Improvising pianists : aspects of keyboard technique and musical structure in free jazz, 1955-1980
The jazz avant-garde of the 60s and 70s has often been depicted as a movement that signalled the end of jazz as we had come to know it, a movement of unbridled musical energy and passion without the essential restraining influences of formal guidelines and reverence for - traditions. With the benefit of hindsight, from observing the almost neoclassical stance of jazz in the 80s, the notion that this music signified the genre's Armaggedon was patently a misconception. This thesis argues that free jazz was as much a style, concerned with finding its own voice and technical vocabulary, as any other period of jazz history. As an analytical and critical study of pianists and their use of the piano in free jazz and improvised music, this survey is designed to fill a gap in musicological research of this important artistic movement, which hitherto has been primarily concerned with biography and with related sociological issues. The study traces the piano through the turbulent years of radical experirnentalism in jazz and the subsequent refinement in free improvisation in Europe and the U.S. through the work of pianists central to the movement. Rather than adopting the chronological approach, this study considers the music under broad headings specifically related to technique; the instrument's position within the group, and the generation of form, motivic structure and 'language'. Chapter 1, by way of introduction, outlines the argument of what constitutes the 'freedom' in free jazz and looks at the early development of the avant garde as it arose in opposition to the prevailing traditions of bebop and contemporary notated music with special reference to three influential pianists: Herbie Nichols, Lennie Tristano and Thelonius Monk. Chapter 2 is concerned with new concepts in overall form, while Chapter 3 takes a closer look at the smaller components, or motifs, of modular improvisatory structure. Chapter 4 examines the physical nature of piano tones, their unique qualities of sustain and resonance and their changing patterns of distribution in this music; looking at 'space' firstly in the sense of the piano's natural resonance and the pianists whose work has explored this particular characteristic, and secondly, the physical space involved in the act of playing, the sense of movement or kinaesthesis. Chapter 5 will concentrate on the dynamic and percussive approach to free jazz piano. Chapter 6 turns from the physiological to the psychological processes of improvisation; how the opposing forces of habit and originality assert themselves in the improviser's art. Chapter 7 will form a brief conclusion.