Free jazz is an approach to jazz music that was first developed in the 1950s and 1960s. Though the music of free jazz composers varied widely, a common feature was dissatisfaction with the limitations of bebop, hard bop, and modal jazz that had developed in the 1940s and 1950s. Free jazz musicians attempted to alter, extend, or break down jazz convention, often by discarding fixed chord changes or tempos. While usually considered avant-garde, free jazz has also been described as an attempt to return jazz to its primitive, often religious, roots and emphasis on collective improvisation.
Free jazz is strongly associated with the 1950s innovations of Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor and the later works of saxophonist John Coltrane. Other important pioneers include Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, Joe Maneri and Sun Ra. Coleman pioneered many techniques typical of free jazz, most notably his rejection of pre-written chord changes, believing instead that freely improvised melodic lines should serve as the basis for harmonic progression in his compositions. Some of bassist Charles Mingus's work was also important in establishing free jazz.
Typically this kind of music is played by small groups of musicians, although some examples use larger numbers. Other forms of jazz use clear regular meters and strongly pulsed rhythms. Free jazz normally retains a general pulsation but without regular meter, and we encounter frequent accelerando and ritardando, giving an impression of the rhythm moving in waves. Previous jazz forms used harmonic structures (usually cycles of diatonic chords). Free jazz almost by definition is free of such structures, but also by definition (it is, after all, "jazz" as much as it is "free") it retains much of the language of earlier jazz playing.
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