Punk jazz

Not to be confused with "Punk Jazz", a composition by Jaco Pastorius, or with Jazzpunk, a video game.

Punk jazz describes the amalgamation of elements of the jazz tradition (usually free jazz and jazz fusion of the 1960s and 1970s) with the instrumentation or conceptual heritage of punk rock (typically the more experimental and dissonant strains, such as no wave and hardcore). John Zorn's band Naked City, James Chance and the Contortions, Lounge Lizards, Universal Congress Of, Laughing Clowns are notable examples of punk jazz artists.



Patti Smith, who (unsuccessfully) sought out collaboration with Ornette Coleman, and Television, also developed a sinuous, improvisatory strain of punk, indebted to jazz.[1] In Maine, The Same Band styled itself as a punk-jazz band, and was active from 1977 to 1980.[2][3]

In England, jazz musicians who performed with punk acts included the saxophonist Lol Coxhill, who recorded with The Damned.[4] Punk drummers who had played in jazz bands included Jet Black of The Stranglers and Topper Headon of The Clash.

The pioneering Australian punk scene of the mid-1970s was also influenced by jazz. The introduction of swing arrangements and a brass section on The Saints' 1978 album Prehistoric Sounds, were carried over into Ed Kuepper's subsequent band, Laughing Clowns. Kuepper sought to create a free jazz "sheets of sound" aesthetic similar to that of Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, and John Coltrane.[5] The early punk projects of Ollie Olsen also drew inspiration from free jazz, including Ornette Coleman.[6] The Boys Next Door, known later as The Birthday Party, were incorporating various elements of jazz during the late 1970s. The efforts of these Australian punk bands has been described as "desert jazz".[7]


James Chance in Berlin, 1981.

During the 1980s, a relaxation of orthodoxy, concurrent with post-punk, led to a new appreciation for jazz.

In London, the Pop Group began to mix free jazz, along with dub reggae, into their brand of punk rock.[8]

Nick Cave stated that The Pop Group's song "We Are All Prostitutes" was a major influence on The Birthday Party.[9] Their sound on Junkyard (1982) was described by one journalist as a mix of "no-wave guitar, free-jazz craziness, and punk-processed Captain Beefheart angularity".[10]

In New York, no wave took direct inspiration from both free jazz and punk. Examples of this style include Lydia Lunch's Queen of Siam,[11] the work of James Chance and the Contortions, who mixed funk with free jazz and punk,[11] Gray, and the Lounge Lizards,[11] who were the first group to call themselves "punk jazz". Bill Laswell would become an important figure in punk jazz (in addition to his influence in dance-punk, dub and other genres) with his group Material, which mixed funk-jazz with punk,[12] while another of his groups, Massacre, added an improvisational quality to aggressive rock music.[13] Laswell would go on to take part in Last Exit[14] and Pain Killer.[15] James Blood Ulmer, who applied Coleman's harmolodic style to guitar, also sought out links to no wave.[16]

Bad Brains, widely acknowledged to have established the rudiments of the hardcore style, began by attempting jazz fusion.[17] Guitarist Joe Baiza executed his own blend of punk and free jazz with Saccharine Trust and especially in Universal Congress Of, a group highly influenced by the work of Albert Ayler.[18] Greg Ginn of Black Flag also began to incorporate elements of free jazz into his guitar playing, most notably on Black Flag's 1985 instrumental EP The Process of Weeding Out.[19] Henry Rollins has praised free jazz, releasing albums by Matthew Shipp on his 2.13.61 label[20] and collaborating with Charles Gayle.[21] The Minutemen were influenced by jazz as well as folk and funk music, and Mike Watt of the band has spoken about the musical inspiration provided by listening to John Coltrane.[22]

Dutch anarcho-punk group the Ex also incorporated elements of free jazz and particularly European free improvisation, eventually collaborating with Han Bennink.[23]

Greek-American singer Diamanda Galás also approached jazz tradition from a thematically and stylistically transgressive perspective. Her album The Singer is a prototypical example of punk jazz applied to vocals and piano performance. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds bassist Barry Adamson recorded the album Moss Side Story, which also applies a punk and noise rock perspective to the orchestral jazz tradition, with Galás guesting on one track.[24]


Free jazz was an important influence in the American post-hardcore scene of the early 90s. Drive Like Jehu took Black Flag's atonal solos a step further with their dual guitar attack. The Nation of Ulysses had Ian Svenonious alternating between vocals and trumpet, and their complex song structures, odd time signatures, and frenetic live shows were as much hardcore punk as they were free jazz. They even did a brief cover of John Coltrane's A Love Supreme on their Plays Pretty for Baby album, though they titled it "The Sound of Jazz to Come" after Ornette Coleman's classic album The Shape of Jazz to Come. Chicago's Cap'n Jazz also borrowed free jazz's odd time signatures and guitar melodies, marrying them with hardcore screams and amateur tuba playing. The Swedish band Refused was influenced by this scene and recorded an album titled The Shape of Punk to Come, where they alternate between manic hardcore punk numbers and slower, jazzy songs.


Yakuza, from Chicago, are comparable to Candiria, combining contemporary heavy metal genres with free jazz and psychedelia. While Italian band Ephel Duath were originally credited with the inadvertent recreation of 'jazzcore' on their 2003 full-length The Painter's Palette and its 2005 follow-up Pain Necessary to Know, the group later moved away from it to pursue a more esoteric form of progressive rock more akin to Frank Zappa. Errata from Melbourne, Australia are often cited as the most contemporary exponents of the emergent genre, having outlined its precepts in an interview with Music Vice in October, 2010.

Other examples of punk jazz include Youngblood Brass Band, Zu,[25] Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, Hella, Talibam!, The 5th Plateau, the Japanese band Midori, La Part Maudite,[26] Gutbucket,[27] and King Krule.[28]


Some harder punk jazz bands, have been called jazzcore, such bands as Zu,16-17, Pain Killer, Ephel Duath (early) and others, the genre mixed jazz and hardcore punk or sometimes (however less often) metalcore.

Further reading


  1. Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Television bio, Allmusic. Access date: October 8, 2008.
  2. Harrington, Joe (Spring 2006). "The Same Band: Inventors of Punk (Who Knew?)". Kapital Ink. OCLC 297170614.
  3. Coley, Byron; Moore, Thurston (2006). "The Top 80 of 2006". BullTongue (26).
  4. "Burt MacDonald with Lol Coxhill" LIST.CO.UK, 2008
  5. "The Laughing Clowns play at Brisbane's GoMA". Retrieved 22 July 2016.
  6. "Michael Hutchence – A tribute from his family, created by his father Kelland Hutchence.". Retrieved 22 July 2016.
  7. Australian Punk: The Birthday Party
  8. Dave Lang, Perfect Sound Forever, February 1999. Access date: November 15, 2008.
  9. jarvizcocker (20 July 2010). "Nick Cave on The Pop Group (1999)". Retrieved 22 July 2016 via YouTube.
  10. "The Birthday Party: Junkyard [PA] [Remaster] - Buddha Records - COLB 74465996942 - 744659969423". Retrieved 22 July 2016.
  11. 1 2 3 Bangs, Lester. "Free Jazz / Punk Rock". Musician Magazine, 1979. Access date: July 20, 2008.
  12. Jason Ankeny, Material bio, Allmusic Guide
  13. Rick Anderson
  14. "Last Exit" at AllMusic.Com
  15. Steve Huey
  16. "James Blood Ulmer Biography". Musicianguide.com. Retrieved 2012-08-15.
  17. "Bad Brains". Punknews.org. 2010-07-13. Retrieved 2012-08-15.
  18. Sharp, Charles Michael (2008). Improvisation, Identity and Tradition: Experimental Music Communities in Los Angeles. ProQuest. p. 224. ISBN 9781109123777. Retrieved October 8, 2012.
  19. "www.citizine.net". www.citizine.net. Retrieved 2012-08-15.
  20. LOkennedyWEBdesignDOTcom. "Matthew Shipp". Matthewshipp.com. Retrieved 2012-08-15.
  21. "Charles Gayle Biography". Musicianguide.com. Retrieved 2012-08-15.
  22. Sharp, Charles Michael (2008). Improvisation, Identity and Tradition: Experimental Music Communities in Los Angeles (Ph.D.). ProQuest. Retrieved 24 April 2014.
  23. All About Jazz. "Jazz article: "Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink in Berlin" by Alexander J. Beissenhirtz". Allaboutjazz.com. Retrieved 2012-08-15.
  24. Garden, Joe (1998-08-12). "Barry Adamson | Interview". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 2012-08-15.
  25. Mia Clarke, "Carboniferous" review, Pitchfork. March 6, 2009. Access date: March 7, 2009.
  26. Stefano Bianchi in Blow Up #150 (Italy), November 1, 2010 »
  27. "Gutbucket Addresses Their Flock". Pop Matters. Retrieved January 23, 2014.
  28. Brown, August (December 19, 2013). "Review: King Krule's spooky, angry musings at the Fonda". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 23, 2013. Sometimes, his debts to jammy jazz-fusion went on a little long, and some concision in the writing and playing would have sharpened the emotional fangs that these songs have at their core. But who knew the time was so right for a disaffected jazz-punk balladeer in a baggy suit?
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