In the late 1960s, as black Americans fought for equal rights, music started to reflect their calls to action. Nina Simone wondered what real freedom felt like, and James Brown encouraged black people to proudly proclaim their race. While black music has always been a refuge, these songs expressed a new way of thinking, combating racism with unflinching pride.

Jazz musicians including Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra and John Coltrane also sought transcendence with their art, and through shrieking horns and deconstructed rhythms, they set forth a new wave of energy music. It was called free jazz, a loose, improvised blend less tied to structure, and its creation has been credited to Coleman, who started playing these frenetic arrangements on a white plastic saxophone in 1959. The music, and its focus, evolved over the next decade: Sun Ra believed that black people would never find peace on Earth and should live on other planets. Coltrane, through his saxophone, blew shrill notes to summon higher powers.

Some jazz purists weren’t thrilled with this “new thing.” Still, the music persisted. Through Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp and others, free jazz started tapping into black consciousness, and songs like “Journey in Satchidananda” and “Source…

Related Posts