Was free jazz really jazz? At first they called it 'the new thing'. This new jazz was 'free' not only in the sense that the first improvisations were free. It also claimed to be free of the very definitions of jazz and even the art of music as formulated by critics (primarily from the white culture).
Ornette Coleman Double Quartet Free Jazz Record
'It is our music' is indeed what Ornette Coleman's album This Is Our Music stated in protest, echoing the new black thinkers who challenged the right of whites to hold forth on a music that was not their own. The criteria of beauty, purity of sound, virtuosity, logical form and so on - which had defined music up to now - all moved to the background.
|Ornette Coleman at the 1967 Monterey Jazz Festival|
Going back to the first African-American songs. free jazz even went so far as to renounce rhythmic regularity and swing, practically the definition of jazz. All it retained were the fundamental elements that distinguish black American music - energy, involvement of the body, raw sound and improvisation (in other words, a 'lightness of being', to borrow Milan Kundera's expression, that favors the moment, the immediate, the temporary).
By extension, free jazz, expressed an interest in world music - Arab, Oriental and, of course, African.
Free Jazz, A Mirror Of The Civil Rights Movement
The history of free jazz corresponds to the history of civil rights movement: the rise of demands under Martin Luther King, Jr., and other, more radical, leaders; the explosion of the black ghettos; the struggles led by the Black Panthers; the solidarity with the liberation movements of the Third World; repression, marginalization, exhaustion. In its political involvement, free jazz questioned Western art's ambition to raise itself above the material world. On these grounds, it had its place on university campuses during the uprisings of the late sixties, and it excited new criticism from white people.
These white critics proved to be as intolerant and sectarian as lovers of old jazz styles.