Jack Wright, Free Improv Pioneer


Episode 7 of the Right Brain Music Podcast features Jack Wright, saxophonist, free improviser, author, painter and uncategorizable artist. {Find the episode here. or in your favorite podcast app.]

I first met Jack in Philadelphia in 2001. He was based in Boulder, Colorado at the time, and was touring though his former hometown. I was working on a recording project with Edge City Collective, a broad group of musicians, and on a whim I reached out to Jack and invited him to do a spontaneous session with bassist Michael Taylor. Without hesitation, he accepted my offer of $0.00, and a wild soundfest ensued. Jack continued touring after that — he’s been roaming North America and Europe playing his horn since the late 70s — and we crossed paths again at the Seattle Free Improvisation Festival in 2017. There he played a remarkable set in the back of a bookstore with bassist Evan Lipson. We caught up, and I picked up a copy of his then brand-new book, The Free Musics.

Because I can’t improve upon it, here’s Jack’s bio, cribbed from his website, springgardenmusic.com:

Jack Wright is an American saxophonist (Philadelphia area) and free improviser who disdains association with existing scenes and is not to be compared with any other saxophonist. At 76, he is still unmarketable, and finds in that a freedom he enjoys rather than regrets. One of the few originals of American free improvisation in the 80s, he was then touring the countryside with blow-your-brains-out free jazz. By the late 90's he found that boring, repetitive, and too acceptable. Wright has shifted quite a few gears and is now in top form, not hesitating to disappoint audiences looking for the art-crowd comfort zone. He holds to the old spirit of adventure: each instant of playing is fresh, twisting all he has done into new gestalts. His vocabulary keeps expanding and he uses it all, one long Joycean sentence (with strange ellipses), whether playing alone or with partners. He wrote THE book on free improv, The Free Musics, a philosophy of music and a historical-sociological study that puts the mass of players at the center of the story.


The book is illuminating, and not just because it’s one of the very few insider perspectives on the underworld of free improvisation. I found this to be one of the best books I’ve read about jazz, putting things in context that explains the life and (near) death of that American art form. In a real sense, Jack and his peers have maintained jazz’s original spirit of experimentation far more than a lot of people who’ve claimed to.

In this podcast episode we have new, exclusive interview footage and extensive samples of Jack’s recent music.

We also have a terrific array of podcast episodes in the pipeline, so stay tuned.

Scott Schaffer