Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation

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Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation
Studio album by Ornette Coleman
Released September 1961
Recorded December 21, 1960
Genre Free jazz
Avant-garde jazz
Length 37:10
Label Atlantic SD 1364
Producer Nesuhi Ertegün
Ornette Coleman chronology
This Is Our Music
Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars[1]
Down Beat 5/5 stars[2]
Yahoo! Music (favorable)[3]

Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation is the sixth album by jazz saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman, released on Atlantic Records in 1961, his fourth for the label. Its title established the name of the then-nascent free jazz movement. The recording session took place on December 21, 1960, at A&R Studios in New York City. The sole outtake from the album session, "First Take," was later released on the 1971 compilation Twins.


The album features a double quartet, one in each stereo channel. The personnel consists of Coleman's touring quartet (horns on one side, rhythm on the other), augmented by returning Coleman Quartet drummer Billy Higgins, multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy, and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. Bassist Scott LaFaro, whom Coleman had worked with the previous two days on sessions for Gunther Schuller, would both appear on this album and replace bassist Charlie Haden in the Quartet for Coleman's next album, Ornette!.

The rhythm sections play simultaneously, and though there is a succession of solos as is usual in jazz, they are peppered with freeform commentaries by the other horns that often turn into full-scale collective improvisation. The pre-composed material is a series of brief, dissonant fanfares for the horns which serve as interludes between solos. Not least among the album's achievements was that it was the first album-length improvisation, nearly forty minutes, which was unheard of at the time.

The original LP package incorporated Jackson Pollock's 1954 painting The White Light.[4] The cover was a gatefold with a cutout window in the lower left corner, allowing a glimpse of the painting; opening the cover revealed the full artwork, along with liner notes by critic Martin Williams.


The album was identified by Chris Kelsey in his Allmusic essay "Free Jazz: A Subjective History" as one of the 20 Essential Free Jazz albums.[5] It served as the blueprint for later large-ensemble free jazz recordings such as Ascension by John Coltrane and Machine Gun by Peter Brötzmann.

In the January 18, 1962 issue of Down Beat magazine, in a special review titled "Double View of a Double Quartet," Pete Welding awarded the album Five Stars while John A. Tynan rated it No Stars.[6]

On March 3, 1998, Free Jazz was reissued on compact disc by Rhino Records as part of its Atlantic 50 series. The "Free Jazz" track, split into two sections for each side of the LP, appeared here in continuous uninterrupted form, along with a bonus track of the previously issued "First Take."

Track listing[edit]

Composition by Ornette Coleman. Compact disc running time for "Free Jazz" listed as 37:03.

Side one[edit]

No. Title Length
1. "Free Jazz (part one)"   19:55

Side two[edit]

No. Title Length
1. "Free Jazz (part two)"   16:28

1998 bonus track[edit]

No. Title Length
2. "First Take"   17:06


Left channel
Right channel



  1. ^ Allmusic Review
  2. ^ Down Beat: January 18, 1962 vol. 29, no. 2
  3. ^ Yahoo! Music review
  4. ^ Jazz: A Film By Ken Burns, Episode 9, 2001.
  5. ^ Kelsey, C. Free Jazz: A Subjective History accessed December 7, 2009
  6. ^ Down Beat: January 18, 1962 vol. 29, no. 2