A history of Jazz Music

by Piero Scaruffi
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(These are excerpts from my book "A History of Jazz Music")

White Free Jazz

Roswell Rudd, Steve Lacy and John Tchicai (besides Charlie Haden) were among the few white musicians to feature among the pioneers of New York's free jazz, and each of them belonged to it only in a tangential manner.


New York's white soprano saxophonist Steve "Lacy" Lackritz was the musician who restored that instrument to its original glory, and then raised it to an almost fetishist status. Coached by Cecil Taylor (1955-57) and Gil Evans (1957-64), and heavily influenced by Thelonious Monk, Lacy declared his allegiance to him while proclaiming the advent of a new soprano era on a series of quartet recordings mainly or entirely devoted to Monk compositions: Soprano Today (november 1957), with Wynton Kelly on piano, Reflections (october 1958), with Mal Waldron on piano and Elvin Jones on drums, Evidence (november 1959), with Don Cherry on trumpet and Billy Higgins on drums, Straight Horn (november 1960), with a baritone saxophonist and Roy Haynes on drums, and School Days (march 1963), with Roswell Rudd on trombone and Henry Grimes on bass. None of these quartets was particularly exciting or innovative, except for the fact that Lacy was interpreting the classics (Monk above the others) playing a soprano saxophone.
Perhaps inspired by the collaborations with Michael Mantler's various projects (1965-68), Lacy converted to free jazz with Sortie (february 1966), another quartet session (with Enrico Rava on trumpet) that this time was entirely composed by Lacy and included lengthy meditations, and with The Forest And The Zoo (october 1966), featuring Rava, Southafrican bassist Johnny Dyani and Southafrican drummer Louis Moholo, that contained only two side-long free-jazz pieces, The Forest And The Zoo.
Relocating to Paris in 1969, Lacy began one of the most prolific careers in the history of jazz music, re-recording countless times the same themes over and over again. His unique aesthetic was announced by the 41-minute improvisation Roba (june 1969) with an Italian sextet featuring trumpet (Enrico Rava), clarinet, trombone, cello (Irene Aebi) and drums, and by his first solo saxophone album, Lapis (september 1971). A second Concert Solo (august 1972), with definitive versions of Stations, Weal and New Duck, preceded the recording of the 30-minute four-movement anti-war suite The Woe (january 1973), scored for a quintet with alto, cello, bass and drums, and released only three years later. Lacy's postmodernist strategy was still embryonic but already captivating, with a passion for extra-musical noises as well as fragments of singalongs and nursery rhymes to weave intricate tapestries of harmony. The sextet of Scraps (february 1974), featuring saxophones (Steve Potts), piano, cello (Aebi), bass and percussion, became his favorite vehicle for the rest of his career, despite Aebi's controversial vocals. The sextet allowed him to create pieces of music that were chaotic puzzles of distorted elementary ideas, and it allowed him to run the gamut from the tonal to the cacophonous, from old-fashioned to free-jazz.
Over the years (starting at least in 1971), Lacy kept refining his "Tao suite" that was eventually finalized on Remains (april 1991) as a six-part Time of Tao-Cycle. Other themes that he performed frequently were: I Feel A Draft, debuted on Journey Without End (november 1971) by a quartet with Mal Waldron on piano; The Crust and Flakes, both debuted on The Crust (july 1973) by a quintet with alto (Steve Potts), guitar (Derek Bailey), bass and percussion, and both expanded on Bura Bura (may 1986) by a stellar quartet with drummer Masahiko Togashi, trumpeter Don Cherry and British bassist Dave Holland; Torments, first played by the Sextet on Scraps (february 1974) and revised by the sax-synth quartet of Lumps (september 1974); Stalks, debuted by the sax-bass-drums trio of Stalks (june 1975); Snips, sketched on Solo At Mandara (june 1975) and improved by the sax-synth quartet of Lumps (september 1974); The Duck and Esteem, first performed in a quintet with Potts and Aebi on Esteem (february 1975), the latter revisited by the two-sax quartet of Revenue (february 1993); Deadline, premiered by the Japanese sextet of The Wire (june 1975), and finalized on the solo Axieme (september 1975); Stabs, debuted on Solo At Mandara (june 1975) and finalized on the solo Stabs (november 1975); No Baby, first heard on Stabs (november 1975) and later refined on Raps (january 1977); Blinks, debuted by the two-sax quartet of Raps (1977) and revised by the Sextet on Blinks (february 1983); Three Points, first envisioned on Points (february 1978) but finalized only on Blinks (february 1983) and further expanded on Flim-Flam (december 1986) in duo with Potts; Wickets and The Dumps, both first heard on the Quintet's live Stamps (february 1978), the former expanded on Blinks (february 1983) and the latter on Prospectus (november 1983) by the Sextet plus George Lewis' trombone.
In the year of the saxophone quartet (Anthony Braxton's New York Fall 1974 and the World Saxophone Quartet), Lacy assembled a sextet with four saxophonists (altoists Trevor Watts and Steve Potts and tenorist Evan Parker) augmented with Derek Bailey's dissonant free-form guitar and Michel Waisvisz's synthesizer. Their twisted counterpoint permeated Saxophone Special (december 1974), that included Staples and Dreams (with Lacy on turntable).
Bailey was added to the regular Sextet for Dreams (may 1975), a set that displayed an even greater degree of schizophrenia. The impressionistic chamber jazz of the quintet in pieces such as The Oil was devastated by Bailey's abstract doodling and both were neutralized by Lacy's irrational conversations.
Several of Lacy's most radical pieces were recorded outside the Sextet. The 20-minute improvisation Distant Voices appeared on a trio album (Yuji Takahashi on piano, celesta and vibraphone, Takehisa Kosugi on violin, flute and vocals), Distant Voices (june 1975). Clangs (february 1976) was a duet with Italian percussionist Andrea Centazzo: Lacy played birds calls, pocket synthesizer and crackle box besides his soprano saxophone in creative pieces such as The Owl and Torments. The solo Straws (november 1976) included the electronic The Rise. Threads (may 1977) contained the solos Skirts and Threads as well as three brief trios with avantgarde composers Alvin Curran and Frederic Rzewski. Lacy also flirted with electronics on Lumps (september 1974) in a quartet with Michael Waisvisz on synthesizer, bassist Maarten Van Regteren Altena and percussionist Han Bennink. The Owl (april 1977) contained the three-part The Owl Touchstones, that augmented the Sextet with piano, kora and cornet (Butch Morris). Two trio recordings, Capers (december 1979) and Flame (january 1982), contained some of the most inspired of his extended meditations. The duo with Japanese percussionist Masahiko Togashi, Eternal Duo (october 1981), debuted Twilight and Retreat.
The sextet's most ambitious works were the two 40-minute Ballets (april 1981), Hedges (1980) and The Four Edges (1981). Blinks (february 1983) was perhaps the best summary of Lacy's canon, and it added Cliches. Sextet albums of new original material that stand out included The Gleam (july 1986), especially Momentum (may 1987), and Live at Sweet Basil (july 1991).
Lacy's next passion was to set poetry to jazz music: Futurities (january 1985), by the Sextet plus Lewis' trombone, harp and guitar; The Condor (june 1985) by the regular Sextet; Anthem (june 1989) by the Sextet plus trombone, percussion and a second vocalist; Rushes (november 1989) and Packet (march 1995) by the trio of Lacy, Frederic Rzewski on piano and Aebi on voice; the "jam opera" The Cry (march 1998) with Aebi, Tina Wrase on saxophones and bass clarinet, Catherine Pfeifer on accordion, Petia Kaufman on harpsichord plus bass and percussion; The Beat Suite (december 2001) by Lacy, Aebi, Lewis, bass and drums.
Lacy returned to the solo format for Hocus Pocus (december 1985), for Solo (december 1985), that had debuted The Gleam and Morning Joy, for The Kiss (may 1986), with Blues for Aida, and especially for Outings (april 1986), structured into two 20-minute improvisations, Labyrinth and Island in which he overdubbed himself.
Another intriguing project was an Indian quartet with sitar, tabla and tampura, that recorded Saxoraga and the 22-minute Explorations on Explorations (april 1987).
In the 1990s the ensemble kept growing. Itinerary (november 1990), that debuted Sweet 16 and Itinerary, was performed by a 17-piece unit that was much closer to classical music than to bebop or big-band jazz. The seven jazz tributes of Vespers (july 1993) were performed by an octet that was basically the Sextet plus tenor saxophone and French horn. As usual with recordings centered around the sextet, these pieces were also sung by Aebi. Sweet 16 (february 1993) was performed by a "Keptorchestra".
His last major recording was a collaboration with fellow British soprano saxophonists Evan Parker and Lol Coxhill, that resulted in the lengthy improvised saxophone duets of Three Blokes (september 1992). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


White trombonist Roswell Rudd was the musician who rediscovered the trombone in the free-jazz era. After establishing his credentials with Herbie Nichols (1960-62), Cecil Taylor (1961), Steve Lacy (1963-64), Bill Dixon (1962-63) and Archie Shepp (1964-67), Rudd formed the New York Art Quartet in 1964 with John Tchicai on alto saxophone, Milford Graves on drums and Lewis Worrell on bass. New York Art Quartet (november 1964), one of the milestones of free jazz, displayed group improvisation at its best in four lengthy jams, particularly Number 6 and Rosmosis, anchored by Graves' drumming and highlighted by the horns' fantastic counterpoint, while Leroi Jones reciting his black-revolutionary poem Black Dada Nihilismus offered a chance for free jazz to follow a narrative cue. Rudd greatly expanded the range of the trombone turning it into an abstract device for generating sound no less powerful than the saxophone. Rudd's stately morphing style and Tchicai's polyphonic style matured on Mohawk (july 1965), with Reggie Workman replacing Worrell.
Roswell Rudd (november 1965) tested the trombone against Tchicai's alto and over a dynamic rhythm section of Dutch bassist Finn Von Eyben and Southafrican drummer Louis Moholo in three lengthy Rudd compositions: Respects, Old Stuff and Sweet Smells. Everywhere (february 1966) tried to repeat the same ideas but featured an inferior line-up (despite Charlie Haden on bass) and inferior material.
Rudd also composed the jazz operas Blues for Planet Earth and Gold Rush, and played in the creative orchestras of the era: Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra (1968) and Carla Bley's Jazz Composers' Orchestra (1968) and Escalator Over The Hill (june 1971). Rudd's own five-movement composition for the (24-piece) Jazz Composer's Orchestra, Numatik Swing Band (july 1973), was highlighted by Circulation, a multi-stylistic workout mainly for the trombone, Lullaby For Greg with Sheila Jordan on vocals, and the dissonant and exotic last movement, Aerosphere. Rudd the trombonist was transposing the New Orleans' trombone to the "creative" era while absorbing also elements of folk music.
Rudd proved to be also and mainly a significant composer on Flexible Flyer (march 1974), that reprised the collaboration with Sheila Jordan, backed by a quartet with piano, bass and drums (Barry Altschul), particularly in Suh Blah Blah Buh Sibi and the three-part 16-minute Moselle Variations, and on Blown Bone (march 1976), that delivered Rudd compositions for soprano saxophone (Steve Lacy), tenor saxophone, clarinet, electric piano, bass, drums (Paul Motian) and trombone, such as Bethesda Fountain, Cement Blues (also bluesman Louisiana Red on guitar and vocals) and It's Happening (also Louisiana Red and Enrico Rava on trumpet). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Danish-born alto saxophonist John Tchicai, son of of a Danish mother and a Congolese father, was the important link between New York's original free-jazz scene and the European scene that developed in the 1970s. Tchicai followed Albert Ayler to New York in 1962 and was ubiquitous in the early pioneering experiments of free group improvisation, notably the New York Contemporary Five, a quintet with Don Cherry on cornet and Archie Shepp on tenor saxophone that implemented the principles of Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz (1960) on their Consequences (october 1963), particularly Consequences (the only track with Cherry); and the New York Art Quartet with Roswell Rudd on trombone, Milford Graves on drums and Lewis Worrell on bass, that experimented with expanded timbral ranges and polyphonic solos on New York Art Quartet (november 1964) and Mohawk (june 1965).
He played on several milestones of free jazz: Albert Ayler's New York Eye And Ear Control (1964), Archie Shepp's Four For Trane (1964), John Coltrane's Ascension (1965) and Roswell Rudd's Roswell Rudd (1965).
Tchicai returned to Denmark in 1966 and formed Cadentia Nova Dancia (october 1968), initially a nine-piece free-jazz ensemble that became a 24-piece "creative" orchestra for Afrodisiaca (july 1969). Tchicai, converted to Indian spirituality, was largely silent until 1977. He then formed the Strange Brothers, a quartet with a tenor saxophonist that released Strange Brothers (october 1977) and Darktown Highlights (march 1977) and split in 1981.
In the meantime, Tchicai had also released Solo (february 1977) for soprano, alto and flute, which also featured a duet with trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff, and especially Real (march 1977), twelve vignettes ranging in length from two minutes to eight minutes (Nothing Doing in Krakow) for a trio with guitarist Pierre Dorge and bassist Niels Henning Orsted Pedersen. These works asserted a fluid, intimate, controlled and highly rational style that sounded closer to the atmosphere of classical music than free jazz. world-music (and not only African) came natural to him and imbued many of his compositions with rhythmic and lyrical nuances that were unusual for free jazz. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


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TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.