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 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. 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.
Composition by Ornette Coleman. Compact disc running time for "Free Jazz" listed as 37:03.
1. "Free Jazz (part one)" 19:55
1. "Free Jazz (part two)" 16:28
1998 bonus track
No. Title Length
2. "First Take" 17:06
Ornette Coleman — alto saxophone
Don Cherry — pocket trumpet
Scott LaFaro — bass
Billy Higgins — drums
Eric Dolphy — bass clarinet
Freddie Hubbard — trumpet
Charlie Haden — bass
Ed Blackwell — drums
During 1959-1961, beginning with The Shape of Jazz to Come, Coleman recorded a series of classic and startling quartet albums for Atlantic. With Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Scott LaFaro, or Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Billy Higgins or Ed Blackwell on drums, Coleman created music that would greatly affect most of the other advanced improvisers of the 1960s, including John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, and the free jazz players of the mid-'60s. One set, a nearly 40-minute jam called Free Jazz (which other than a few brief themes was basically a pulse-driven group free improvisation) had Coleman, Cherry, Haden, LaFaro, Higgins, Blackwell, Dolphy, and Freddie Hubbard forming a double quartet.
In 1962, Coleman, feeling that he was worth much more money than the clubs and his label were paying him, surprised the jazz world by retiring for a period. He took up trumpet and violin (playing the latter as if it were a drum), and in 1965, he recorded a few brilliant sets on all his instruments with a particularly strong trio featuring bassist David Izenzon and drummer Charles Moffett. Later in the decade, Coleman had a quartet with the very complementary tenor Dewey Redman, Haden, and either Blackwell or his young son Denardo Coleman on drums. In addition, Coleman wrote some atonal and wholly composed classical works for chamber groups, and had a few reunions with Don Cherry.