Thursday, 11 June 2015

THE LATE GREAT...Ornette Coleman


Although it's a word often used to describe jazz musicians, only a handful truly deserve to be known as 'pioneers.'  

Texas-born Ornette Coleman, who died today from a heart attack at the age of eighty-five, was one such musician –– a musical rebel who redefined not only the playing of his primary instrument, the alto saxophone, but also redefined jazz in a way comparable to what Louis Armstrong achieved during his heyday in the mid-1920s.  No one sounded like Coleman before Coleman and no one has ever really succeeded in sounding like him since.  Heavily influenced by the blues, he used and transcended that influence to inject the sound of the human voice into much of his playing, creating a style that could soar, wail and moan as the situation demanded while remaining uniquely avant garde and, in a true sense, indefinable. 

Coleman and Armstrong shared another connection through their use of collective improvisation –– something that was the norm in the early years of jazz but had more or less died out by the time Coleman singlehandedly revived the concept with his radical, game-changing 1960 LP Free Jazz featuring his core quartet consisting of himself on alto saxophone, trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Billy Higgins and a guest quartet featuring saxophonist Eric Dolphy, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, bassist Scott La Faro and drummer Ed Blackwell.  Like it or loathe it, the wild, seemingly directionless music this 'double quartet' created made Coleman a controversial and divisive figure – one whose apparently 'free' or 'naïve' style of playing saw some of his fellow musicians ridicule him as someone who 'couldn't play at all' or 'was jiving' –– but he nevertheless went on to transform the idea of what jazz could and, more tellingly, should be for generations of musicians and fans alike.

'I don’t think that sound has a style,' Coleman told jazz writer Don Snowden in 1984.  'The human voice doesn’t have a style, it has a language, and sound is the same way.  We make the style once we find the sound that takes the form of the idea.'

Few musicians have ever had ideas as profound and at the same time provoking as Ornette Coleman or, for that matter, the courage and intelligence required to successfully pursue them, in spite of what was sometimes fierce opposition, for close to sixty years.  He inspired legions of musicians –– including Lou Reed and Jerry Garcia –– and is now widely recognized, along with his contemporary Charles Mingus, as being one of the most innovative US composers of the twentieth century.

ORNETTE COLEMAN [alto saxophone]; DON CHERRY [pocket trumpet]
From the 1960 Atlantic LP Change of the Century  

Click HERE to read the Wikipedia entry of US jazz multi-instrumentalist and composer ORNETTE COLEMAN.  You can also click HERE to read his full obituary in the LA Times.

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