Who Hijacked Our Country

Friday, June 12, 2015

Ornette Coleman

Saxophonist/composer Ornette Coleman passed away yesterday at age 85. He was never exactly a household name, but he was one of the most vital musical innovators (of any musical category) of the past sixty years.

His musical approach was so unheard-of at the time (1950s/60s), most people just said he couldn't play, or thought he was playing off key, etc.  His improvisational approach was much more intuitive than that of almost any other jazz player of the era.  Or as Ornette Coleman himself put it:

“No one has to learn to spell to talk, right?...Music is the same way.  If you can play it and bypass all the rest of the things, you're still doing as great as someone that has spent 40 years trying to find out how to do that.”

During the 1950s, when Bebop was still considered “cutting edge,” Ornette Coleman described it as:

“They were playing changes.  They weren't playing movements. I was trying to play ideas, changes, movements and non-transposed notes.”




Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a little surprised that you used the CNN link, I might have used something closer to home like Rolling Stone or Downbeat. The Problem with Downbeat is they are given to assume you are a reader and therefore already knew something about Coleman as you're reading their obituary. Rolling Stone will gather as much information as it can using their great connections of music resources hoping you wont forget that back then Rolling Stone rarely covered that kind of music or those types of artist.

NPR might have provided a happy medium, as you are most likely going to hear Coleman on a NPR station.

The thing I loved about Coleman and his genre is that he saw even the complicated Bebop of the day beginning to fall prey to a formula and he wanted to break from any approaching use of standards. It went back to the Afro Roots that all Instruments have a voice and don't necessarily need each other to keep track, and so therefore it doesn't center around just a singer, or a piano player or a tenor sax player. I think the hardest part was recording it, when it was so alive in the clubs. Some may be surprised that this music was best listened to straight, that you didn't need to be high.


His Song "Lonely Woman" separated the men from the boys if you will, it remains one of the most haunting pieces I ever heard and never fails to move me even today. It has been covered with a variety of Instruments including adding lyrics and then sung (In my own collection I have 40 different versions). Still moving!


When I hear Radka Toneff sing it, I can't help from feel she's singing her own impending suicide, considering she died of a overdose not too long after she recorded it:


You had no business playing it, if you didn't get it! And in it's own weird way, that was refreshing.


June 12, 2015 at 4:29 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Erik: I didn't think Downbeat still existed. I Googled it a few months ago and all I found were a few old outdated links. I assumed it had expired.

I saw Ornette Coleman in concert two different times, in the mid '70s. James Blood Ulmer was in the band both times. Dave Holland was in one of the concerts. He definitely comes across better in person than on record, IMHO.

I haven't checked out the YouTube links yet. I'll have to wait 'til I plug in the other computer that actually has functioning speakers.

June 13, 2015 at 10:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Once in a while I catch a download, but you can still see it online. Beats me why I don't subscribe as to me it's the only real Jazz Magazine left, the others have decided to cater more to Smooth Jazz.

One of my first Baptisms of Fire was when a cousin took me to see James Blood Ulmer. I remember after the first number instead of clapping saying "Now I get it!"


June 13, 2015 at 11:31 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Erik: Thanks for the Downbeat link. I bought a British jazz magazine about a year ago. Had some interesting articles, but the free CD that came with it was the blandest shit I've ever heard.

June 14, 2015 at 10:28 AM  

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