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Freedom Is, Freedom Ain’t

Freedom Is, Freedom Ain’t

Jazz and the Making of the Sixties

Scott Saul

ISBN 9780674018532

Publication date: 11/30/2005

In the long decade between the mid-1950s and the late ’60s, jazz was changing more than its sound. The age of Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, and Charles Mingus’s The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady was a time when jazz became both newly militant and newly seductive, its example powerfully shaping the social dramas of the Civil Rights movement, the Black Power movement, and the counterculture. Freedom Is, Freedom Ain’t is the first book to tell the broader story of this period in jazz—and American—history.

The story’s central figures are jazz musicians like Coltrane and Mingus, who rewrote the conventions governing improvisation and composition as they sought to infuse jazz with that gritty exuberance known as “soul.” Scott Saul describes how these and other jazz musicians of the period engaged in a complex cultural balancing act: utopian and skeptical, race-affirming and cosmopolitan, they tried to create an art that would make uplift into something forceful, undeniable in its conviction, and experimental in its search for new possibilities. Freedom Is, Freedom Ain’t considers these musicians and their allies as a cultural front of the Civil Rights movement, a constellation of artists and intellectuals whose ideas of freedom pushed against a Cold War consensus that stressed rational administration and collective security. Capturing the social resonance of the music’s marriage of discipline and play, the book conveys the artistic and historical significance of the jazz culture at the start, and the heart, of the Sixties.


  • These days jazz seems so marginalized that it’s bracing to read a book that shows so clearly how and why jazz is relevant to larger social, political, and cultural issues… [Saul’s] analysis of the 1960 riot at the Newport Jazz Festival and the different ways jazz critics, social commentators, and black intellectuals and artists—including poet Langston Hughes and bassist Charles Mingus—reacted to it, is some of the most insightful writing on the tensions between consumer culture and jazz culture, and the black–white racial divide that I’ve ever read. Saul also maps out the connections that artists and critics saw between the progressive politics of the civil rights and Black Power movements and avant-garde music… This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the wider cultural and political issues that have affected jazz in the past 50 years.

    —Ed Hazell, Signal to Noise


  • Scott Saul is Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, and host of the books and arts podcast Chapter & Verse.

Book Details

  • 408 pages
  • 1-1/16 x 5-5/8 x 9-3/16 inches
  • Harvard University Press