Funk and Free-form Jazz
The be-bop revolution brought a new style of jazz into full bloom, but the seeds of its strength became the seeds of its decline. It was just too complex, too cerebral, too demanding in its pure form for any but the most dedicated aficionados. Two groups of jazz fans appeared: the free-form jazz crowd, who were quite happy to continue on the intellectual path before them, and the funky school, who yearned for a return to the black roots that seemed to have been lost in the shuffle.
Under the leadership of Ornette Coleman (b. 1930), a small band of strong musicians plunged further into artistic exploration, and began to improvise without a pre-conceived basic scheme whatsoever. For example, Coleman and his colleagues jumped right over the problem of specific chord progressions ("changes") by rejecting them completely.
He also worked hard to avoid obvious melodic patterns and specific meters. He often refused to set down anything at all as a base of operations. His musicians were expected to listen to what he seemed to be suggesting, and then contribute whatever seemed appropriate to what he had first offered. Coleman would then pick up that thread and try to weave something new into the musical-emotional cloth.
In his early days, Coleman used two different groups, without a piano in either one – the first with Don Cherry on trumpet, Charlie Haden on bass, and Eddie Blackwell on drums; the second with Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Eric Dolphy on multiple reeds, Scott Lafaro on bass, and Billy Higgins on drums. With no predetermined chords, bass lines, or rhythmic pulse, the musical results depended on the keen ears, quick reflexes, and fertile imaginations of its participants.
Sometimes it was very exciting, indeed, and sometimes it was not so exciting. Cecil Taylor tried many of the same procedures with remarkable results because as a pianist he was in complete control of the entire aesthetic intent and design. The Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians has spent a good deal of their time exploring the precarious trails of free-form jazz.
THE FUNKY SCHOOL
The opposite reaction to an over-intellectualized be-bop style was to return to the original roots of jazz, to retrieve the blues and gospel feeling that had been pushed into the background by the hardline, mainstream musicians.
Several musicians set out to do just that. Pianist Horace Silver (1928-2014) was especially influential. His earthy, blues-drenched solos inspired a crowd of imitators – pianists Gene Harris, Ramsey Lewis, Les McCann, and organists Jimmie Smith, Richard "Groove" Holmes, and Jack McDuff. Silver's tunes became jazz standards – "The Preacher" and "Song for My Father" come to mind.
Julian "Cannonball" Adderly (1928-1975) also returned to gospel feelings and blues nuances to tell his story. A huge man with a huge sound, he played alto saxophone with wit, humor, astonishing velocity, and large doses of passion. He was among the most successful disciples of the great Charlie Parker.
Although the term "funk" came in during the late 1960s, it is now used more often to describe that special kind of black feeling associated with Earl "Bootsy" Collins (b. 1951), George Clinton (b. 1941) and Parliament Funkadelic, and a number of the Motown groups. The distinction between funk and soul is not clear in any of the literature on jazz and rock during the 1960s.
A THIRD OPTION
There was a third option, too, when be-bop got too complex. That was to move toward rock for fresh creative juices. And during the 1960s and 1970s, a large number of imaginative musicians who might have gone into jazz went into rock instead, because it seemed to offer more financial gain for the time and labor involved. That whole field came to be called fusion, which was covered in the previous chapter.