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Free Jazz!: Music

historical information on the Free Jazz movement (1950s-1970s), as well as primary sources and recordings


A selection of albums widely held to be influential or formative in the Free Jazz movement, ranging from the late 1950s to the early 1970s; when possible, links are provided to complete works

The Shape of Jazz to Come

THE SHAPE OF JAZZ TO COME (1959) by Ornette Coleman

The Shape of Jazz to Come is often considered the first 'genuine' Free Jazz album. It is because of this album that the year 1959 is considered a fundamental break in jazz history.

Ornette Coleman, alto saxophone

Don Cherry, cornet

Charlie Haden, double bass

Bill Higgins, drums


ASCENSION (1965) by John Coltrane

With Ascension, Coltrane -- already one of Jazz's elder statesmen -- joined the Free Jazz movement, granting it a critical legitimacy it would have otherwise lacked.

John Coltrane, tenor saxophone

John Tchicai, alto saxophone

Marion Brown, alto saxophone

Art Davis, bass

Jimmy Garrison, bass

Elvin Jones, drums

McCoy Tyner, piano

Archie Shepp, tenor saxophone

Pharoah Sanders, tenor saxophone

Dewey Johnson, trumpet

Freddie Hubbard, trumpet

Unit Structures

UNIT STRUCTURES (1966) by Cecil Taylor

This is Cecil Taylor's first major record with the group that would go on to be called the "Unit". His classically-trained piano stylings displayed a kind of artistic and intellectual rigor that many felt had been lacking in Free Jazz.

Cecil Taylor, piano

Jimmy Lyons, alto saxophone

Ken McIntyre, alto saxophone / oboe / bass clarinet

Alan Silva, bass

Henry Grimes, bass

Andrew Cyrille, drums

Eddie Gale Stephens, Jr., trumpet

Nothing Is...

NOTHING IS... (1966) by Sun Ra

In his most highly-regarded album for ESP-Disk, Sun Ra and his Arkestra lay the foundations for the aesthetic style that would come to be known as "Afrofuturism".

Sun Ra, piano

Marshall Allen, alto saxophone

Pat Patrick, baritone saxophone

Ronnie Boykins, bass / tuba

Robert Cummings, baritone clarinet

James Jackson, log drum / flute

Clifford Jarvis, drums

Carl Nimron, sun horn / gong

John Gilmore, tenor saxophone

Ali Hassan, trombone

Teddy Nance, trombone

Black Woman

BLACK WOMAN (1969) by Sonny Sharrock

A rare guitarist in the Free Jazz scene, Sonny Sharrock worked to expand both the jazz and "rock" idioms.

Sonny Sharrock, guitar

Norris Jones, Bass

Richard Pierce, bass

Milford Graves, drums

Dave Burrell, piano

Teddy Daniel, trumpet

Linda Sharrock, vocals

Free Jazz

FREE JAZZ (1961) by the Ornette Coleman Double Quartet

This album is formally innovative in that Coleman made freeform recordings with two separate quartets and then stacked them on top of each other, one recording on the left channel, the other on the right. Perhaps more importantly, this album gave the movement its name.

Ornette Coleman, alto saxophone

Charlie Haden, bass

Scott LaFaro, bass

Eric Dolphy, bass clarinet

Billy Higgins, drums

Ed Blackwell, drums

Freddie Hubbard, trumpet

Don Cherry, pocket trumpet

Spiritual Unity

SPIRITUAL UNITY (1965) by the Albert Ayler Trio

This is considered Ayler's most important work; his use of discordance and tension was a major push away from earlier, more "pleasant" forms of jazz.

Albert Ayler, saxophone

Gary Peacock, bass

Sunny Murray, drums

Message to Our Folks

MESSAGE TO OUR FOLKS (1969) by the Art Ensemble of Chicago

This important work by Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians members the Art Ensemble of Chicago showcased new modes of composition, involving "free" performance and improvisation.

Malachi Favors, bass / drums / banjo / cittern / percussion

Roscoe Mitchell, soprano saxophone / alto saxophone / bass saxophone / clarinet / flute / cymbal / gong / congas / percussion / bells / siren / whistle / steel drums

Joseph Jarman, soprano saxophone / alto saxophone / clarinet / oboe / flute / marimba / vibraphone / congas / bells / whistle / gong / siren / guitar

Lester Bowie, trumpet / flugelhorn / bass drum / horns

Yasmina, a Black Woman

YASMINA, A BLACK WOMAN (1969) by Archie Shepp

This is one of a string of recordings Philadelphia native Archie Shepp made for the French concern BYG-Actuel. In it, Shepp (with a number of AACM alumni) combine new "free" techniques with traditional West African instrumentation, which they had recently discovered.

Archie Shepp, tenor saxophone

"Philly" Joe Jones, drums

Dave Burrell, piano

Malachi Favors, bass


CONSPIRACY (1975) by Jeanne Lee

One of the few vocalists working in the largely instrumental (and male-dominated) world of Free Jazz, Jeanne Lee utilized Free Jazz instrumental techniques in her singing.

Jeanne Lee, vocals

Mark Whitecage, alto clarinet

Jack Gregg, bass

Alan Praskin, clarinet

Perry Robinson, clarinet

Steve McCall, drums

Gunter Hampel, flute / piano / vibraphone / alto clarinet / bass clarinet

Sam Rivers, soprano saxophone / tenor saxophone / flute

Marty Cook, trombone