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Cherry, Don(ald Eugene)

Cherry, Don(ald Eugene)

Cherry, Don(ald Eugene), influential avant-garde jazz trumpeter, cornetist, leader, wooden flutes, percussion; b. Oklahoma City, Okla., Nov. 18, 1936; d. Malaga, Spain, Oct. 19, 1995. He moved to Los Angeles in 1940 and studied trumpet and harmony while attending high school. In 1951 he worked with Red Mitchell, Wardell Gray, and Dexter Gordon. He also played piano in an R&B band with Billy Higgins. By 1957 he was playing with Omette Coleman in L.A. and for a week in Vancouver; in 1958 he played on Coleman’s first LP, performing on a small “pocket” trumpet. In 1958 he, Coleman, and Higgins worked at the Hillcrest Club in L.A., from which two LPs were later issued. He and Coleman went to the Lenox (Mass.) School of Jazz in the summer of 1959 and debuted at N.Y’s Five Spot in November 1959. Their new style of playing was roundly dismissed by the critics, and many audience members reacted negatively to them. Cherry also recorded with John Coltrane in 1960 (although it was not issued at the time), played with Steve Lacy and Sonny Rollins, including dates in N.Y. (1962) and a European tour (early 1963). He was a co-founder of the N.Y. Contemporary Five (1963–64) with Archie Shepp and John Tchicai. After 1963, he toured extensively in Europe and Africa. Cherry worked in Europe with Albert Ayler, Gato Barbieri, and George Russell. He lived in Paris and then Sweden in the 1970s, playing with Coleman, Ed Black-well, Charlie Haden, Frank Lowe, and others on his frequent visits to N.Y.

By the early 1970s, Cherry gradually became immersed in world music. He adopted flutes, bells, gamelon, and other instruments of other folk cultures in his performances. He earned respect by proving himself to be a very individual composer, not restricted to the Coleman mold. In 1976 he started working with a group of Coleman alumni that blossomed into Old and New Dreams. He received a 1982 grant from the NEA. He co-founded Codona in the late 1970s Codona’s name derived from the opening letters of Colin Walcott, Don Cherry, and Nana Vasconcelos. The group performed and recorded together until 1984. Cherry worked with Jabbo Smith in 1986. In 1987 he performed on a “reunion” tour with Coleman, Charlie Haden, and Ed Blackwell; they reunited again for a tour in 1993. Cherry settled in San Francisco in the late 1980s, working with his own groups Nu and Multikulti through the 1990s. He was living in Spain at the time of his death.

Cherry’s daughter Neneh Cherry is a well-respected pop singer who enjoyed one major hit in the early 1990s with the song “Buffalo Stance.” His son is also a pop singer who performs under the name Eagle Eye Cherry.


Avant-Garde (1960); Complete Communion (1965); Live at the Montmartre, Vols, l, 2 (1965); Brooklyn is Now (1966); Symphony for Improvisers (1966); Where is Brooklyn (1966); Eternal Rhythm (1968); Human Music (1969); Mu, First Part and Second Part (1969); Orient (1971); Organic Music Society (1972); Relativity Suite (1973); Brown Rice (1975); Hear and Now (1976); Journey (1977); Old and New Dreams (1978); Don Cherry/Latif Khan (1982); El Corazón with Ed Blackwell (1982); Art Deco (1988); Multi Kulti (1988); Something Old, Something New (1992). Codona: Codona, Vol. 1 (1978); Codona, Vol. 2 (1980); Codona, Vol. 3 (1982); Featuring Omette Coleman and Steve Lacy (1999). A. Ayler: Vibrations (1964).


M. Hames, The Music of Don Cherry on Disc and Tape (Ferndown, England, 1980).

—Lewis Porter

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