Tag Archives: Free improvisation

Coltrane’s saxophonic scream

The critical reception of John Coltrane’s saxophonic scream—an incredibly high-pitched, raw, and intense explosion of timbre—demonstrates how our precognitive reaction to sonic timbres can invoke tropes of masculinity and race.

A perceptual/cognitive approach that focuses on the degree to which the listener identifies with the sound, citing recent research on the neurophysiology of audition, locates a biological reason for the phenomenon of musical empathy—the perception that in listening to a sound we also participate in it. Our participation, however, is culturally conditioned.

Coltrane’s saxophonic scream was variously interpreted by music critics as the sound of black masculine violence and rage or as a sign of the jazz icon’s spirituality, a transcendent sound. Music critics’ visceral, embodied interpretations of Coltrane’s saxophonic scream turned on their reactions to the birth of free jazz in the context of the U.S. civil rights movement.

This according to “Theorizing the saxophonic scream in free jazz improvisation” by Zachary Wallmark, an essay included in Negotiated moments: Improvisation, sound, and subjectivity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016, pp. 233–44).

Below, the Coltrane’s performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1966.

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Filed under Curiosities, Jazz and blues, Performers, Reception

Keith Jarrett’s solo concerts

Jarrett 1974

Keith Jarrett began playing improvised solo concerts in 1973, establishing himself as a major figure in the jazz piano tradition.

The performances drew on a new conception of form suggested by free jazz, one which posited a new kind of relationship between a performer and the musical constraints suggested by a composition. This new approach to performance allowed musicians to reconfigure formal conception in the moment, rather than being tied to an invariant set of constraints.

Jarrett’s solo concerts also drew on an aesthetic view of performance that emerged from free jazz, which saw music making as tapping into a divine source of inspiration. The context in which he performed promoted this conception by giving such dramatic weight to the process of improvisation.

This according to Keith Jarrett’s solo concerts and the aesthetics of free improvisation, 1960–1973 by Peter Stanley Elsdon, a dissertation accepted by the University of Southampton in 2001.

Today is Jarrett’s 70th birthday! Above, performing solo in 1974; below, part of the 1973 Lausanne concert, a performance analyzed in Elsdon’s dissertation.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers