Sound Commitments: Avant-Garde Music and the Sixties

By Robert Adlington | Go to book overview

10
After the October
Revolution
The Jazz Avant-garde in New York,
1964–65

Bernard Gendron

In retrospect, the October Revolution, a festival of new jazz music organized by trumpeter Bill Dixon in 1964 at New York’s Cellar Cafe, was a brilliant publicity stunt, in effect if not in intention. It triggered a resurgence of the jazz avant-garde movement (also known as the “free jazz” and “the new thing”) after nearly three years of apparent somnolence and near-absence from the public eye. Ornette Coleman had initiated the first wave of the avant-garde as a movement in late 1959 with his highly publicized extended engagement at the Five Spot in the East Village. This set off a year of acrimonious debate pro and con, dividing the jazz community of musicians and critics. To his proponents, Coleman represented a much-needed new development in jazz, opening a new field of activity, after the great innovations of bebop had turned into cliche. But soon the fanfare subsided, gigs disappeared, Coleman retired, his comrade-in-arms Eric Dolphy passed away, and bossa nova was anointed the next big thing. By 1964, the avant-garde seemed to have been reduced to a minor rivulet meandering far from the mainstream. But, in the wake of the October Revolution, it rebounded dramatically. A new generation of musicians organized, spoke out, and took matters into their own hands. Coleman returned with a flourish and another major star, John Coltrane, joined forces with free jazz. An avant-garde recording industry suddenly appeared, more prolific than ever. Discourses intensified in the jazz press, roiled by increasingly acrimonious debates. Meanwhile, the new African American cultural magazines, associated with the Black Arts Movement,

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