Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation

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Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation
Studio album by
ReleasedSeptember 1961
RecordedDecember 21, 1960 (1960-12-21)
GenreFree jazz
LabelAtlantic SD 1364
ProducerNesuhi Ertegün
Ornette Coleman chronology
This Is Our Music
Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation
Professional ratings
Review scores
Down Beat[1]
The Penguin Guide to Jazz[3]
Yahoo! Music(favorable)[4]
The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide[5]
Tom HullA−[6]

Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation is the sixth album by jazz saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman, released on Atlantic Records in September 1961: the fourth of Coleman's six albums for the label. Its title named 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 and subsequent CD reissues of Free Jazz.


The music is a continuous free improvisation with only a few brief pre-determined sections, recorded in one take with no overdubbing or editing.[7] The album features what Coleman called a “double quartet,” i.e., two self-contained jazz quartets: each with a reed instrument, trumpet, bass, and drums.[8] The two quartets are heard in separate channels, with Coleman's working quartet at the time (as featured on Ornette!) in the left channel, and the second quartet, including the former Coleman rhythm section of Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell, on the right.[9]

The two quartets play simultaneously, with the two rhythm sections providing a dense rhythmic foundation over which the wind players either solo or provide freeform commentaries, interspersed with pre-composed passages. The composed thematic material can be considered a series of brief, dissonant fanfares for the horns which serve as interludes between solos. Free Jazz was the first album-length improvisation at thirty-seven minutes, unheard of at the time.

The original LP package incorporated Jackson Pollock's 1954 painting The White Light.[10] The cover was a gatefold with a cutout window in the lower right corner allowing a glimpse of the painting; opening the cover revealed the full artwork, along with liner notes by critic Martin Williams. Coleman was a fan of Pollock's work as well as being a painter himself, and the cover of his 1966 LP The Empty Foxhole would feature his own artwork.[11][12]


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.[9][13]

AllMusic critic Steve Huey described it in his five-star retrospective review as "a staggering achievement" which "practically defies superlatives in its historical importance."[14] It served as the blueprint for later large-ensemble free jazz recordings such as Ascension by John Coltrane and Machine Gun by Peter Brötzmann.

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

Track listing[edit]

Original LP[edit]

All tracks are written by Ornette Coleman

Side one
1."Free Jazz (Part One)"19:55
Total length:19:55
Side two
1."Free Jazz (Part Two)"16:28
Total length:16:28 36:23

1998 CD reissue[edit]

All tracks are written by Ornette Coleman

1."Free Jazz"37:03
2."First Take"17:06
Total length:54:09

Timing of the various sections[edit]

  • 00:00 Polyphonic introduction
  • 00:07 Ensemble introduction to Eric Dolphy
  • 00:22 Eric Dolphy – bass clarinet solo (right channel)
  • 05:12 Ensemble introduction to Freddie Hubbard
  • 05:40 Freddie Hubbard – trumpet solo (right channel)
  • 09:54 Ensemble introduction to Ornette Coleman
  • 10:05 Ornette Coleman alto saxophone solo (left channel)
  • 19:36 Ensemble Introduction to Don Cherry
  • 19:48 Don Cherry – pocket trumpet solo (left channel)
  • 25:21 Ensemble introduction to Charlie Haden
  • 25:26 Charlie Haden – bass solo (right channel)
  • 29:51 Ensemble introduction to Scott LaFaro
  • 30:00 Scott LaFaro – bass solo (left channel)
  • 33:47 Polyphonic ensemble introduction to Ed Blackwell
  • 34:00 Ed Blackwell – drum solo (right channel)
  • 35:19 Ensemble introduction to Billy Higgins
  • 35:28 Billy Higgins – drum solo (left channel)


Left channel
Right channel



  1. ^ Down Beat: January 18, 1962 vol. 29, no. 2
  2. ^ Allmusic Review
  3. ^ Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 7th ed. (Penguin, 2004), p. 322.
  4. ^ Yahoo! Music review
  5. ^ Swenson, J., ed. (1985). The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide. USA: Random House/Rolling Stone. p. 45. ISBN 0-394-72643-X.
  6. ^ Hull, Tom (n.d.). "Jazz (1940–50s) (Reference)". Retrieved March 4, 2020.
  7. ^ Liner notes to Atlantic Records album 1364.
  8. ^ Bailey, C. Michael (September 30, 2011). "Ornette Coleman: Free Jazz". All About Jazz. Retrieved March 9, 2020.
  9. ^ a b "Happy 55th: Ornette Coleman, Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation". Rhino. December 21, 2015. Retrieved March 9, 2020.
  10. ^ Jazz: A Film By Ken Burns, Episode 9, 2001.
  11. ^ Borgerson, Janet (2017). Designed for hi-fi living : the vinyl LP in midcentury America. Schroeder, Jonathan E., 1962-, Miller, Daniel, 1954-. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. p. 90. ISBN 9780262036238. OCLC 958205262.
  12. ^ "Ornette Coleman and Jackson Pollock: Black Music, White Light |". Retrieved 2017-09-20.
  13. ^ Down Beat: January 18, 1962 vol. 29, no. 2
  14. ^ Huey, Steve, Ornette Coleman Double Quartet - Free Jazz Album Review, retrieved 2023-07-24