Music Monday: Free Jazz / Black Power

First published In 1971, French jazz critics Philippe Carles and Jean-Louis Comolli co-wrote Free Jazz / Black Power, a treatise on the racial and political implications of jazz and jazz criticism. The book not only caught the spirits of its time; it also shaped it. It remains a testimony to the long ignored encounter of radical African American music and French left-wing criticism.

This volume now available in English for the first time was translated by Grégory Pierrot. UPM is proud to add this seminal work to our American Made Music Series. This edition includes a new preface written by the authors in 2014 as well an introduction from Pierrot.

Carles and Comolli set out to defend a genre vilified by classic jazz critics on both sides of the Atlantic by exposing its ties to African American culture, history, and the political struggle that was raging in the United States in the early 1970s. They offered a political and cultural history of black presence in the United States to better shed light on the dubious role played by jazz criticism in relation to racial oppression.

This analysis of jazz criticism and its production is surprisingly self-aware; it critiques the critics, building a work of cultural studies in a time and place where the practice was virtually unknown. Carles and Comolli reached radical conclusions: free jazz was a revolutionary reaction against white domination, the musical counterpart to the Black Power movement, one that demanded a similarly political commitment.

The impact of this book cannot be overstated: it made readers reconsider their relation to African American music, and in some cases changed the way musicians thought about, and played, jazz. Free Jazz/Black Power is both a tool for research and an archival item and is central to the study of the relations of American free jazz to European audiences, critics, and artists.

Below, is a classic example of free jazz – “Ghosts” by Albert Ayler.