Experimental and Avant-Garde

The emergence of experimentalism and the avant-garde in jazz overlaps somewhat with the onset of free jazz. Always an element within jazz’s vanguard, the notions of change and innovation have always been “experimental.” What this new form of experimentalism offered jazz in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s was a more radical departure from convention, fusing new elements of rhythms, tonality and structure. In fact, avant-garde music became synonymous with open-ended forms that were less easily characterized than even free jazz.

Preplanned structure mixed with more “out” soloing, reminiscent of free jazz. Compositional styles merged with improvisation in a way that made it difficult to determine where one led off and the other began. In fact, the structure of the music in general was designed to have solos be an outgrowth of arrangements, lending coherence to what might normally be construed as a form of abstraction or even chaos. Swing rhythms, even melodies could be incorporated, but no as a rule necessarily.

Early pioneers might include pianist Lennie Tristano, saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre and composer/arranger/conductor Gunther Schuller. Later practitioners included pianists Paul Bley and Andrew Hill, saxophonists Anthony Braxton and Sam Rivers, drummers Sunny Murray and Andrew Cyrille and members of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) such as the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

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