Avant-garde is a movement in jazz music that is used to describe something innovative, this is especially about politics, art, and culture. This movement represented musicians who did not follow the norms that society expected. Other terms that are used to refer to this movement include Free jazz, the new thing, and energetic music. Avant-garde or Free jazz is associated with the works of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, and Cecil Taylor. Other personalities who contributed to the development of free jazz include Albert Ayler, Eric Dolphy, Sun Ra, and Bill Dixon. The release of Ornette Colemans album, Free jazz: A Collective Improvision, in the mid-1950s gave the movement the name free jazz, and the name has been used since then. Free jazz was associated with other forms of jazz which included hard bop, modal jazz, and bebop. This was the common feature that united the pioneers of free jazz. Free jazz musicians were often unconventional, that is, they broke down the recognized conventions of jazz, by changing the fixed chords or increasing the tempo of the song. (Barry, 1999).
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Avant-garde or free jazz had a lot of impact on contemporary jazz then and even now. These impacts are great but remain somewhat controversial, for instance, individual creativity is difficult to judge since free jazz is associated with the musician giving the innovation his/her unique touch. Avant-garde is seen as a movement that is highly influenced by the politics, race, religion, and culture of the musician. Free jazz gave the musicians the freedom to create something unique; this has resulted in different forms of jazz that are enjoyed by the listeners. Contemporary jazz is therefore unique since the avant-garde gave jazz music some freedom by not conforming to the set norms. This move allowed jazz musicians to be innovative in their music. (Barry, 1999).
Social and cultural factors motivated the jazz musicians to form the movement; this is because socially the musicians were alienated. This movement, therefore, gave them a chance to be socially active, whereby they were able to relieve the tension caused by this alienation and also talk about the social issues in their societies. This movement gave the musicians some form of social interaction. (Gade, 2000).
During this time there were a lot of different cultures in the society, this movement, therefore, enabled the musicians to have a unifying factor i.e. Music that incorporated all the cultures in the society by creating a bilingual, international and cross-cultural encounter. For instance, the Africans in the diaspora needed to maintain their identity; this was made possible by the development of this movement. This is because each culture was identified and recognized as unique and important to the individual. (Gade, 2000).
Free jazz is seen as a rejection of the formal structures that were previously set; this is then seen as a threat to the ideologies of the society. Free jazz gave people and especially the black community a voice and early free jazz were considered anti-jazz because it threatened to change the status quo of the society. (Alfred, 2005) Music was seen as changing people and the society at large and people were afraid of the social change associated with free jazz.
Today jazz music is appreciated by the musicians and listeners. Though free jazz has been criticized, its role in giving people freedom of expression has been recognized. This is especially about the black community. (Alfred, 2005) Though Jazz music was taken up by other communities, it is still associated with the liberation of the black community.
Alfred, A. Jazz Modernism: From Ellington and Armstrong to Matisse and Joyce, New York: Yale University Press, 2005.
Barry, Ulanon. A history of jazz in America, New York: Da Capo Press, 1999.
H. W Gade. All aspects of rock and jazz. New York: Nordisc, 2000.