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I Love You with an Asterisk: African-American Experimental Composers and the French Jazz Press, 1970-1980

Stephen H. Lehman

Published: 2005-09-01

Beginning in the 1970s, the French jazz press became the first community of critics seriously to consider the new African-American experimental music being put forth by musicians such as Ornette Coleman, Anthony Braxton and other members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). More than any other aspect of their music, the incorporation of instrumentations, concepts, and musical forms normally associated with Western art music challenged assumptions within both the European and the American jazz communities. The response to these musicians in publications like Jazz Magazine and Jazz Hot was complex and multi-dimensional. A genuine fascination with this new music was nevertheless tempered by received notions about race and musical idiom. The political climate in France after the student demonstrations of 1968 provided a context which also may have been important for at least some French jazz critics.

The impact of the French jazz press on the field of improvised music in France in the 1970s was only one component of a transactional process of resistance by critics and conscious counter-resistance by key musicians/composers who wanted to expand notions of what jazz could encompass. Based on archival research and interviews with both musicians and French critics and scholars I intend to examine this dialogue between the French jazz press and the musicians themselves, in an effort to better understand how each community affected the other in France from 1970 to 1980.

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Improvisation is a human right

– Muhal Richard Abrams