By its very nature, improvised music deals with the relationship between an individual and a group, and therefore issues of freedom and individuality. Structures in improvised music, whether spontaneous or predetermined, reflect conceptions of individuality and freedom; both the conceptions of those who created the structures, and those who perform within them.
In an attempt to examine closely the relationship between freedom, structure, and individuality, I have chosen to examine a performance which took place at the 1995 San Francisco Jazz Festival. The group was named the Cecil Taylor Creative Orchestra, which consisted of forty-three improvising musicians from the SF Bay Area, including myself, under the direction of Taylor, who also performed. The event itself, two one-and-a-half hour sets of continuous sound and movement, was so complex and varied it is impossible to talk about in any complete way. However, issues of freedom, individuality, and structure were central to the event, and can be understood through a close examination of certain passages. The reaction to the performance was strongsome audience members walked out, others gave a standing ovation, and the reviews, for the most part, were incredulous.1 The impact on the local improvising scene (and on myself in particular) was profound, and it is now seen as a landmark event.
In order to understand as completely as possible the way in which freedom and individuality came about and functioned within the performance, it is necessary to understand how they emerged in Taylor's music. Therefore, this essay is organized into three separate parts, the first two of which will provide necessary background material for the analysis of the concert in the third. Part I is in two halves. The first discusses the relationship between jazz and society, and how jazz mirrors cultural and political ideologies. The second half gives a brief overview of the beginnings of free jazz music in the fifties and sixties, with a focus on the connection between the social, political, and spiritual movements of the time, and Black Nationalism in particular, and how they formed the basis for a new musical understanding of individuality which emerged in Taylor's work. In Part II, I will examine the liner notes to Taylor's 1966 recording Unit Structures. In these notes Taylor lays out, in poetic language, his conception of his music's relationship to the body, from which he derives a particular understanding of improvisation and individuality expressed in music, and how this understanding functions in a group context. These conceptions are crucial to understanding his formulations of musical structure, formulations that he continues to develop through the present. Part III will focus on the concert. I will begin with describing the rehearsal process leading up to the festival performance, and how that process developed a specific conception of group identity among the orchestra members. Next, I will closely examine two specific episodes from the performance, which are designated Tape Selection 1 and Tape Selection 2 on the cassette provided with this paper. These examinations will focus on the way issues of freedom, individuality, and structure manifested themselves during the performance, how they fit in with the conceptions laid out in Parts I and II, and how they conformed or differed from the conceptions of the performers. With this understanding, I will then compare the Taylor performance to a performance of a Pauline Oliveros piece, "Approaches and Departures - Appearances and Disappearances," which took place six weeks before and dealt with similar issues.
Through this examination, I hope to explore how conceptions of freedom and restraint in relation to individual and group identity operate within the context of improvised music.
1 For a description of the event, see the review by Phillip Elwood, "Surviving Cecil Taylor's Musical Avalanche," San Francisco Examiner, October 27, 1995: C:11. back