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Music / Ornette Coleman

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A man to shape jazz to come.

It was when I found out I could make mistakes that I knew I was on to something.
— A quote frequently attributed to the man himself.

Randolph Denard Ornette Coleman (March 9 or March 19, 1930 - June 11, 2015), better known as just Ornette Coleman, was a jazz musician active from the late fifties to his death in the mid-new tens.

Coleman was most well-known for pioneering the experimental, free-form side of jazz, so much so that the genre is named for one of his albums, Free Jazz. However, his career stretched a bit further than that; while his generally chaotic-seeming but highly melodic, free style of playing was a near constant throughout his career, he plugged in his instruments in the late '70s (much like Miles Davis), composed a string quartet in 1962, formulated the well-known-but-nebulously-defined 'harmolodics' theory in the 80s, and even jammed with The Grateful Dead once in 1993. He did a lot, basically.

Coleman died in June 2015 from a heart attack.

Discography Sampler

  • Something Else!!!! (1958)
  • Tomorrow Is the Question! (1959)
  • The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959)
  • Change of the Century (1959)
  • This Is Our Music (1960)
  • Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation (1960)
  • Ornette! (1961)
  • Ornette on Tenor (1961)
  • New York Is Now! (1968)
  • Friends and Neighbors: Live at Prince Street (1970)
  • Broken Shadows (recorded 1971, not released until 1982
  • Science Fiction (1971)
  • Dancing in Your Head (1976, with Prime Time)
  • Song X (1986, with Pat Metheny)
  • Sound Grammar (2006)

The Tropes of Coleman to Come:

  • Avant-Garde Music: One of the key figures of the free jazz movement (and the man who named it), and a constant experimenter throughout his career.
  • Crossover: He's recorded with the likes of Yoko Ono (on Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band track 4), Lou Reed (The Raven), Pat Metheny (Song X), Louis Armstrong (Louis Armstrong and His Friends' cover of "We Shall Overcome," a rare case where he didn't play sax), and, as mentioned earlier, The Grateful Dead (Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia played on three tracks from Virgin Beauty, and Coleman, in return, joined them for a set on 2/23/1993).
  • Epic Rocking: Par for the course with jazz, but Exaggerated with Free Jazz. The full piece is 37:03, which had to be split on the original vinyl.
  • Gratuitous Panning: Free Jazz has one quartet (consisting of Coleman, trumpeter and longtime collaborator Don Cherry, bassist Scott LaFaro, and drummer Billy Higgins) panned to the left, and another (Eric Dolphy, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, longtime bassist Charlie Haden, and drummer Ed Blackwell) panned to the right.
  • Iconic Item: The plastic sax he played on Shape of Jazz to Come has since gone on to be associated with the man himself, even though he almost never played it afterwards.
  • Improv: Coleman was infamous among his late-50s peers for having everyone in the band make up their parts as they went along. A shining example of such is Free Jazz, which has eight musicians all improvising simultaneously (though some of them pause to let others solo without being interrupted, most notably in the bass duet).
  • Stylistic Suck: A variant. Coleman occasionally swapped out his sax for a trumpet or a violin, neither of which he could play very well. However, he was less concerned with sounding beautiful on the instrument, and more interested in using them to add interesting sounds to his performances.