‘It didn’t adhere to any of the rules’: the fascinating history of free jazz


Jim Farber

In documentary Fire Music, the hostile reaction that met the unusual genre soon turns into deep appreciation and a lasting influence

When Miles Davis first heard the music of Eric Dolphy, a key figure in the free jazz movement, he described it as “ridiculous”, “sad” and just plain “bad”. Upon encountering the early sounds of free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk said “there’s nothing beautiful in what he’s playing. He’s just playing loud and slurring the notes. Anybody can do that.” The editors at the jazz world’s bible, Downbeat Magazine, went further, initially criticising the entire genre as a force that’s “poisoning the minds of young players”, jazz critic Gary Giddins recalled.

Related: ‘Rawness, freedom, experimentation’: the Brit jazz boom of the 60s and 70s

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