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Avante-guard or Free Jazz

jbtsax

R.I.P. in memoriam 1947 - 2023
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Growing up in the '50's and '60's graduating from high school in 1966 and college in 1970-72 my taste in jazz was formed by my early '20's. I remember listening to Take 5 and Desifinado on the juke box in a cafe where I worked part time. In college I played in a "jazz quartet" as well as a "big band" and enjoyed playing/hearing standards, dance tunes and "traditional" jazz.
I'm giving this background to explain where I am coming from when I admit that I neither like, nor understand Avante-guard jazz. This fact was brought home to me when I watched the series about Wayne Shorter entitled "Zero Gravity". The music he composed and played toward the end of his life I acknowledge and respect the virtuosity and creativity required, but beyond that I just don't get it. In that respect it is much like the 20th Century classical music I was required to listen to as part of my music degree in college. Simply put, I learned that the basic elements of music are:
  • melody
  • harmony
  • rhythm
  • form
Music that contains all or most of those 4 elements I can enjoy and relate to in most cases. When all four are missing, I just don't get it nor do I like how it sounds. I am writing this post to see if there are others like myself, or to ask those who "get it" to help me grow in that area of music appreciation.

I'm not sure if this topic is appropriate in this forum. If not please feel free to move it. Thank you.
 
I agree with you. I did develop an “appreciation “ of Peter Maxwell Davies and The Fires of London as my clarinet teacher was a member. I choose the word “appreciation “ as I’m not sure that I like it, but I enjoyed the skill and control of the playing.
As for a jazz equivalent, I neither like nor appreciate it.
I grew up admiring Take 5 and Desifinado too, along with lots of other things - though not “pop” music at that time.
As with JBT I stress that this is just my taste and opinion.
 
This is well hashed over now. Avant-guard and Free jazz stylings have more or less been absorbed into mainstream playing now and what exists in its pure form is a minority pursuit and not well understood, often by its practitioners.
 
Simply put, I learned that the basic elements of music are:
  • melody
  • harmony
  • rhythm
  • form
Music that contains all or most of those 4 elements I can enjoy and relate to in most cases.
A lot of what is called avant garden or free form has those elements. One of the most melodic players I can think of is Ornette Coleman.

Being free from the shackles of chord changes allow more melodic impro IMO rather than having to "fit the chords" which in many cases means churning out licks.

There is nothing in freeform music that bans rhythm or harmony and in many cases form.

Plus I think there is another element you missed, and that is texture.

Freeform music can go from totally intense flurries of notes with extremes of high and low to sustained notes or staccato notes and silences within a breath.

Good discussion IMO.

I'm not sure if this topic is appropriate in this forum.

Yeh I'll probably move it to the playing forum.
 
It can be and too often is. When it isn't it could be argued that very often it's crossing over into freeform territory. But not always.
But the point is that it isn’t always and doesn’t have to be - if it is, to it’s arguable detriment, then that is at the door of the player and not the genre.

I don’t think it can be claimed by the Freeform brigade either, seeing as the origins of much of what players like Bill Evans did were back in the end of the 19th century
 
Whenever I have been in a workshop and the leader has said play free everybody just plays out of tune and without structure. No listening.

Free playing is about listening to and being responsive to the other musicians. You can lead or you can follow, you can, should, take and expand upon what the other musicians are doing. What you call the Freeform brigade are just people who don't know what they are doing except making an unstructured noise. That isn't free playing, free playing is exploratory and responsive and, at its best generates music that is fresh and free from imposed and stale structures, it makes its own shape. The only form that governs it, unlike the normal run of jazz improvisation, is the form it generates, and that mutates.

As I said, most people who do it nowadays don't understand the principles. Listen to somebody like Howard Riley, you might not like what he does but he knows how to do it.
 
@jbtsax I am exactly your age - same year of HS graduation, but never finished college despite attending sporadically till 1974 and going back to study computer science in the late ‘80s. I dislike much of free jazz, though I think I understand it. Sometimes I hear something that is attractive to me, but usually it leaves me cold.

I did spend quite a bit of time listening to Albert Ayler, and eventually came to the conclusion that I found the music ugly. Much like the distorted hand-made pottery that has been popular in some circles since the 1960s. I think that a lot of what people call free jazz is more a reaction to the view “It’s supposed to sound like this”. Kind of purposeful anti-music. I did not come to the same conclusion about Ornette Coleman, whose music I like a lot.

While in college, I did study electronic music, which I find artistically freeing. I own a fair number of Eurorack modules, and every year or so get into a month or two of making noise, then go back to playing standards on saxophone. I also own a nice hand made coffee cup that is symmetrically proportioned in a pleasing way, and keeps my coffee hot!

Music has been defined as “organized sound”. The issue for me is how it is organized. I tend to like sounds that are in tune with the harmonic series…. even the upper reaches where it gets a little out for Western ears…

Beauty is a matter of taste, after all. Some art is expressing things that I find uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s good to challenge your assumptions and prejudices, but ugly is ugly. Just like life.

[ADDENDUM] - I find Wayne Shorter’s music very beautiful, and would not call it avante-garde. Modern, distinctive, unique - yes, it is those things, but I hear it very much in the continuum of bebop and jazz romanticism.
 
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I am not a huge fan of noise (I don't really like marching band music either -- perhaps they're similar ;) ) and out playing like some people are, but as some people have said I can appreciate aspects of it. I would go a little further and say one (not the only) way of developing your own musicianship is to seek out things that you normally would not want to listen to. It's easy to turn off your listening ear if you encounter something you intuitively feel you "don't like", but maybe if you spent some time listening you would like it.
 
Free jazz is a subset of "avant-garde"; but it's not the whole thing. Most of late Miles, say from Nefertiti on, or Arthur Blythe' s Lenox Avenue, or Leon Parker the percussionist; James Newton; Ronald Shannon Jackson, Roland Kirk; much of Mingus; even an album like Money Jungle; and many other examples, are all avant-garde but still have defined changes and rhythm, not what I think of as free jazz.

It's OK not to like everything. I think you ought to give any new thing a good hard listen and try to get inside it, let your natural defenses down. But if it just doesn't grab you, so be it.
 
Whenever I have been in a workshop and the leader has said play free everybody just plays out of tune and without structure. No listening.

Free playing is about listening to and being responsive to the other musicians. You can lead or you can follow, you can, should, take and expand upon what the other musicians are doing. What you call the Freeform brigade are just people who don't know what they are doing except making an unstructured noise. That isn't free playing, free playing is exploratory and responsive and, at its best generates music that is fresh and free from imposed and stale structures, it makes its own shape. The only form that governs it, unlike the normal run of jazz improvisation, is the form it generates, and that mutates.

As I said, most people who do it nowadays don't understand the principles. Listen to somebody like Howard Riley, you might not like what he does but he knows how to do it.
I’m not having a pop at it, so you have read that into my posts. What I am saying is that I don’t like it, but hey, I don’t like Rap either, or Adele, for two.
What I have said is that Free playing can’t claim potentially better melodies through there being no constraints (rules) as we all know that “functional harmony” allows any of the 12 notes available to be harmonised and this isn’t a particularly recent development in Western music either.
My musical taste is very broad and developed, I just don’t like Free Jazz. I also sat through a piano recital in Salzburg last year of Mozart, wishing that it was either a notch earlier (say, Bach) or a notch later (Beethoven) as I found it way too diatonic, predictable and boring - especially without any other instruments playing. I think I’d rather listen to a solo guitar than a solo piano, it speaks to me more.
With music that pushes the ear, perhaps the furthest my ear will be pushed is in the music of Toru Takemitsu, which, despite its discordance I find to be very beautiful. He’s certainly a clever dude with his writing of texture and colour.
 
Whenever I have been in a workshop and the leader has said play free everybody just plays out of tune and without structure. No listening.
Great point, but it’s true of players in every genre. More catastrophic in this genre agreed, but it annoys the hell out of me whatever I play - which is one of my many reasons not to these days…
 
I've come to the conclusion that most things fall in to two categories. That which you like and that which you don't like.

Some things creep up on you. Some things need working at.

I like my music "nice".

Anything that sounds like an accordian and a drum kit falling down a flight of stairs, falls into the not nice, don't like category for me.

I've got Hendrix on the car music player at the moment. Wasn't he considered a bit off the wall at the time? Sounds nice to me.
 
  • melody
  • harmony
  • rhythm
  • form
Music that contains all or most of those 4 elements I can enjoy and relate to in most cases. When all four are missing, I just don't get it nor do I like how it sounds.
I’m not sure you meant to, but this implies that all four are missing from avant grade or free form music.

Most of the "free" workshops and gigs I've taken part in did involve those elements along with at least one other I mentioned earlier, ie texture.

Granted the word "freeform" may imply there is no form, but I think that his why many proponents of the genre do not like or use that label. It can imply the worst kind of generalised caricature of the genre, ie formless cacophony. I'm not saying that doesn't exist, just that it is not really what a lot of the genre is about.
 

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