Free Jazz
Ornette Colemen


Free jazz, or "the new thing," was the dominant form of avant garde jazz during the 1950's, 60's and 70's. As far as most people are concerned, even jazz heads, free jazz is as obtuse and difficult to understand as it was when Ornette Coleman and his group played their first high profile shows at the Five Spot in 1959. While post-WW2 be-bop had fueled intense debates over whether bop was really jazz or not, free jazz gave rise to heated, even physically violent arguments over whether or not the "new thing" was even music to begin with. Even after 44 years, there is no sound more far out than free jazz.

Wikipedia Entry for Free Jazz

An excellent article by Robert Levin

Forced Exposure search results for Free Jazz

Thurston Moore's 10 Favorite Free Jazz albums

"My Favorite Free Jazz Albums" by Horshack

Ornette Coleman

The Father of Free Jazz. Coleman was the first apostle of the new thing, and the man who took the greatest amount of abuse from those who could not understand the musical or emotional context of his music.

"Coleman is the creator of a concept of music called "harmolodic," a musical form which is equally applicable as a life philosophy. The richness of harmolodics derives from the unique interaction between the players. Breaking out of the prison bars of rigid meters and conventional harmonic or structural expectations, harmolodic musicians improvise equally together in what Coleman calls compositional improvisation, while always keeping deeply in tune with the flow, direction and needs of their fellow players. In this process, harmony becomes melody becomes harmony. Ornette describes it as "Removing the caste system from sound." On a broader level, harmolodics equates with the freedom to be as you please, as long as you listen to others and work with them to develop your own individual harmony." (

NEA Jazz Masters Biography of Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman at

Reviews of ten important albums

A 1987 Interview with Ornette Coleman

Charlie Haden on the Creation of Free Jazz (Audio)

Albert Ayler


Perhaps Ornette Coleman's most important acolyte during the 60's and early 70's, Albert Ayler "was the most primal of the free jazz musicians of the 1960s. He possessed a deep blistering tone (achieved by using the stiffest plastic reeds he could find on his tenor saxophone) and a broad, pathos-filled vibrato that came right out of church music. His trio and quartet records of 1964, like Spiritual Unity and The Hilversum Sessions, show him advancing the improvisational notions of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman into abstract realms where timbre, not harmony and melody, are the music's backbone. His ecstatic music of 1965 and 1966, like "Spirits Rejoice" and "Truth is Marching In" adopted the sound of a Salvation Army brass band, and involved simple, march-like themes which alternated with wild group improvisations and took jazz back to its pre-Louis Armstrong roots." (

An unofficial Albert Ayler Homepage

"Ayler Recordings Released in New Set" (Audio)

"Jazzed in Cleveland:" The youth of Albert Ayler

"Jazzed in Cleveland:" Albert Ayler's death.

An exhaustive review of the Ayler box set: HOLY GHOST (with a link to the offical site, with sound samples.)


Cecil Taylor

Cecil Taylor is a classically trained, post-bop pianist who introduced elements of avant garde orchestral composition to jazz in the mid 1950's, before becoming a law of his own later in that decade. Taylor's music is among the most structured of the free jazz canon, but also the densest and, perhaps, most difficult for the average listener. One of the truely enigmatic figures in twentieth century music, responible for one of most impenetrable bodies of work ever recorded.

Wikipedia entry for Cecil Taylor.

"The Music of Cecil Taylor"

Jason Gross' Interview with Cecil Taylor

Art Ensemble of Chicago


"Great Black Music" was the slogan of the five free-jazz musicians who called themselves the Art Ensemble of Chicago. From comedy to tragedy, they brought an unusually wide range of emotions to their often melodic, usually abstract music. Their career together continued for more than three decades, making them one of the longest-lasting jazz groups." (Britannica online)

"Ancient to the Future:" an AACM article on the AEC

Forced Exposure page for the AEC

Sun Ra


Sun Ra was the centuries-old heir to the throne of Saturn, who came to Earth to teach the human race enlightenment through the celestrial music of his native planet. While this music, played by Sun Ra and his various "Arkestras" was strictly composed and rehearsed rather than freely improvised (Ra was derisive of Ayler and the "Freedom Boys,") the peculiarity of Ra's compostions made his records early touchstones for generations of free players.

Wikipedia entry on Sun Ra

"Saturn Web: Sun Ra, the Arkestra and Free Jazz"

Planet Sun Ra

Rare Sun ra pix and album covers



New York attorney, Bernard Stollman founded Esperanto-Disk in 1963 as an educational tool to promote world peace through a common language - the synthetic language, Esperanto. The label's first release, NI KANTU EN ESPERANTO ("Let's Sing in Esperanto") was an entire LP of songs and readings in the "universal language."

By 1964, however, Stollman was moving the label towards a new role - documenting New York's avant-garde jazz and folk scenes.

With the July release of SPIRITUAL UNITY by the Albert Ayler Trio, ESP-Disk began quickly amassing an important free jazz catalog. Such jazz innovators as Pharoah Sanders, Byron Allen and Bob James made their debuts on ESP, while such pivotal figures as Patty Waters, Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman released some of their most adventurous music on the label. By 1966, ESP-Disk had established itself as the most important free jazz label of all. - History, an artists' roster and detailed catalog information, with lots of sound samples

ESP Disk on-line discography and museum. Some of the most incredible album art ever executed.

The Complete ESP_Disk Discography, in printable format

An interview with Bernard Stollman

BYG / Jazz Actuel


"BYG Records was founded by Jacques Bisceglia, Jean-Luc
Young and Jean Georgakarakos in the late 60's. The now legendary status of BYG is mainly based on some fifty excellent free jazz and experimental records by mostly American artists released under the Actuel-series.

As the 60's progressed towards the seventies the interest of major labels in free jazz started to fade away, creating a need for a new output for many American artists and their music. As a result many leading musicians visited or moved entirely to Europe, where it seemed that free jazz and jazz in general, were more appreciated than in the USA. Paris was often the place of action for the ex-patriate free jazzers, where there was always demand for live performances and people running labels willing to record your music for a release. BYG was one of these."

From Helsinkicityboi's article on (see link below.)

BYG Records Discography

Forced Exposure entries for the BYG label. Since the label itself is long defunct, these will be reissues (thru Get Back Records) and related recordings

BYG at (article by Helsinkicityboi)


"The Real Godfathers of Punk" by Billy Bob Hargus. Important article tracing the influences of Free Jazz on rock music.

Jazz Review: The Revolutionary Ensemble (Audio)

"Jazz and More from a New Chicago Avant Garde" - NPR piece on current Chicago Free Jazz scene (Audio)