised by the musicians (Baby's Breath/ Sonny Sharrock/ Turkish Prayer/ CR and Autumn Melody/ Lanoo/ Crystal Clear).
Cherry must have felt that a large ensemble was somewhat a contradiction in terms for his music of humility and cut the double LP Mu (august 1969) as a series of duets between himself (on pocket trumpet, piano, flute, percussion and vocals) and Ed Blackwell. The music was less chromatic, less cinematic, and less melodic, but it sounded a lot less abstract and a lot more personal. Cherry was pouring the artist's soul into each and every sound. The five improvisations (Brilliant Action, Amejelo, Total Vibration, Sun of the East, the simple apotheosis of Terrestrial Beings) harked back not to the tradition of Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington but to the tradition of Saint Francis or Daoism. Bamboo Night and Teo-Teo-Can (on the second volume) extended the symbiosis to distant musical cultures. Mu was instantly a hit with the rock intelligentsia (especially in Europe) but largely ignored by the jazz community (especially in the USA). On one hand there were superficial similarities with the hippy ideology, and on the other hand there was none of the narcissistic virtuoso-oriented show that the jazz world expected from a jazz musician.
Around the same time Cherry was involved in projects that shared a similar "utopian" view of music, such as Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra (april 1969), Carla Bley's Escalator Over The Hill (june 1971) and even Human Music (november 1969), a duet with electronic composer Jon Appleton on synclavier.
On the live European albums of that period Cherry continued to expand his ethnic horizons, from Indian karnatic chanting (he studied with Pandit Pran Nath) to Native-American percussion: Togetherness (his live warhorse) on Orient (august 1971), the 26-minute East on Blue Lake (april 1971), and Humus on Actions (november 1971), that featured an all-star cast under the moniker New Eternal Rhythm Orchestra.
Under the aegis of the Jazz Composer's Orchestra, Cherry scored for large ensemble the Relativity Suite (february 1973) that had debuted on the live Organic Music Society (august 1972). The players included saxophonists Charles Brackeen, Carlos Ward, Frank Lowe and Dewey Redman, violinist Leroy Jenkins, bassist Charlie Haden, pianist Carla Bley, two cellos, two violas, trombone, tuba, drummers Ed Blackwell and Paul Motian. A smaller (and European) ensemble helped out on Eternal Now (may 1973), an album that continued his world-music travelogue. From the purest of his "folk" albums Cherry proceeded to a virtual sell-out: Brown Rice (1975), featuring a multitude of players (including Haden, drummers Hakim Jamil and Billy Higgins, tenorist Frank Lowe), wed his world-music to jazz-rock, although the format remained loose and extended (Malkauns and Chenrezig). Having thrown the poetry out of the window, Cherry retargeted his world-jazz for the new-age crowd of the 1980s with the atmospheric world-music of: Hear And Now (december 1976), the three volumes of Old and New Dreams (october 1976, august 1979, june 1980), quartet sessions with three other Coleman alumni (Haden, Blackwell and tenorist Dewey Redman), and the three volumes of Codona (september 1978, may 1980, september 1982), a graceful trio with Collin Walcott on ethnic instruments and Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos. The new duet with Blackwell, El Corazon (february 1982), tried in vain to recapture the charm of Mu. In 1985 Cherry formed Nu with altoist Carlos Ward bassist Mark Helias, drummer Ed Blackwell, and Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos, documented on the live Nu (july 1986). Art Deco (august 1988), for a quartet with tenor saxophonist James Clay, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Billy Higgins, was free jazz played in the baroque vein of fusion jazz.

Arkansas-born tenor saxophonist Farrell "Pharoah" Sanders, who had cut his teeth in Oakland (California), moved to New York in 1962 and joined the groups of Sun Ra (where he got his nickname) and John Coltrane. His solo career, that had started with Pharoah Sanders Quintet (october 1964), aimed at grafting the free-jazz concept onto archetypal African rhythms and decorating the hybrid with Eastern techniques (the so called "Nubian space jazz"). The sound was perfected on Tauhid (november 1966), particularly by the 16-minute Upper & Lower Egypt, featuring Henry Grimes on bass, Dave Burrell on piano, Sonny Sharrock on guitar and two percussionists.
Distracted by recordings with Don Cherry and Alice Coltrane, Sanders did not return to his project until Izipho Zam (january 1969), with Howard Johnson on tuba, Sirone and Cecil McBee on bass, Lonnie Liston Smith on piano, and a whole ensemble of percussionists. The 12-minute Balance highlighted his sense of impressionistic counterpoint, while the 29-minute Izipho Zam was a colossal fresco of abstract dissonance. Karma (february 1969), with Smith on piano, Julius Watkins on French horn, James Spaulding on flute, Reggie Workman on bass, Ron Carter and Richard Davis on bass, and the usual army of percussionists, was mainly taken up by the 32-minute The Creator Has A Master Plan, a sonic excursion that ran the gamut from microscopic timbral exploration to gargantuan uncontrolled bacchanal.
The line-up was streamlined for Jewels Of Thought (october 1969), that is basically a piano and reed album against the backdrop of African percussion. Sanders began to play all sorts of instruments (flutes, clarinets and percussions), preferring soundpainting over virtuosity. The two suites represented the two basic forms of Sanders' art: the 15-minute Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum Allah was a narrative event, while the 28-minute Sun in Aquarius was a pure delirium of colors. Summun Bukmun Umyun (july 1970) repeats the same concept but the 21-minute Summun Bukmun Umyun extends the harmony thanks to Woody Shaw's trumpet and Gary Bartz's alto, while the 18-minute prayer Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord displays the spiritual side of Sanders' music. On the title-track of Thembi (january 1971) it was Michael White's violin that joined Sanders' saxophone and Smith's ubiquitous piano, but the album was mostly a simpler summary of previous themes.
A much better summary of Sanders' philosophy was represented by the one 37-minute improvisation of Black Unity (november 1971), with Marvin Peterson on trumpet, Carlos Alfredo Garnett on tenor and Joe Bonner on piano, Cecil McBee and Stanley Clarke on bass, and "only" three percussionists (notably Norman Connors). Sanders did not abandon his passion for rhythm, but this time virtuosity mattered too.
Norman Connors was responsible for the stronger funk accents of Wisdom Through Music (1972), and Elevation (september 1973) leaned towards a more rational sound, as in the lyrical 18-minute Elevation and the lively 14-minute The Gathering. Love in Us All (1973) was evenly split between wild experiment (To John) and emotional outpour (Love Is Everywhere). But clearly Sanders was getting softer and softer, bordering on atmospheric background music with the 20-minute Harvest Time on Pharoah (september 1976), a style that became his standard of reference for the rest of his career. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Detroit's classically-trained pianist and harpist Alice MacLeod married John Coltrane in 1965 and replaced McCoy Tyner when he left in 1966. After her husband's death and after converting to Hinduism (and adopting the new name Swamini Turiyasangitananda), Alice Coltrane began her career as a leader with A Monastic Trio (june 1968), a set that bridged Eastern spirituality and blues-jazz sensibility in humble pieces such as Ohnedaruth (by a quartet with Pharoah Sanders on bass clarinet) and Gospel Trane (by a trio with bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Rashied Ali). Her compositional and performing skills (both on piano and harp) blossomed on Huntington Ashram Monastery (may 1969), by a trio with bassist Ron Carter and Ali, especially in IHS, and led to the kaleidoscopic 13-minute Ptah the El Daoud and the simple 16-minute Mantra of Ptah the El Daoud (january 1970), her artistic peak, featuring Pharoah Sanders on tenor saxophone and alto flute, Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone and alto flute, Ron Carter on bass and Ben Riley on drums. The limits of her piano playing (that basically transposed her harp technique to the keyboard) were more than compensated by her lyrical and agile writing. The solos belonged to the jazz tradition, but the structure of the pieces inaugurated a new form of music (predating ambient, world and new-age music). Journey in Satchidananda (november 1970), featuring Sanders (on soprano only) and volcanic rhythm section of bassist Cecil McBee and Ali plus tamboura and oud players, was another transcendent take on chamber world music, post-psychedelic droning and modal improvisation, from Isis And Osiris (with Charlie Haden on bass and Alice Coltrane on harp) to Something About John Coltrane (Alice Coltrane on piano). Alice Coltrane had reached the other end of the spectrum, compared with her husband's frenzied free-jazz, and the music was hardly jazz at all. Universal Consciousness (june 1971) had pieces scored for harp, string section (four violinists including Leroy Jenkins) and a dreamy rhythm section of Garrison and drummer Jack DeJohnette. The humanistic and cosmic element was now prevailing over the music itself, as in Galaxy in Turiya and Galaxy in Satchidananda on World Galaxy (november 1971). The strings became even more important to render that ecstatic feeling on Lord of Lords (july 1972), whose Lord of Lords and Andromeda's Suffering contrasted the rhythm section of Haden and Riley with a string orchestra of violins, cellos and violas. All in all, her key contribution to the history of jazz was an idea, the idea that music serves the spiritual needs of the mind. Jazz as an art of how to play instruments, or jazz as bodily entertainment was rapidly becoming obsolete. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Pianist Dave Burrell, raised in Hawaii, entered the New York free-jazz scene with a solo piano recital, High Won - High Two (september 1968), that contained the suites East Side Colors (a response os sorts to West Side Story) and Theme Stream Medley. His French collaboration with Archie Shepp and friendship with drummer Sunny Murray led to the two lengthy suites of Echo (august 1969) with trombone, alto, tenor and cornet. During that time he even undertook a jazz revision of Puccini's opera "La Boheme": La Vie De Boheme (december 1969). Two more suites appeared on After Love (1970) that employed strings (Alan Silva), reeds (Roscoe Mitchell) and two basses. His percussive style was popular among improvisers, but he probably gave his best performances in his solo compositions, notably: 8th Ave. Rendez-vouz Blues, off Only Me (october 1973), Teardrops for Jimmy (1978), off Black Spring (march 1977), and Love Dance, off Teardrops for Jimmy (september 1977). His obsession with the classical opera led to the jazz opera Windward Passages (september 1979) for orchestra, eight singers, dancers and choir. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Baritone saxophonist Charles Tyler, who had played with Albert Ayler (1965), introduced a style that was both lyrical and visceral on First Album (february 1966), in a quintet with cellist Joel Friedman, vibraphonist Charles Moffet, bassist Henry Grimes and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, and on Eastern Man Alone (january 1967) for a drum-less quartet. After a long hiatus, he returned with an even more powerful statement, the 37-minute Saga Out of the Outlaws (may 1976). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Possibly the most "underground" of all free-jazz musicians, Frank Wright took the scene by storm with the three jams of his Trio (november 1965) and Your Prayer (may 1967) for a quintet with alto saxophone and trumpet, containing his zenith of pathos, the 15-minute Your Prayer, as well as the 12-minute Fire Of Spirits. While influenced by Albert Ayler, Wright was largely endowed with his own vision of earthly and supernatural sounds. His style displayed little of Ayler's populist and folkish overtones while harking back to Charlie Parker's agile delivery. A bass-less quartet with alto saxophone, piano and drums recorded One For John (december 1969), Uhuru Na Umoja (1970), on themes by Noah Howard, and especially Church Number Nine (march 1970), a massive 45-minute improvisation. Wright experimented with free-form vocals (vocalist Eddie Jefferson) on Kevin My Dear Son (october 1978), that featured trumpet, piano and a classic rhythm section (bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Philly Joe Jones). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Free jazz: the West-Coast school

A mini-scene flourished in California, but it was very underground compared with the exposure that free jazz was getting in New York and even in Europe.

Los Angeles-based pianist Horace Tapscott was something of a moral leader for California's free-jazz community. In 1959 he established the multimedia Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra and in 1961 he helped create the Underground Musicians' Association (UGMA), but nothing surfaced on record. A quintet featuring alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe recorded the four jams of The Giant Is Awakened (april 1969), also known as West Coast Hot. The solo piano album Songs of the Unsung (february 1978), full of covers, was hardly representative of his compositional genius or his rhythmically eccentric style. The Arkestra (two pianos, six reeds, two trombones, tuba, cello, two basses and two percussionists) was finally documented on Flight 17 (april 1978), that includes no Tapscott compositions, and The Call (april 1978), mostly composed by Tapscott. Besides a trio with bassist Art Davis and drummer Roy Haynes, In New York (january 1979), and the other trios of Autumn Colors (may 1980), and Dissent or Descent (1984), and the duo with a drummer of At the Crossroads (1980), his art was best represented on the two original pieces of Dial B for Barbara (1981) for a sextet (piano, trumpet, two saxophones, bass and drums). The most ambitious composition of the era was the 29-minute solo piano fantasia Struggle X An Afro-American Dream, documented on Sessions 2 (november 1982). Towards the end of his life, Tapscott managed to record Aiee The Phantom (june 1995) for a trumpet-saxophone quintet with bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Andrew Cyrille, that contained the 16-minute Mothership, and Thoughts of Dar es Salam (july 1996) for another trio. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

The other elderly statesman of California's free jazz was Texan-born but Los Angeles-based clarinetist John Carter, the founder and leader of the New Art Jazz Ensemble, who debuted playing saxophone on Seeking (january 1969). He had to wait until the 1980s before his pioneering work was widely recognized. His five-part series of concept albums devoted to the history of blacks constituted one of the boldest and most successful attempts at fusing African and USA music, focusing not so much on the stereotyped rhythms of Africa but on its melodic aspect and wedding it to the elastic application of rhythm and harmony introduced by free jazz, as well as to his own (often harrowing) sense of melodrama: Dauwhe (march 1982), Castles of Ghana (november 1985), Dance of Love Ghosts (november 1986), Fields (march 1988), Shadows on a Wall (april 1989). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Texas-born reed player Prince Lasha, active both on the East and West Coast, coined a more relaxed form of Ornette Coleman's free jazz on The Cry (november 1962), in a quartet with alto saxophonist Sonny Simmons. After playing on Elvin Jones' Illumination (1963) with John Coltrane's rhythm section (Jones, bassist Jimmy Garrison and pianist McCoy Tyner), he further downplayed the viscerality of the free-jazz masters in the quartet (Herbie Hancock on piano, Cecil McBee on bass) of Inside Story (1965). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

California's alto saxophonist Sonny Simmons was emblematic (although a relative rarity) of how the free-jazz improviser could wed the sophisticated composer. Stayin' On The Watch (august 1966) and Music From The Spheres (december 1966), each containing the four lengthy jams for quintets with trumpeter (and wife) Barbara Donald, were sometimes reminiscent of John Coltrane but also inherently more complex, if a bit less emotional. He remained a brilliant composer even after he started playing less confrontational music, such as on Backwoods Suite (january 1982), with Donald replaced by a three-piece horn section, Global Jungle (october 1982), in a quartet with cello, Ancient Ritual (december 1992), in a trio. No matter what the setting was, Simmons always managed to carve out a unique place in the history of jazz improvisation and composition. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

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