Download: Edgard Varese, A Free Jazz Pioneer?

Edgar Varese

Dig that bowtie: Edgard Varese was definitely a jazzman. via Wikipedia Commons hide caption

itoggle caption via Wikipedia Commons

Freeform radio station WFMU — the home of all things delightfully "out there" — has unearthed a curious recording that may change how folks look at the history of free jazz. In 1957, French-born American composer Edgard Varese held a workshop with some of that era's most prominent jazz musicians. I mean, just look at this list: Art Farmer (trumpet), Hal McKusick (clarinet, alto sax), Teo Macero (tenor sax), Eddie Bert (trombone), Frank Rehak (trombone), Don Butterfield (tuba), Hall Overton (piano), Charles Mingus (bass), Ed Shaughnessy (drums), plus unidentified musicians on the alto sax and the vibes.

WFMU's source says that it "might be the first free jazz recording (totally unissued) of History of Music," but as one of the commenters on the original post correctly points out, Cecil Taylor and Lennie Tristano had already plunged into what would become known as free jazz by 1957. Whether Varese knew of those players is unknown, but it's still fascinating to hear Varese working out his ideas of "organized sound" in a jazz context. It's even better yet to hear a frustrated musician exclaim, "This is not natural for me" (track 6), or the awe of the room after Varese coaches Don Butterfield on an extended technique for his tuba (track 3). It's fascinating document, and one that warrants further investigation.

Download: Edgar Varese and the Jazzmen at WFMU's Beware of the Blog.

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