Some people don’t understand it, but there is the detail: there is nothing to understand. Or yes, if you take the meaning of the word as in French: entendre that means to listen. From there it can be said that someone doesn’t like free jazz.
Not only is valid but let’s say, natural. In very reductionist terms, it’s possible to claim that our brain interprets what is symmetrical as beautiful and therefore pleasurable; on the contrary, finding these qualities in asymmetrical or chaotic structures is more difficult.
Let’s think that today there are those who still cannot see the beauty in Picasso’s Guernica, for example. But beyond those who prefer the safety of classical beauty, neat, Apollonian. Nietzsche would say, at this point of the 21st century we are more likely to appreciate not the beautiful but the sublime.
This idea is fundamental to understand the avant-garde of the 20th century and contemporary art not only in the plastic arts but also in music. The concept has existed since ancient Greek society, an overwhelming beauty.
Because of its liberating nature, especially for the performers, the free jazz leads to suprarational experiences of aesthetic ecstasy, which for many of the great exponents of the genre supposed a path of mystical knowledge. Spirituality and free jazz have gone hand by hand to this day.
Kant, in The Beautiful and the Sublime (1764) took up this aesthetic category to designate that greatness that provokes in the subject a displeasure: the sublime dislocates, doesn’t belong to the pre-established order and therefore, agitates, even instills fear, since the experience of the viewer comes from an unknown place, a chaotic one. Beauty, on the other hand, would be an act of quiet contemplation, of contentment.
The free jazz meant an act of freedom that took improvisation to the extreme. A gender that omitted all rules to invent an own order only from the physical and immediate action for its creation.
This subgenre of jazz emerged between 1959 and 1960, on the USA and, in a social and political context in which the term “freedom” really entailed some important political implications.
Experts consider that’s two records that are the foundation of free jazz as a consolidated genre, both are works by the African-American saxophonist Ornette Coleman: The shape of jazz to eat (1959), and Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation (1961).
This LPs are perfect examples of how the elements of music are deconstructed by the artist. From here, other huge exponents emerged, such as Cecil Taylor, revolutionary of the piano; the flute player, clarinetist and saxophonist Eric Dolphy, the trumpeter Don Cherry or the aforementioned Sun Ra, among many others.
This dip in the field of aesthetics may help explain why a few don’t fully comprehend or even dislike free jazz. In what aesthetic rules lies the eminence of free jazz? Maybe in the creative freedom for the interpreters.
Maybe, that’s why many experts dislike it. Perhaps many are uncomfortable with freedom, it implies high quotes of responsibility. As a society, we still don’t understand it, we don’t know what to do with it, and less when we face it, so abrupt, invading our privacy, removing the seats of our comfort zone.