Freedom is an emotionally charged word. It carries within itself a history of tears, pain, laughter and joy, strife and peace. Some will lay down their life for it, while others die fighting against it, because, as James Baldwin remarked about equality in “The Fire Next Time,”  the problem with freedom is “freedom for whom.” I think there are two broad categories of freedom, public and personal – our relationship to others, and our relationship to ourselves, the group and the individual. What is common between them is the notion of responsibility and limits. i am of the opinion that freedom is not the same as chaos. We impose limits on ourselves and others.

What does this have to do with music, specifically so-called “free” music? As I stated, freedom for me has limits, limits which are often self-imposed. When I hear the music of Coltrane or Ornette Coleman, I hear rhapsodies of liberty within the contours of frameworks – chordal, group, individual. Choices refined in order to communicate an idea. Not just any note, but THAT not, not just any embouchure, but that embouchure, not just any grouping, not just any sax player, or trumpet player or drummer or bassist, but that one, and that one and that one and that.

Cécile, one of my students, wanted to be completely free she said. That was the kind of music she wanted to make. I responded that freedom has its walls, and that it is in that space that wonderful things can happen as we examine the walls to the left, doors to the right, the sky above, the ground underneath, we come to understand what we can do, because we have to try. How many ways can I sing the note A? How many colours can be heard in the pitch we call C? How does crescendo and decrescendo affect the emotional impact of a word, etc. The musical experience is a journey, an exercise in freedom, a building site where deconstruct, yes, but also re-construct.

The song I am posting today is the fruit of a workshop I did with Cécile Castera. I played , she sang. Do you see the limits we put on ourselves, the choices made either for personal reasons or for the integrity of the group? Let me know what you think.