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This chapter explores the polarized reception of mid-1960s free jazz by focusing on its most instantly recognizable timbral gesture: the “saxophonic scream.” Music critics’ reactions to John Coltrane’s iconic use of the saxophonic scream variously read it as hysterical noise or as transcendent. Using an interpretive model that synthesizes perspectives from embodied cognition and phenomenology, the chapter argues that visceral reactions prevalent in both positive and negative assessments of free jazz can be attributed in large part to the radical vocal-mimetic demands of this particularly strident, noisy timbral quality. Gender and race implications of the saxophonic scream are discussed in conclusion.

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