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Coleman, Ornette

Ornette Coleman

1930—

Jazz musician, saxophonist, composer

Best known for a series of highly experimental albums and performances in the late 1950s and early 1960s, saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman has been recognized as one of modern jazz's great innovators, a man who has pushed his music to extremes where even other highly progressive musicians refused to follow. Coleman's pioneering work in what would later be called Free Jazz polarized the musical community, between those who thought his work represented Jazz's future and those who considered him a musical con man who didn't know his chords and couldn't stay in tune. Despite considerable resistance from the jazz establishment, Coleman has carved out a durable career through sheer persistence and belief in his own unique artistic vision, one that now affords him the accolades reserved for jazz's most revered elder statesmen.

Taught Himself to Play the Saxophone

Born on March 9, 1930, in Fort Worth, Texas, Coleman once saw his father in a baseball uniform but otherwise could remember little about him; he died when Coleman was seven years old. His mother made a living as a seamstress; although she was a strong disciplinarian, Coleman showed the classic marks of a free spirit from an early age. "One day a teacher spanked me because I told her she was wrong," Coleman told People. "I was hurt, because I knew I was right. So I started playing hooky from school. I stayed out for six weeks one time, and when my mother found out, she beat me for days."

Coleman told Howard Reich in the Chicago Tribune that it took him "three or four years" saving money from shining shoes to get his first saxophone. Because his family did not have money for lessons, he taught himself to play along with the songs he heard on the radio. This self-education process may have been the key to Coleman's experimental view of jazz. "I could play and sound like Charlie Parker note-for-note, but I was only playing it from method," he told Robert Tynan Down Beat in 1960. "So I tried to figure out where to go from there."

Soon he was contributing to the family income by playing with bands in Fort Worth bars, but the violence he saw there dismayed him. "I'd be playing some real honky-tonk, and before I knew it, people would be fighting and cutting each other up," he told People. Sadly, it would not be the last time he would be exposed to violence, in life or even on stage.

Was an Outsider in the World of Jazz

Coleman signed on with a traveling carnival show band (he was later fired for trying to push the group's music in a more modern direction), kept playing rhythm and blues, and finally made his way to Los Angeles, where he was so poor that he reached the brink of starvation. His mother kept him going by sending him loaves of bread in the mail.

Finally Coleman landed a job as an elevator operator and began reading music theory texts during slack moments. In the evenings, plastic saxophone in hand, he began to experiment with a radical new brand of jazz that rejected the traditional idea of improvising on a tune, in favor of free responses to what the musician felt was the tune's mood or essence. In the process, such jazz basics as harmony and chord progressions might be partially or completely disregarded. Coleman antagonized even cutting-edge musicians like saxophonist Sonny Rollins and drummer Max Roach, who walked off the stage when Coleman began playing during a jam session they were leading.

Some like-minded musicians, however, were profoundly influenced by Coleman even while he was a relative unknown. Bassist Charlie Haden went to Coleman's home one day and emerged amazed by what Coleman could draw out of him creatively. "It was spontaneity like I had never experienced before," he told People. "Each note was a universe. Each note was your life." Another admirer was Jayne Cortez, whom Coleman married in 1954. They divorced in 1964, but their son, Denardo, grew up to become Coleman's business manager and musical collaborator on drums.

Coleman's big break came, not from a fellow jazz radical but from the conservative-leaning John Lewis, the leader of the classical-influenced Modern Jazz Quartet, who heard in Coleman's work a musical analogue to the chaotic modernist novels of Irish writer James Joyce. Lewis recommended Coleman for an influential summer concert series in 1959, held at the Lenox School of Jazz in Massachusetts, and following that summer series, Coleman moved to New York City. He and a band consisting of Haden, trumpeter Don Cherry, and drummer Billy Higgins were booked to play at a club called the Five Spot Café.

At a Glance …

Born on March 9, 1930, in FortWorth, TX; married Jayne Cortez, 1954 (divorced 1964); children: Denardo. Education: Largely self-taught; studied music theory and history independently, Los Angeles, CA; attended School of Jazz, Lenox, MA, 1959.

Career: Played in barroom rhythm-and-blues bands and with a traveling carnival show, mid-1940s and 1950s; performed with experimental musicians; began recording, 1958; appeared with quartet at Five Spot Café club, New York, NY, 1959; toured Europe, 1965; wrote classical works, including Skies of America symphony, 1960s and early 1970s; traveled to Morocco, 1973; formed Prime Time double quartet, mid-1970s; reunited with original quartet for album In All Languages, 1987; created arts center, New York City, early 1980s; started Harmolodics label, 1994-97; started Sound Grammar label, 2006—.

Awards: Guggenheim fellowship, 1967 and 1973; "Genius" grant, MacArthur Foundation, 1994; Praemium Imperiale Award, Japan Art Association, 2001; Gish Prize, 2004; inducted as officer in French Order of Arts and Letters; named Jazz Artist of the Year, 46th Annual Down Beat International Critics Poll; named Jazz Artist of the Century, Texas Monthly magazine; top of Village Voice jazz critics' poll, 2006, and Grammy Award nomination and Pulitzer Prize, both 2007, all for Sound Grammar; Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, 2007.

Addresses: Label—Sound Grammar, c/o Phrase Text Inc., PO Box 20071, London Terrace Station, New York, NY 10011. Web—http://www.ornettecoleman.com/.

Fistfights Occurred at Performances

The results were controversial, even by the contentious standards of modern jazz culture. Coleman was alternately hailed as a genius (by New York Philharmonic conductor Leonard Bernstein, among others) and denounced as a fraud. Coleman seemed to shred tunes—when they were recognizable at all—with unpredictable melodic leaps, dissonant harmonies, squawks and growls. Coleman's rhythm section did not provide a beat in the conventional sense, but operated with as much freedom as the rest of the band. In a sense, Coleman had returned African-American music to its earliest roots, redefining jazz as an ensemble music where individuals had their own distinct voices within a larger whole, rather than as a vehicle for virtuoso display. To some ears, the result sounded like atonal chaos, but many critics noted that no matter how advanced the musical idiom Coleman adopted, his playing retained a raw quality evocative of the honky-tonk blues that he performed at the beginning of his career.

On a few occasions fistfights broke out between Coleman's admirers and detractors. Roach was alleged to have punched Coleman in the mouth after one performance in New York City, and an angry crowd in Baton Rouge stormed the stage and destroyed his sax after one of Coleman's solos brought activity on the dance floor to a screeching halt. The controversy his music generated fueled sales of his albums the first of which, Something Else!, was released in 1958. That album, and others such as 1959's The Shape of Jazz to Come, are considered classics today. In 1960 Coleman released Free Jazz, an album containing performances by eight musicians that essentially consisted of forty minutes of free group improvisation. Executives at Atlantic Records gave the album its title and selected a cover—featuring art from Jackson Pollock—that drew the explicit analogy between the conflict caused by Coleman's new style and the controversy abstractionists like Pollock had caused in the art world a decade earlier. "Free jazz" became the popular name for the movement pioneered by Coleman and followed by a number of his admirers. The pioneer himself resisted the label. "I never said I was playing ‘free’ anything," he told Mike Zwerin in the International Herald Tribune.

While Free Jazz intensified the controversy surrounding Coleman for a while, in the late 1960s and early 1970s talk in the jazz world turned to new topics, such as the frenetic and equally radical free-improvisation experiments of saxophonist John Coltrane, and trumpeter Miles Davis's forays into jazz-rock fusion. Coleman is often said to have dropped out of sight during this period, but perhaps he was simply doing what he had always done—following his own artistic path, without regard for the whims of public opinion. He toured England, France, and Sweden in 1965, setting in motion an avant-garde jazz movement in Europe that continued unabated for decades, and he began to write fully notated classical compositions that in turn were influenced by European experimenters in that field. Guggenheim fellowships in 1967 and 1973 helped pay the bills. One of Coleman's classical pieces, an eight-movement symphony for jazz band and orchestra called Skies of America, led to increasingly frequent performances as classical orchestras opened their program lists to new influences.

It was around this time that Coleman began, mostly in a series of characteristically quizzical interviews, to express aspects of his theory of music, which he called "harmolodics" (the word is derived from "harmony," "movement," and "melody"). His ideas centered on the equal importance of all aspects of music, as well as the creative freedom players have in responding to each other using different musical parameters. In the 1970s Coleman helped set in motion another trend in jazz—the incorporation of music from around the globe—when he traveled to Morocco in 1973 and collaborated with Berber tribal musicians there. Some of the results were heard on the 1977 album Dancing in Your Head.

Formed Group Prime Time

That album was one of the first to feature an ensemble Coleman would employ for many years to come, the "double quartet" he called Prime Time. It consisted of paired guitars, bassists, and drummers, along with Coleman's own alto sax. The group, reported Scott Yanow on the Web site allmusic, "featured dense, noisy, and often witty ensembles in which all of the musicians are supposed to have an equal role, but the leader's alto always ended up standing out." Coleman's playing retained the same qualities it had always had, but he was now surrounding himself with musicians such as drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson and bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, who brought elements of 1970s and 1980s jazz-funk to the group's sound.

Coleman hit a financial low point around 1980, living in a series of unheated apartments and cheap hotel rooms, and suffering two robbery attempts in an abandoned Manhattan school that he tried to turn into an arts center. After one of those attempts, he was left for dead by teenagers who had attacked him with a hammer. In the 1980s and 1990s, however, Coleman's music began to resonate with audiences, more than a quarter century after he had come on the scene. The Real Art Ways festival in Hartford, Connecticut, presented a week-long retrospective on Coleman's career, and he reunited his original quartet for the acclaimed 1987 album In All Languages. An album collaboration that year with the popular fusion guitarist Pat Metheny showed how his music could find common ground with more accessible forms of jazz, and brought him a host of new fans.

Became an Elder Statesman of Jazz

The 1990s and 2000s saw the former jazz revolutionary turning into something of an elder statesman as he achieved senior citizen status. He continued to record, releasing several albums on his own Harmolodics imprint in the mid-1990s that found distribution from the large Verve label. In the early 2000s Coleman assembled a new group called Global Expressions, and he performed live accompaniment to a film version of the William Burroughs novel Naked Lunch. He was also widely honored, winning, among many other laurels, a 1994 "genius" grant from the MacArthur Foundation, a 2001 Praemium Imperiale award from the Japan Art Association, a 2004 Gish Prize, induction as an officer in the French Order of Arts and Letters, and the designation of Jazz Artist of the Century by Texas Monthly magazine. Coleman shrugged off the honors, telling Down Beat, "I'm really tired of being sold as a product for being who I am, but not for what I really do."

The greatest accolades, however, would be saved for the 2006 release of Sound Grammar, Coleman's first album in a decade. Released under Coleman's new label of the same name, Sound Grammar found Coleman leading a quartet with his son Denardo on drums, two acoustic bassists, and Coleman alternately playing saxophone, trumpet, and violin. The critical reaction was overwhelmingly positive. In Entertainment Weekly Larry Blumenfeld announced that "Coleman, at 76, remains a fountain of sublime ideas," and Martin Johnson in New York magazine enthused, "Sound Grammar … doesn't sound like anything else in jazz today." The album topped the Village Voice jazz critics' poll for 2006, and in 2007 the album won a Pulitzer Prize, making Coleman just the second jazz performer to do so (after Wynton Marsalis). Sound Grammar was also nominated for a Grammy, in the same awards ceremony in which Coleman received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Despite the belated acceptance and emeritus status he is now accorded, Coleman refuses to live in the past. Even though he collapsed from dehydration during a show in July of 2007, he continues to perform and maintains an aggressive touring schedule. "Jazz means two things: ‘unknown’ and ‘present,’" he told Reich. "In other words, you (bring) something unknown into the present, right?"

Selected discography

Something Else!, Contemporary, 1958.

Tomorrow Is the Question!, Contemporary, 1959.

The Art of the Improvisers, Atlantic, 1959.

The Shape of Jazz to Come, Atlantic, 1959.

Free Jazz, Atlantic, 1960.

At the Golden Circle in Stockholm (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2), Blue Note, 1965.

Science Fiction, Columbia, 1971.

Skies of America, Columbia, 1972.

Dancing in Your Head, A&M, 1973.

Body Meta, Verve, 1976.

The Unprecedented Music of Ornette Coleman, Lotus, 1980.

In All Languages, Caravan of Dreams, 1987.

Tone Dialing, Harmolodic, 1995.

Colors: Live from Leipzig, Harmolodic, 1996.

Sound Museum: Hidden Man, Harmolodic, 1996.

Sound Museum: Three Women, Harmolodic, 1996.

Sound Grammar, Sound Grammar, 2006.

Sources

Books

Gridley, Mark, Jazz Styles, 5th ed., Prentice-Hall, 1994.

Periodicals

Boston Globe, March 4, 2007.

Chicago Tribune, September 22, 2003.

Down Beat, February 1994, p. 44; February 1996, p. 22; August 1998, p. 46; October 2000, p. 69.

Entertainment Weekly, September 29, 2006, p. 78.

International Herald Tribune, September 19, 2001.

Jet, July 4, 1994, p. 36.

Nation, July 10, 2000, p. 41.

New York, August 27, 2006.

New York Post, March 17, 2001, p. 8.

New York Times, November 3, 1996; July 6, 1997; September 22, 2006; March 31, 2008.

New Yorker, April 14, 2008, p. 78.

People, October 13, 1986, p. 108.

Times (London), March 17, 2001, Features section.

Online

Kahn, Ashley, "Ornette Coleman: Decades of Jazz on the Edge," Morning Edition, NPR, November 13, 2006, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6449431 (accessed July 21, 2008).

"Ornette Coleman," Europe Jazz Network, http://www.ejn.it/mus/coleman.htm (accessed July 21, 2008).

"Ornette Coleman," Praemium Imperiale, http://www.praemiumimperiale.org/eg/laureates/cole_summary.html (accessed July 21, 2008).

Ornette Coleman Official Web site, http://www.ornettecoleman.com/ (accessed July 21, 2008).

Yanow, Scott, "Ornette Coleman: Biography," allmusic, March 14, 2003, http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:gvfpxqr5ldse˜T1 (accessed July 21, 2008).

—James Manheim and Derek Jacques

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Coleman, Ornette

Ornette Coleman

Jazz saxophonist, composer, trumpeter, violinist

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

Ornette Coleman enjoys the paradoxical reputation of being a genuine revolutionary in modern jazz, but one who is still less than fully embraced by the listening and critical establishment. From the start, his singular playing style (rooted in his idea of free jazzeverybody is soloing, harmolodically) outraged some critics and fellow musicians and bewildered many jazz lovers; but it also inspired rhapsodic praise from players and writers alike.

In 1990, at age 60, he has composed over a hundred songs, a symphony, a string quartet, and a woodwind quintet, and he has released more than thirty long-playing records. But in this same lifes span he has suffered material deprivation, commercial exploitation, racial brutality, and professional humiliation, all on a scale which rather befits a false prophet than an acknowledged musical genius. New Yorker jazz writer Whitney Balliett referred to this uneven motion of life and career when he said: Few twentieth-century innovators have got in their own way as often as Ornette Coleman. He is a stubborn and brilliant visionary and a man of great integrity, and these attributes have hobbled him.

Born in 1930 of a poor black family in Fort Worth, Texas, Ornette taught himself alto saxophone by age 14, and before graduating from high school he was supporting his widowed mother and a sister by playing tenor saxophone in local rhythm and blues bands. He learned to play marches and hymns in school and church bands, but at the same time he was listening to honky-tonk, blues, and funk. After he heard Lester Young in a Fort Worth jam session playing show tunes with bridges, he set about memorizing popular songs off the radio, buying sheet music, and teaching new songs to his own band. He quickly figured out commercial tricks like distinguishing among white, black, country, and Mexican repertoires, and liked mimicking the rhythm and blues tenor mens leaping, bending, and honking moves. This aptitude enabled the young Coleman in the year 1947 to earn a hefty hundred dollars a week as a gigging musician.

His jazz styling was already being influenced by a combination of Charlie Parker, Jimmy Dorsey, and Pete Johnson. At 18, instead of accepting any of the music scholarships offered by several black colleges, he joined a touring minstrel show, which soon left him stranded in Natchez, Mississippi. He found his way to New Orleans and then Baton Rouge, where he was beaten up one night after a dance gig by guys who didnt like my clothes or my hair. Taking a look at his locks, beard, and eloquently careless garb, the police warned him to get out of town before they finished him off themselves. Returning home, he started playing alto

For the Record

Born March 19, 1930, in Fort Worth, Texas; married Jayne Cortez (a poet), 1954 (divorced, 1964); children: Denardo. Education: Attended the School of Jazz in Lenox, Mass, 1959.

Controversial alto saxophonist, composer. After Five Spot (New York club) appearance in 1959, both lionized as newest jazz phenomenon since Charlie Parker and vilified for incomprehensible style; promoted free jazz, based on theory of harmolodics. After several Atlantic recordings in the early 1960s, faded from popular jazz scene, toured, composed for symphony, woodwind quintet, string quartet; re-emerged with new conceptions, groups in the early 1980s; recorded in the late 1980s with electronic fusion group called Prime Time; collaborated with Pat Methany. In place of earlier, infamous plastic saxophone, now plays a Selmer with low A-key, uses old 2 1/2 reeds.

Awards: Guggenheim Fellow, 1967; selected number-one jazz man of year, Jazz and Pop annual readers poll, 1968; selected best jazz artist in Rolling Stone Critics Poll, 1988 and 1989.

Addresses: Record company CBS Portrait, 51 West 52nd St., New York, NY 10019.

again, using a horn borrowed from a New Orleans friend. By late 1949, at age 19, these experiences had solidified both his character and his playing style. Both would bring him distinction and trouble.

He spent most of the 1950s in Los Angeles, initially with the rhythm and blues band of Pee Wee Crayton. His style, already formed, Balliett explained, alienated club owners and other musicians, and he found little work. Indeed, he was ignored, scorned, and even shunned at jam sessions by the likes of Dexter Gordon, Clifford Brown, Sonny Rollins, and Max Roach. However, he found compatible spirits in trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden, and drummer Billy Higgins, with whom he formed an early quartet for gigs around Los Angeles and, eventually, Chicago and New York. Contemporary Records produced his first two LPs in 1958 (Something Else and Tomorrow is the Question, ) and a year later Atlantic jumped on the fashionable free jazz wave, issuing seven disks of Colemans groups between 1959 and 1962. This rush followed the celebrated debut of the original quartet at New Yorks Five Spot in 1959, with Haden and Higgins making innovative harmony and rhythm, Cherry blowing a provocative pocket trumpet, and Ornette sailing over everyone on his soon-to-be-notorious white plastic alto saxophone.

His flash flood of post-be-bop popularity carried an unhealthy amount of controversy. There were sometimes fights in the Five Spot during the quartets five-month appearance there. The New York music avant-garde quickly lined up pro and con Ornette Coleman, with Leonard Bernstein, Gunther Schuller, and the Modern Jazz quartets pianist John Lewis asserting Colemans brilliance against dismissals by prominent performers like bassist Charlie Mingus and trumpeters Kenny Dorham and Miles Davis. (In a 1986 People article, David Grogan reports that it was Davis who pronounced the adventuresome altoist all screwed up inside. ) Coleman soon developed an antagonism towards the recording companies, who he knew were exploiting him.

Coleman began demanding extraordinary fees for recording and live appearances, justifying it by pointing to the discrepancy between the sums of money he attracted and the amount he took home. His free-style playing and conception, along with his theoretical comments about harmolodics, only amplified the argument about his talent and genuineness. (The titles no less than the substance of the early Atlantic albumsThe Shape of Jazz to Come, Change of the Century, Free Jazz set the tone and drew the boundaries for this dispute.) He grew an initial reputation for deliberate obscurity, fakery, and self-indulgence. All this was happening in the heated-up climate of mid-1960s America, with the explosions of pop-rock, pop-psychology, the sexual revolution, and Vietnam protests just around the corner.

Like many of his black jazz compatriots of an earlier generation, Omette Coleman withdrew from this emotionally taxing scene and did not re-emerge often until the early 1980s. In the meantime he learned to play trumpet and violin, toured Europe and North Africa with several groups, and began composing in different idioms and for alternative instrumental combos. His 1972 symphony, Skies of America, is written for jazz quartet and full orchestra. The 1977 Dancing in Your Head contains a live jam between Omette and Moroccan tribal musicians, along with compositions of his own that were inspired by this mid-1970s visit; it is performed by a new electronic rock-funk-blues band, Prime Time, which features two electric guitars, one or two bassists, and two drummers. This fusion group has been his combo of choice for most of the 1980s, featuring himself on alto, soaring freely above the high-energy polytonality and polyrhythmics of drummers Ronald Shannon Jackson and Denardo Coleman (Ornettes son), bassist Jamaladeen Tacuma, and guitarists James Blood Ulmer, Bern Nix, or Charles Ellerbee.

Veteran Coleman fans and musicians whom he has influenced agree that the combination of his theoretical pronouncements and his steadfast commitment to his own vision has complicated the publics appreciation of his music. Among the younger musicians who owe a large debt to Colemans ground-breaking artistry, saxophonists Branford Marsalis and Dewey Redman, popular jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, and Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia tell the same story: Omette begins sessions by explaining his musical conception in very dense, puzzling terms, but when it comes time to perform he says Just go ahead and play, man. His oldest sideman, Charlie Haden, had already been similarly drawn to this free-jazz experience in the late 1950s, when, as he relates in the People, Omette told him: Here are some chord changes, but you dont have to play them. Just play what you hear. Hadens response was like that of many a modern jazz player since: Man, I had so much fun I couldnt believe it. It was spontaneity like I had never experienced before. Each note was a universe. Each note was your life.

This is a good characterization of free jazz. Coleman himself described it this way to Balliett: Improvising is an outdated word. I try and play a musical idea that is not being influenced by any previous thing I have played before. You dont have to learn to spell to talk. The theme you play at the start of a number is the territory, and what comes after, which may have very little to do with it, is the adventure. Most fans agree that Charlie Parker is his biggest alto influencethe similarly voice-like tone, the bursts of lyrical runs, the rhythmic irregularitybut Colemans melodic conceptions are much freer than Parkers. Detroit-area bassist Ted Harley, who has been an Omette devotee since first hearing the quartet in 1958 at Chicagos southside Sutherland Hotel, declared: His playing is almost purely melodic, but the key to his group sound is the bass player: his melodic invention varies according to whos on bass. Listen to him with Charlie Haden, then with Jimmy Garrison, then Scott La Faro. Omette and the bass, thats it.

Harmolodics is the name Coleman concocted (from harmony, movement, and melodic) in an early attempt to explain what he was doing, possibly in answer to the furiously negative responses his playing received. This is Branford Marsaliss opinion (as quoted by David Fricke in his 1989 Rolling Stone article): Coleman was dismissed as a heretic simply because he couldnt explain what he was doing. For all the bewilderment, however, Colemans theorizing makes perfect post-modern sense. In America you can know exactly who you would like to pattern yourself after and what youd like to do, Balliet quoted him as telling Leonard Feather, but the moment you find something you can do that outdates that its no longer the same idea anymore, its a different thing [this] problem could be even more healthy if a solution could be made where every person could express his consciousness to its fullest without outdating the particular information hes gotten to do that or to enhance it. The world would be ten times more productive.

What Im saying, he continued in Rolling Stone, if you take an instrument right at this very moment and play it, its not impossible that you will play something that no one has ever heard before. The melody can be a rhythm note. It can be a key note. The time can be the melody. Its like the difference between spelling cat with a k or a c. It still sounds the same. To me, that is the tool in harmolodics, how to convert sound into your own language. His longtime friend John Snyder told Balliett: Its his theory of music, and it has nothing to do with what they teach you in music school. Its the sound in the instrument. Its the structure hes built around his feelings.

Omette Colemans musical life has received a rejuvenating jolt from the surge of youthful interest in jazz after be-bop, the birth of rock-jazz fusion, and the spreading movie and news treatment of American jazz careers. Add to this his new business relationship with the Fort Worth recording company, Caravan of Dreams, the recent albums with Prime Time and Pat Metheny, all reinforced by his son Denardos job as personal business agent, and the artistic future for Omette Coleman promises to be much healthier than his past. For listeners to the post-modern jazz of this embattled innovator, these words to down beat interviewer Howard Mandel should be instructive: Here I am with a band based upon everyone creating an instant melody, composition, from what people used to call improvising, and no one has been able to figure out that thats whats going on. All my disappointment about it just makes me realize how advanced the music really is.

Selected discography

Something Else!, Contemporary, 1958.

Tomorrow is the Question!, Contemporary, 1958.

The Shape of Jazz to Come, Atlantic, 1959.

Change of the Century, Atlantic, 1959.

This is Our Music, Atlantic, 1960.

The Art of the Improvisers, Atlantic, 1961.

Free Jazz, Atlantic, 1961.

Broken Shadows, Columbia.

Science Fiction, Columbia.

Crisis, Impulse.

Friends and Neighbors, Flying Dutchman.

Omette at 12, Impulse.

Whos Crazy, Affinity.

Love Call, Blue Note.

New York is Now, Blue Note.

Chappaqua Suite, Columbia (Japan).

The Great London Concert, Artista/Freedom.

At the Golden Circle, Vol. 1, Blue Note.

At the Golden Circle, Vol. 2, Blue Note.

Omette, Atlantic Jazzlore, c. 1962.

Omette on Tenor, Atlantic, 1962.

Town Hall 1962, ESP, 1962.

The Empty Foxhole, Blue Note, 1966.

Dancing in Your Head, A&M Horizon, 1977.

Body Meta, Artist House, c. 1980.

Soapsuds, Soapsuds, Artist House, c. 1983.

Skies of America, Columbia, 1972, rev. c. 1986.

(With Pat Metheny) Song X, Geffen, 1986.

Of Human Feelings, Antilles, 1986.

Opening the Caravan of Dreams, Caravan of Dreams, 1986.

In All Languages, Caravan of Dreams, 1987.

Prime Design/Time Design, Caravan of Dreams, c. 1987.

Virgin Beauty, CBS Portrait, 1988.

Sources

Books

Balliett, Whitney, American Musicians: Fifty-six Portraits in Jazz, Oxford University Press, 1986.

Periodicals

down beat, August 1987.

Horizon, November 1986.

People, October 13, 1986.

Rolling Stone, March 9, 1989.

Peter W. Ferran

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Coleman, Ornette 1930–

Ornette Coleman 1930

Jazz saxophonist and composer

Disliked Violence of Bar Scene

Fistfights Occurred at Performances

Formed Group Prime Time

Selected discography

Sources

Ornette Coleman has been recognized as one of modern jazzs great innovators, who has pushed his music to extremes where even other highly progressive musicians refused to follow. Yet in another sense, Coleman returned African-American music to its earliest roots, redefining jazz as an ensemble music where individuals had their own distinct voices within a larger whole, rather than as a vehicle for virtuoso display. Many critics have noted that, no matter how advanced the musical idiom Coleman may adopt, his playing retains a raw quality evocative of the honky-tonk blues that he performed at the beginning of his career. Best known for a series of highly experimental albums and performances in the early 1960s, Coleman has carved out a durable career through sheer persistence and belief in his own unique artistic vision.

Born on March 9, 1930, in Fort Worth, Texas, Coleman once saw his father in a baseball uniform but otherwise could remember little about him; he died when Coleman was seven. His mother made a living as a seamstress; although she was a strong disciplinarian, Coleman showed the classic marks of a free spirit from an early age. One day a teacher spanked me because I told her she was wrong, Coleman told People. I was hurt, because I knew I was right. So I started playing hooky from school. I stayed out for six weeks one time, and when my mother found out, she beat me for days.

Disliked Violence of Bar Scene

Coleman got a saxophone at age 14, and taught himself to play along with the songs he heard on the radio. Soon he was contributing to the family income by playing with bands in Fort Worth bars, but the violence he saw there dismayed him. Id be playing some real honky-tonk, and before I knew it, people would be fighting and cutting each other up, he told People. Coleman signed on with a traveling carnival show band (he was later fired for trying to push the groups music in a more modern direction), kept playing rhythm-and-blues, and finally made his way to Los Angeles, where he was so poor that he reached the brink of starvation. His mother kept him going by sending him loaves of bread in the mail.

Finally Coleman landed a job as an elevator operator, and began reading music theory texts during slack moments. In the evenings, plastic saxophone in hand,

At a Glance

Born on March 9,1930, in Fort Worth, TX; married Jayne Cortez, 1954 (divorced 1964); children: Denardo. Education: Largely self-taught; studied music theory and history independently, Los Angeles, CA; attended School of Jazz, Lenox, MA, 1959.

Career: Played in barroom rhythm-and-blues bands and with a traveling carnival show, early 1950s; performed with experimental musicians; debut album Something Else!, 1958; appeared with quartet at Five Spot club, New York, NY, 1959; toured Europe, 1965; wrote classical works including Skies of America symphony, 1960s and early 1970s; traveled to Morocco, 1973; formed Prime Time double quartet, mid-1970s; reunited with original quartet for album In All Languages, 1987; created arts center, New York City, early 1980s; started Harmolodics label, 1990s-.

Selected awards: Guggenheim fellowship, 1967; Mac-Arthur Foundation genius grant, 1994; inducted as officer in French Order of Arts and Letters; Jazz Artist of the Year, 46th Annual Down Beat International Critics Poll; Jazz Artist of the Century award, Texas Monthly magazine.

Address: Label Verve Records, 825 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10019.

he began to experiment with a radical new brand of jazz that rejected the traditional idea of improvising on a tune, in favor of free responses to what the musician felt was the tunes mood or essence. In the process, such jazz basics as harmony and chord progressions might be partially or completely disregarded. Coleman antagonized even cutting-edge musicians like saxophonist Sonny Rollins and drummer Max Roach, who walked off the stage when Coleman began playing during a jam session they were leading.

Some like-minded musicians, however, were profoundly influenced by Coleman even while he was an unknown. Bassist Charlie Haden went to Colemans home one day and emerged amazed by what Coleman could draw out of him creatively. It was spontaneity like I had never experienced before, he told People. Each note was a universe. Each note was your life. Another admirer was Jayne Cortez, whom Coleman married in 1954. They divorced in 1964, but their son, Denardo, grew up to become Colemans business manager and musical collaborator.

Colemans big break came, not from a fellow jazz radical but from the conservative-leaning John Lewis, the leader of the classical-influenced Modern Jazz Quartet, who heard in Colemans work a musical analogue to the chaotic modernist novels of Irish writer James Joyce. Lewis recommended Coleman for an influential summer concert series in 1959, held at the Lenox School of Jazz in Massachusetts, and following that summer series, Coleman moved to New York City. He and a band consisting of Haden, trumpeter Don Cherry, and drummer Billy Higgins, were booked to play at a club called the Five Spot Cafe.

Fistfights Occurred at Performances

The results were controversial, even by the contentious standards of modern jazz culture. Coleman was alternately hailed as a genius (by New York Philharmonic conductor Leonard Bernstein, among others) and denounced as a fraud. Coleman seemed to shred tuneswhen they were recognizable at allwith unpredictable melodic leaps, dissonant harmonies, squawks and growls. Colemans rhythm section did not provide a beat in the conventional sense, but operated with as much freedom as the rest of the band. On at least one occasion fistfights broke out between Colemans admirers and detractors. The publicity fueled sales of Colemans albums on the Atlantic label, the first of which, Something Else!, was released in 1958.

That album, and others such as 1959s The Shape of Jazz to Come, are considered classics today. In 1960 Coleman released Free Jazz, an album containing performances by eight musicians that essentially consisted of 40 minutes of free group improvisation. The album intensified the controversy for a while, but in the late 1960s and early 1970s, talk in the jazz world turned to new topics such as the frenetic and equally radical free-improvisation experiments of saxophonist John Coltrane, as well as trumpeter Miles Daviss forays into jazz-rock fusion.

Coleman is often said to have dropped out of sight during this period, but perhaps he was simply doing what he had always donefollowing his own artistic path, without regard for the whims of public opinion. He toured England, France, and Sweden in 1965, setting in motion an avant-garde jazz movement in Europe that continued unabated for decades, and he began to write fully notated classical compositions that in turn were influenced by European experimenters in that field. A 1967 Guggenheim fellowship helped pay the bills. One of Colemans classical pieces, an eight-movement symphony for jazz band and orchestra called Skies of America, led to increasingly frequent performances as classical orchestras opened their program lists to new influences.

It was around this time that Coleman began, mostly in a series of characteristically quizzical interviews, to express aspects of his theory of music, which he called harmolodics (the word is derived from harmony, movement, and melody). His ideas centered on the equal importance of all aspects of music, as well as the creative freedom players have in responding to each other using different musical parameters. In the 1970s Coleman helped set in motion another trend in jazzthe incorporation of music from around the globewhen he traveled to Morocco in 1973 and collaborated with Berber tribal musicians there. Some of the results were heard on the 1977 album Dancing in Your Head.

Formed Group Prime Time

That album was one of the first to feature an ensemble Coleman would employ for many years to come, the double quartet he called Prime Time. It consisted of paired guitars, bassists, and drummers, along with Colemans own alto sax. The group, reported Scott Yanow in All Music Guide, featured dense, noisy, and often witty ensembles in which all of the musicians are supposed to have an equal role, but the leaders alto always ended up standing out. Colemans playing retained the same qualities it had always had, but he was now surrounding himself with musicians such as drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson and bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, who brought elements of 1970s and 1980s jazz-funk to the groups sound.

Coleman hit a financial low point around 1980, living in a series of unheated apartments and cheap hotel rooms, and suffering two robbery attempts in an abandoned Manhattan school that he tried to turn into an arts center. After one of those attempts, he was left for dead by the teenagers who had attacked him with a hammer. In the 1980s and 1990s, however, Colemans music began to resonate with audiences, more than a quarter century after he had come on the scene. The Real Art Ways festival in Hartford, Connecticut, presented a week-long retrospective on Colemans career, and he reunited his original quartet for the acclaimed 1987 album In All Languages. An album collaboration that year with the popular fusion guitarist Pat Metheny showed how his music could find common ground with more accessible forms of jazz, and brought him a host of new fans.

The 1990s and 2000s saw the former jazz revolutionary turning into something of an elder statesman as he achieved senior citizen status. He was widely honored, winning, among many other laurels, a 1994 genius grant from the Mac Arthur Foundation, induction as an officer in the French Order of Arts and Letters, and the designation of Jazz Artist of the Century by Texas Monthly magazine. Coleman shrugged off the honors, telling Down Beat, Im really tired of being sold as a product for being who I am, but not for what I really do. More important to him were the new and varied musical activities and experiments he had begun to undertake.

Coleman continued to record, releasing several albums on his own Harmolodics imprint in the mid-1990s that found distribution from the large Verve label. In the early 2000s Coleman assembled a new group called Global Expressions, performed live accompaniment to a film version of the William Burroughs novel Naked Lunch, collaborated with various musicians from around the world, and continued to give interviews in which he delivered mystical paradoxes that challenged interviewers and readers to think about music in new ways. People always talk about how much Ive done, Coleman told Down Beat. I always hope I can do so much more.

Selected discography

Something Else!, Contemporary, 1958.

The Art of the Improvisers, Atlantic, 1959.

The Shape of Jazz to Come, Atlantic, 1959.

Free Jazz, Atlantic, 1960.

At the Golden Circle in Stockholm, Vols. 1 and 2, Blue Note, 1965.

Science Fiction, Columbia, 1971.

Skies of America, Columbia, 1972.

Dancing in Your Head, A&M, 1973.

Body Meta, Verve, 1976.

The Unprecedented Music of Ornette Coleman, Lotus, 1980.

In All Languages, Caravan of Dreams, 1987.

Tone Dialing, Harmolodic, 1995.

Three Women, Harmolodic, 1996.

The Complete Science Fiction Sessions, Columbia, 2000.

Sources

Books

Contemporary Musicians, Vol. 5, Gale, 1991.

Gridley, Mark, Jazz Styles, 5th ed., Prentice-Hall, 1994.

Periodicals

Down Beat, February 1994, p. 44; February 1996, p. 22; August 1998, p. 46; October 2000, p. 69.

Jet, July 4, 1994, p. 36.

Nation, July 10, 2000, p. 41.

New York Post, March 17, 2001, p. 8.

People, October 13, 1986, p. 108.

Times (London, England), March 17, 2001, Features section.

On-line

Ornette Coleman, All Music Guide, www.allmusic.com (March 14, 2003).

Ornette Coleman, Europe Jazz Network, www.ejn.it/mus/coleman.htm

James M. Manheim

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Coleman, Ornette

Coleman, Ornette (b Fort Worth, Texas, 1930). Amer. jazz composer and saxophonist. Began to play alto sax. in 1944, tenor sax. in 1946. Influenced by Charlie Parker. Played in bebop, blues, and rhythm bands in Southern States before settling in New Orleans in 1948. In 1950 joined Pee Wee Crayton band in Fort Worth. In Los Angeles studied harmony and theory and by 1958 was regarded as one of jazz's major innovators. Attended Lenox Sch. of Jazz, Mass., 1959, and led quartet in NY 1958–62, then forming trio. Caused controversy 1960 with his recording Free Jazz (Coleman and 7 other musicians) in which improvisation was taken almost to anarchic limits. Semi-retired 1963 to learn tpt. and vn. Reappeared in 1965 and then toured Europe. Style noted for free improvisation based on melodic shapes over a pedal-point rather than on succession of chords. Relied greatly on intuition and at times approached atonality. Gunther Schuller wrote Abstraction, a serial comp., for Coleman and augmented str. qt. Coleman's own mus. includes Lonely Woman and Turnaround. His major piece of symphonic mus. is Skies of America (1972) for jazz qt. and orch. (recorded with LSO with solo alto sax. only). This was followed in 1977 by Dancing in Your Head and in 1979 by Of Human Feelings which explored ‘funk-jazz’, a development dating from about 1970 features of which incl. a repetitive bass line, a hint of Latin rhythms, and complex rhythmic relationships.

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Coleman, Ornette

Ornette Coleman, 1930–2015, African-American saxophonist and composer, b. Fort Worth, Tex. Largely self-taught, he began playing the alto saxophone in rhythm-and-blues bands. He later developed an unorthodox and impassioned style of free jazz characterized by broken rhythms, atonal harmonies, and improvised melody, which made him an enduringly controversial figure in the jazz avant-garde. Coleman made his first real impact in the commercial jazz world after he moved from Los Angeles to New York City in 1959. From then on he played in a number of small groups with various musicians. Beginning in the 1960s, his work with electric bands led to his creation of a jazz-rock fusion he called "harmolodic," combining harmony, movement, and melody. In the mid-1970s he formed his own electric band, Prime Time. Coleman wrote several modernist concert pieces, notably the orchestral Skies of America (1972). In 2007 he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Grammy and that same year he won the Pulitzer Prize for his recording Sound Grammar (2006).

See biographies by B. McRae (1988), J. Litweiler (1992), and P. N. Wilson (1999); study by D. Lee (2006); S. Clarke, dir., Ornette: Made in America (documentary, 1986).

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"Coleman, Ornette." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Nov. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Coleman, Ornette." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/coleman-ornette

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