Ornette Coleman dead at 85

I’ve just received news that Ornette Coleman, my favourite sax player died yesterday at the age of 85. According to New York Times the cause of his death was cardiac arrest.

What I love Ornette for:

1) Tomorrow is the question!

2) Grafton Saxophone

In the 50’s he was rather broke, working in LA as an elevator operator, Coleman swapped his tenor saxophone for the cheapest option. He stuck to it until early 60’s.

3) Free jazz*

Ornette Coleman is a major innovator of the free jazz era. In 1960 he asked himself a question: ‘what will happen, if I bring into a recording studio two different quartets [of a similar construction] and tell them to improvise?’. Of course there had to be some meeting points. He lead one of them (Don Cherry – pocket trumpet, Scott LaFaro – bass, Billy Higgins – drums), Eric Dolphy (bass clarinet) the other one (Freddie Hubbard – trumpet, Charlie Haden – bass and Ed Blackwell on drums) <– click the name and listen to the music.

Ornette’s quartet was recorded as the left channel, Dolphys – as the right one. There were two tracks released on this LP: Free jazz (part 1) on side one and Free jazz (part 2) on side B, being the lengthiest recorded continuous jazz performance to date (almost 40 minutes!).

What was the final piece? For some genious, for some disturbing. I love it.

* Some critics try to convince the world that Free Jazz wasn’t free jazz because you could sense the pulse of rythmic sections, there are solos and blah blah blah. I say – the guy who called his album Free Jazz first, claims the right to set what free jazz is. **

** No, I don’t seriously think that. Yet in my heart Ornette’s ‘the guy who invented free jazz’.

4) Harmolodic

You invented your own music genre, it’s popular, people play it in China, Argentina and Nigeria. What do you do? Invent a new one!

Actually a whole philosophy of musical genre (and a nice name for your record label).

Coleman said harmolodics was ‘the use of the physical and the mental of one’s own logic made into an expression of sound to bring about the musical sensation of unisonexecuted by a single person or with a group.’ Basically this means that ‘harmony, melody, speed, rhythm, time and phrases all have equal position in the results that come from the placing and spacing of ideas’.

‘Get rid of tonal centres!’ yelled the jazz scene of these days.

In 1972 Ornette presented his idea in Skies of America (his 18th album! Recorded in Abbey Road Studios), where members of the London Symphony Orchestra played parallel lines as written, without transposition to their home keys.

I just can’t resist and need to share this video of harmolodics in Poland:

And here’s harmolodics:

There are dozens of reasons for you to love Ornette Coleman and his music. There are dozens of reasons for you to hate his music. I know that I will remember yesterday as the day when my dream passed away. He was my dream by all means. He was my inspiration and consolation. I’m pretty sure he was an inspiration for thousands of other people too. Well, I won’t see him live any more, yet the dreams of mine he owned are now free, to be taken. I’ll try.

Ornette Coleman dead at 85