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The role of contemporary music for the development of european improvised music

Kai Lothwesen
janvier 2012



La prétendue « émancipation » du jazz européen dans les années 1960 peut être considérée comme un point de départ pour les tendances  nouvelles qui ont inspiré considérablement depuis  les musiques improvisées. Les musiques savantes contemporaines ont retenu l’attention dans ce processus. Pourquoi et comment la composition classique  a-t-elle exercé une influence majeure sur le free jazz européen et les musiques improvisées ? Nous examinons cette question en analysant et commentant des œuvres et certains écrits de critiques musicaux. Cet essai concerne l’identité du free jazz européen pour parvenir à la question finale : tandis que l’émancipation semble être un phénomène historique, l’assimilation continue d’être un challenge pour les musiciens improvisateurs, ce qui engendre de fascinantes  expériences d’écoute.


The so called “emancipation” of European Jazz in the 1960s can be regarded as a starting point for the developmental tendencies that have since inspired a wide range of improvised music. Contemporary classical music gained much attention in the process. Why and how did classical composition exert a major influence on European Free Jazz and improvised music? We tackle this question by analyzing and discussing works of music and assertions made by music critics. This investigation touches on the issue of the identity of European Free Jazz. We examine whether the use of contemporary composition techniques in 60s European Free Jazz should be regarded as a form of emancipation from the leading US-Jazz developments at the time or else as a form of assimilation of high-brow concert music. Another diverging question is whether these motifs of “emancipation” and “assimilation” still apply in today’s European improvised music.
The merge of contemporary music and Free Jazz triggered new possibilities in musical expression and musical structures. The complex interplay of influences on contemporary music is bound up with individual attempts and musical conceptions. These various forces could be encompassed by a model that tackles writings about music as well as musical practice; this model would shed light on possible influences exerted by contemporary music.  The issue of context is crucial: the question of whether emancipation or assimilation is a leading motif in the adaptation of elements of contemporary music can only be answered with regards to individual works and their specific historical context. Whereas emancipation appears to be a historical phenomenon, assimilation continues to be a challenge for improvising musicians, giving rise to fascinating listening experiences.


Texte intégral   

1This article touches an episode of European Jazz-History which can be seen as a starting point for the following developmental tendencies that inspired the wide range of improvised music since the late 1960s. This initial, the so called “emancipation” of European Jazz is crucial in the way that European jazz musicians tried to find their own musical language within the field of Jazz and influencend their ways of dealing with the adaptation of techniques an d elements of contemporary music, the classical music of the 20th century, in their works.

2The question is why and how contemporary music seems to be of great importance for European Free Jazz and improvised mu sic. Its role for the European Jazz-Development shall be measured in the work s of musicians as well as in statements of music criticism ; the use of contemporary composition is exemplified in selected musical works. These examinations will touch the question of identity of European Free Jazz. It should be asked whether the use of techniques of contemporary composition in the 1960s European Free Jazz is to be regarded as a form of emancipation from the leading US-Jazz-developments at this time or if it should be regarded as a form of assimilation of the high-brow-habits of concert music. Another question leading further away is to ask if these motifs of “emancipation” or “assimilation” still work in todays European improvised music.


3As a first step it is necessary to examine what European Jazz is about to mean. Ekkehard Jost once noted that for a long time European Jazz meant something like US-Jazz played in Europe – and only US-american musicians were seen to be able to guarantee a ‘real’ feeling of authenticity1. What European Jazz went through is seen as developmental process in three stages ; the European Jazz research discusses the following : “Imitation”. Starting with the jazz reception in Europe during the 1920s a first stage of imitation is recognized2. The music that came from overseas was played live in vaudevilles, variètes and cabarèts and the distribution of jazz records emerged in the big cities, in Germany in those cities like Hamburg, Berlin and Frankfurt. The music that was imitated focussed simpler jazz forms as Dixieland and not more technically complex forms as Be-bop.3

4“Selbstbewußtwerdung”. This term coined by Wolfram Knauer describes a process of gaining self conciousness and being aware of one’s own cultural environment (see Knauer 1996). In the early 1960s European jazz musicians were confronted with new phenomenons of the US-jazz. (An imitation of music like Ornette Coleman’s double quartet was not that easy to master as it reflected a musical practice as well as genuine US-american sociopolitical problems in the approach of making art not entertainment.) So individual musical conceptions arose which focussed the own abilities and gave possibilities to widen the range o f jazz (see the portraits of musicians in Jost 1987).

5“Reflexion of musical authenticity”. Bert Noglik stated that in the late 1960s European jazz musicians were still inspired by the US-jazz-development yet then this was perceived as an initial to find own ways (see Noglik 1987). So it was not the music that was just imitated like it had been before. By now the conceptions o f musicians like Cecil Taylor, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler, just to name a few, triggered the search for identity among European Jazz musicians : one wanted to play jazz but still be genuine and not epigonic. What Noglik called ‘reflexion of musical authenticity’ was a movement toward the European musical heritage : Albert Mangelsdorff for example recorded old folksongs, others like Willem Breuker referred to songs by Kurt Weill and again other musicians like Alexander von Schlippenbach used tone rows for structuring musical forms. The repertoire of potential musical expression and elements could be seen in three main fields of ingredients : folk music, popular music, and concert music.

6So what is European Jazz ? The approach provided here follows a simple and brief definition following the discussion sketched above and attempts of jazz research : European Jazz is a distinct musical practice combining elements of various musical styles (folk music, popular music, concert music) under respect of the afro-american heritage of jazz (improvisation, phrasing , rhythmic relations, expression).

7In addition, it is to ask what con temporary music means. Again a simple and brief definition shall sketch the term’s boundaries : contemporary Music follows the tradition of Western art music in using distinct musical material – a term referring to Adorno, which implies an historical dimension. Contemporary music creates new techniques of musical composition and musical sounds – a basic striving for constant progression and uniqueness which can be illustrated by looking at the history of tone row composition that leads from the atonal era around 1900 more or less straight to aleatoric compositions of the late 1950s. Another characteristic seems to be the use of sounds and the exploration of new sound sources differing from machines to electronically generated sounds. Contemporary music also brought forth various aesthetic conceptions differing from Arnold Schönberg to John Cage and beyond.

8Though the inherent development of contemporary music has not come to an end, following Hermann Danuser4 contemporary music can be regarded as an historic category bound to Western concert music in aesthetic and musical characteristics as well as a certain social „habitus“ (Bourdieu).

9But how did european jazz and contemporary music meet ? A brief answer lies in the crisis of contemporary music after being caught in serial composition. The solution of aleatoric techniques which offered more space for chance seemed to imply certain forms of improvisation. On the other hand the Jazz development set free the traditional musical forms like “playing the changes”. Since the mid-1960s a short era of collaborations between composers of contemporary music and musicians exploring more free forms of jazz emerged. One of the composers working with jazz musicians at that time was Bernd Alois Zimmermann ; his collaboration with the Manfred Schoof-Quintett lasted longer than any other project as for example Hans Werner Henze’s work with Gunter Hampel.


Fig. 1: Bernd Alois Zimmermann: „ Jazz episode aus ‚Die Soldaten’, (excerpt), score, p. 214.

10In the “Improvisationen über die Jazz-Episode aus der Oper‚ Die Soldaten‘”, the Schoof’s jazz group improvised on the composed jazz-part in Zimmermann’s Opera. To illustrate the differences between composed parts and the actually played music a quick glance at the score is helpful (fig. 1) : the band kept the time, scored as the typical “ding-ding-a-ding”, and a walking bass figure, but improvised rather freely on the given lines (after following the score more or less, the players are soloing in their own way). It is stunning how good the individual styles of the composer and the musicians fit – Zimmermann knew the musicians’ playing well, because at this time (around 1965) two of them, namely the trumpet player Manfred Schoof and the pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, took courses Zimmermann gave at the Musikhochschule in Cologne. Yet the impact of such collaborations should not be mistaken : it was important for the following development of certain musicians, but did not touch a broader public – neither that of Contemporary Music nor that of Jazz.5

11The question is how Jazz as a distinct music was (or still is) capable of adapting other musics – in this case elements of contemporary music. Therefore it seems appropriate to go back a few steps and question the essence of jazz. Marc Tucker6 suggested three definitions of jazz, a distinction that seems helpful to understand the adaptation of contemporary music and the construction of the identity of European Jazz. If one assumes that none of these definitions could solely describe the whole of what jazz as a musical expression means, these definitions can be seen as connected in a triangular model of interdependent definitions (fig. 2).


Fig. 2: Triangular model of interactive definitions of Jazz (see Tucker 2001).

12That means the focus of what is to be described as jazz can change: for example the aspect of jazz as a musical tradition underlines its roots in the afro-american music at the beginning of the 20th century; jazz as a musical style would properly be described in listing various musical characteristics such as syncopation, improvisation, phrasing and intonation; and the „set of attitudes and assumptions“ subsumes various kinds of playing techniques as well as individual forms of musical expressions and the will to set up new conceptions of playing. This seems to be the most interesting point : influences from outside the field of jazz merge with elements of the jazz tradition which can bring forth new forms and changes in the musical style.

13So what are these “attitudes and assumptions” about ? Here the motifs of emancipation and assimilation gain attention. It is the musicians’ attempt to create an own language of jazz besides the leading US-Jazz-development in the 1960s. This shall b e illustrated by a short sample of quotes by the musicians themselves.

„We weren’t reacting against the black American jazz musicians themselves – we were inspired by them – we were reacting against the idea that we had to do it their way. What they had achieved, fundamentally, was to look at their own conditions and create, and that was what we were inspired to do.”7

„Heute ist zum er sten Malklar, daß die meisten Amerikaner unserer Generationals musikalischer Einfluß gestohlen bleiben können.“ 8

„It was obvious that when we would do something it would be something related to European tradition more than jazz.”9

„Jemand, der sich schon mit neuer Musik beschäftigt hat – beispielsweise mit Stücken von Ligeti, Penderecki, Kagel, auch mit Schönberg und seiner Schule –, wird unsere Musik nicht als so fremdartig empfinden.“ 10

„[Die Musik der Masters of Unorthodox Jazz] verfügt …über Wesenszüge, die sie mit dem Geistder … Meister Schönberg, Berg und Webern…verbinden.“11

„Die neue Musik hatte einen gewissen Einfluß auf die freie Improvisation… Nicht nur musikalisch gesehen verbindet die neue Musik und die freie Improvisation einiges miteinander, sondern auch politisch.“ 12

14Whereas the first three of the cited statements clearly pro vide an emancipatory position that distances itself from US-jazz, the latters seem to converge with values of contemporary music. So ‘emancipation’ shall be defined as a turning away or even a denial of the influences of US-jazz, ‘assimilation’ shall be defined as an adaptation of concert music’s habitus to explain techniques and comment aesthetically on musical works. These strategies work together in constructing an identity of european jazz : it is not only the turning away from jazz as a term with certain connotations – an attempt made by the Bebop-movement quite some twenty years before – but also the turning away form a certain form of playing jazz.13Added to the figure of Tucker’s definitions of jazz it is obvious that these attitudes are about to form a new musical style by an adaptation of other musical phenomenons besides US-Jazz (fig. 3).


Fig. 3: Triangular model of interactive definitions of Jazz (see Tucker 2001) and conditions of European Jazz.


15An empirical research on the published texts on the topic should provide insight in the process of constructing this specific identity. The sample consisted of 17 monographies and anthologies of European Jazz research and was analysed by content analysis. Then a correspondence analysis was calculated, a statistical method that displays correspondances of variables via distance relations in charts (that means short distances display strong relations, large distances display weak relations). All in all 3887 statements were extracted and separated into the ones made by critics and the ones by musicians to see if these groups would differ.14 And indeed there are differences to be stated between the music critics and musicians points of view.15 Not only does the quality rating of criteria to judge contemporary music by discussing composers from different perspectives alternate, but also the relations that are drawn between composers within the field of contemporary music and improvising musicians. For example, the critics’ main interest focusses a “historical” dimension that points out the composer’s value for music history – yet this does not play any role in the musicians’ point of view.16


Fig. 4: Relations of composers and improvising musicians (Correspondance analysis).

16In another step relations were examined that have been built up between composers and improvising musicians. The results show that again the points of view of critics and musicians differ : Whereas the critics clearly state some strong relations, the musicians do not. This is to be illustrated with a glance at the result of the correspondence analysis (fig. 4). One can identify the so called “English School of Improvised Music” on the critics’ chart in the right corner above : this cluster displays musicians that in some way follow a spare and fragmented musical structure similar to those of Anton Webern’s works. Here improvising musicians like Paul Rutherford, Tony Oxley, Gunter Christmann and Evan Parker are named. In this respect the musicians’ statements are more in different – this specific group is not represented that clearly here17.

17So what does contemporary music mean for critics and musicians ? Following these and other results of further examinations it can be said that contemporary music for critics plays a role as comparison and legitimation of the new musical style called “European Free Jazz”. The critics are constructing a canon of definitions and viewpoints on the topic : they provide a certain view on contemporary music via the judgemental criteria ; only a few selected composers are of interest and certain composers are named to be eminent influences on certain improvising musicians. The musicians themselves seem to use contemporary music as an initial for inspiration and striving for social prestige ; they are constructing an uniqueness in denying the composers’ influence on their own work as well as in stating musical originality as artistic paradigm.


18But what about the musical practice? How do improvising musicians use elements of contemporary music ? Musical analyses of works by selected musicians can give answers to that question in forms of snap-shots snap shots ?

19Georg Gräwe shows himself to be influenced by Anton Webern. Similarities appear in the construction of symmetrical forms and the use of techniques of serial composition ; but there is no straight adoption of Webern’s structures or “Gestalten”. It is the often fragmented musical texture that is in some way familiar. Gräwe use structural elements as inspiration and follows in his works a chamber music paradigm, which is provided by woodwinds and strings combined with a typical jazz instrumentation and free jazz expressions.

20This is to be exemplified in Gräwe’s piece “fragment 1”. The similarity to Webern is illustrated in the transcription and the Webern score below (fig. 5).


Fig. 5: Textural similarities in Georg Gräwe’s „fragment 1 “(above, transcription) and Anton Webern’s „ Variationen op. 27, No.1“ (below, excerpt from score).

21Alexander von Schlippenbach studied with Bernd Alois Zimmermann and states to be influenced by him in many ways. Following Zimmermann’s philosophy he claims “unity” being of major importance in his compositional work ; also a focus on musical time and relation between separate musical groups is recognizable in his music which is perceived as a confusion of musical time, a phenomenon Zimmermann called “Zeitdehnung”18. There are also similarities to György Ligeti in Schlippenbach’s work : it is the use of techniques of repetition and periodic composition that are used to manipulate musical time19. So in Schlippenbach’s case contemporary music, namely the two mentioned composers, offer aesthetic and compositional inspirations whereas certain techniques are of minor interest. In his early works Schlippenbach used tone rows as structuring elements : the need was not to compose in a twelve-tone manner but to get clear distinctions between the musical parts. In “Globe Unity” (1966) and “Globe Unity 67” (1967) the tone rows are presented clearly as an own musical dimension in a surrounding of collective power play Free jazz (fig.6).


Fig. 6: Tonereows in Alexander von Schlippenbach’s „Globe Unity “(above) and „GlobeUnity 67“ (below).

22However Schlippenbach’s piece “The Morlocks” provides another attempt: it is a musical motor study similar to periodic works of Ligeti (fig. 7).

23Barry Guy named Iannis Xenakis as a favourite composer20. Guy’s works reveal similarities in the formal structures and in the use of sound sculptures like clusters, chords and glissandi. Xenakis seems to offer the foremost sonic inspirations which Barry Guy transfers into a Free Jazz-context ; also techniques of constructivistic organisation and composition of musical material seem to be influenced by Xenakis. A sample fro m Guy’s piece “Portraits I” exemplifies this familiarity. The following chart shows Guy’s constructivist approach in building up chords : each chord can be split up in tone rows that do not follow strict statistical rules but rules of sound in being piled up to chords (fig. 8).


Fig. 7: Motoric structures in Alexander von Schlippenbach’s “The Morlocks“ (above, manuscript, p. 1) and György Ligeti’s “Continuum” (below, excerpt, score, p. 5).


Fig. 8: Chord sequence (above) and tonerow structures (below) in Barry Guy’s „Owed to J.S.“.


24The melting of contemporary music and Free Jazz brought up new possibilities in musical expression and musical structures. The diverse reflexions of influences of contemporary music are bound to individual attempts and musical conceptions. Yet they could be brought together in a model that reflects the writing about music as well as the musical practice. This model offers orientation in discussing these possible influences : The model is based on musical characteristics and therefore it could be used to analyse these musics (fig. 9).


Fig. 9: Scheme of reflexions of contemporary music.

25Yet one should be always aware of the context of these characteristics and their origin. So the question whether emancipation or assimilation is a leading motif in the adaptation of elements of contemporary music can only be answered in regarding individual works and their specific historical context. Whereas emancipation appears to be an historical phenomenon, assimilation still seems to be a challenge for improvising musicians that permits fascinating listening experiences.


Globe Unity Orchester, Globe Unity 67 & 70, UMS/ALP223CD, 2001.

Grub enklangorchester, Flavours, Fragments ; ITM Classics 950014, 1994.

Barry Guy, Portraits, manuscript.

Barry Guy, Three Pieces ( = Owed to J.S., Sleeping Furiously, Strange Loops), manuscript.

Györgi Ligeti, Continuum, Mainz, Schott.

Alexander von Schlippenbach, Globe Unity, SABA 15109, 1967.

Alexander von Schlippenbach, The Morlocks, manuscript.

Anton Webern, Variationen für Klavier, op. 27, Wien, Universal Edition.

Bernd Alois Zimmermann, Die Soldaten, Mainz, Schott.


1  See Ekkehard Jost, Europas Jazz 1960-80, Frankfurt, Fischer, 1987 ; see also Ekkehard Jost, « Über das Europäische im europäischen Jazz », in Wolfram Knauer (éd.), Jazz in Europa ( = Darmstädter Beiträge zur Jazzforschung, Bd.3), Hofheim, Wolke, 1994, p. 233-249.

2  See Bert Noglik, « Aktuelle Aspekte der Identität von Jazz und “improvisierter Musik” in Europa : differenziertes Selbstverständnis und Internationalisierung », in : Jazzforschung, vol. 19, Graz, Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, 1987, p. 177-18 6, ici p. 178.

3  See Wolfram Knauer, « Emanzipation wovon ? Zum Verhältnis des amerikanischen und des deutschen Jazz in den 50er und 60er Jahren », in Wolfram Knauer (éd.), Jazz in Deutschland ( = Darmstädter Beiträge zur Jazzforschung Bd. 4), Hofheim, Wolke, 1996, p. 141-157, ici p. 145.

4  See Hermann Danuser, « Neue Musik » in Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, Sachteil vo l. 7, second édition, éd. par Ludwig Finscher, Kassel et al., Bärenreiter, 1997, Sp. 75-122, ici Sp. 75ff.

5  See Kai Stefan Lothwesen, « “Zeiten gewissermaßen auf dem Meeresgrund”. Zum Jazzverständnis von Bernd Alois Zimmermann », in MusikTexte 86/87, November 2000, p. 80-95.

6  See Mark Tucker, « Jazz », in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second édition, vol. 12, éd. by Stanley Sadie, London : Macmillan Press, 2001, p. 903- 92 6.

7  The English guitar player Keith Rowe cited in John B. Wickes, Innovations in British jazz, vol. 1 : 1960-1980, Chelmsford, 1999, p. 52.

8  The German Bass player Peter Kowald cited in Ekkehard Jost, Europas Jazz 1960-80, Frankfurt, Fischer, 1987, p. 113.

9  The Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg cited in Kevin Whitehead, New Dutch Swing, New York, Billboard Book s, 1998, p. 39.

10  The German pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach cited in Bert Noglik, Jazz-Werkstatt international, Reinbek bei Hamburg, Rowohlt, 1983, p. 115.

11  The Austrian pianist Ahmad Pechoc cited in Bert Noglik, Klangspuren. Wege improvisierter Musik, Berlin , Verlag Neue Musik, 1990, p. 215.

12  The Belgian pianist Fred van Hove cited in Ingrid Karl, Jazz op. 3. Die heimliche Liebe des Jazz zur europäischen Moderne, München, Löcker 1986, p. 228.

13  For critical remarks on that attempt and its implications on dispensing the afro-american heritage of jazz see George E. Lewis, « “Gittin’ to know y’all”. Von improvisierter Musik, vom Treffen der Kulturen und vonder “racial imagination” », inWolfram Knauer (éd.), Jazz und Gesellschaft. Sozialgeschichtliche Aspekte des Jazz ( = Darmstädter Beiträge zur Jazzforschung vol. 7), Hofheim, Wolke, 2002, p. 213 – 247 ; see also Peter NiklasWilson, « Neue Paradigmen in der improvisierten Musik », in Wolfram Knauer (éd.), improvisieren… ( = Darmstädter Beiträge zur Jazzforschung vol. 8), Hofheim, Wolke, 2004, p. 217-2 32.

14  This article can offer just brief insights by means of selected results of these ex aminations. Though the presented results are originally placed in a broader environment they are able to display the core problems of this topic that is a form of theoretical canonization on the one hand and creative ways to go beyond that musically on the other hand.

15  See Kai Stefan Lothwesen, « Grenzgänger gestern und heute - Zum Umgang improvisierender Musiker mit Neuer Musik », in Jörn Peter Hiekel (éd.), Orientierungen. Wege im Pluralismus der Gegenwartsmusik ( = Veröffentlichung en des Instituts für Neue Musik und Musikpädagogik Darmstadt, vol. 47), Mainz : Schott, pp. 199-218, ici p. 206f.

16  See Kai Stefan Lothwesen, Klang - Struktur - Konzept. Reflexionen Neuer Musik in Free Jazz und Improvisationsmusik, Universität Hamburg, Dissertation, 2006, p. 92ff.

17  And on top o f that Gunter Christmann is not named here.

18  See Bernd Alois Zimmermann, Intervall und Zeit. Aufsätze und Schriften zum Werk, edited by Christoph Bitter, Mainz, Schott, 1974 ; see also Irmgard Brockmann, « Das Prinzipder Zeitdehnung in Tratto, Intercommunicazione, Photoptosis und Stille und Umkehr », in Hermann Beyer, Siegfried Mauser (éd.), Zeitphilosophie und Klanggestalt. Untersuchungen zum Werk Bernd Alois Zimmermanns, Mainz, Schott, pp. 20-69.

19  See Jane Piper Clendinning, « The pattern-meccanico Compositions of Györgi Ligeti », in Perspectives of New Music, vol. 31, No .1, Winter 1993, p. 192-234.

20  See Brian Marley, « A New Bass, a New Orchestra, & A Clutch of New CDs - the Busy Musical Life of Barry Guy », in Avant, No. 6, Spring 1998, pp. 46-47, ici p. 47. 80


Kai Lothwesen, «The role of contemporary music for the development of european improvised music», Filigrane. Musique, esthétique, sciences, société. [En ligne], Numéros de la revue, Jazz, musiques improvisées et écritures contemporaines, mis à  jour le : 26/01/2012, URL : https://revues.mshparisnord.fr:443/filigrane/index.php?id=356.


Quelques mots à propos de :  Kai Lothwesen

Assistant scientifique en musicologie systématique à la « Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität » de Frankfurt am Main. Le docteur des. Kai Stefan Lothwesen, né en 1972, a étudié la musicologie, la pédagogie musicale et la sociologie à l’université d e Gießen, et a fait sa thèse de doctorat sur les connexions entre la musique contemporaine et le free jazz en Europe à l’université de Hambourg. Il fut rédacteur indépendant à la station de radio à Francfort et a donné des cours de piano. Après la fin de ses études il a enseigné dans le cadre des universités de Gießen, Siegen et Hambourg. Il a publié des articles et ouvrages sur la culture musicale des adolescents, sur la perception de talent-shows à la télévision („Nouvelle Star“), sur la musique contemporaine et sur le jazz, ainsi que sur la musique improvisée en Europe. Ses centres d’intérêt en matière de recherche sont la sociologie et la psychologie de la musique, la culture de la musique actuelle. Ses projets de recherche actuels concernent la tradition et la culture musicale de la ville de Francfort, le développement et l’encouragement de la créativité musicale.