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Avant-garde Jazz: Resisting European Cultural Domination

Written by on August 21, 2020


Avant-garde jazz is a style of jazz that originated in the 1950s, rejecting the conventions of bebop and post-bop (other jazz styles). This style aimed to further blur the lines between written and improvised music. This movement towards a more spontaneous music came as a reaction to commercialism and European classical musical ideals.


White music critics of the time maintained that African-American folk and jazz could be transformed into music of “formal high culture” through its integration into European classical music. Black artists were praised for developing their music in a manner that adopted elements of African-American folk and jazz within a European classical framework that was easily digestible by a white audience. The elements of music-making that critics of the time sought to control, elements that thrive on “unleashed passion,” were hallmarks of the 1960s avant-garde movement.

Avant-garde music is typically not listened to in the mainstream because that isn’t the intended purpose of the music. Musical experimentation is a means of directing the aesthetics and ideas of music in the future. The avant-garde jazz movement of the 1960s was important in maintaining the identity of Black music as well as its cultural autonomy.

— Isaiah (Jazz Director)



Further Listening:

Pioneers of avant-garde jazz

  • Unit Structures — Cecil Taylor
  • Sightsong — Muhal Richard Abrams
  • Tutankhamun– Art Ensemble of Chicago
  • A Monastic Trio — Alice Coltrane
  • Thembi — Pharoah Sanders

Contemporary avant-garde jazz

  • on the tender spot of every calloused moment — Ambroise Akinmusire
  • Ocean Bridges — Archie Shepp, Raw Poetic, and Damu the Fudgemunk
  • Just Don’t Die — Daniel Carter
  • Oblations and Blessings — David S. Ware Quartet
  • EarthSeed — Nicole Mitchell and Lisa E. Harris



  1. Tommy Lee Lott (2001). The 1960s Avant-Garde Movement in Jazz, Social Identities, 7:2, 165-177, DOI: 10.10S0/13504630120065266
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