NPR lauds the late free-jazz saxophonist Coleman for having "liberated jazz from conventional harmony, tonality, structure and expectation"
Coleman was an American icon and iconoclast -- a self-taught musician born poor and fatherless in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1930, who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, the Japanese Praemium Imperiale, two Guggenheims, a MacArthur, honorary doctorates and a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master honor.
I've been listening to his Golden Circle CDs while waiting for the NYT to update their obit, at which point I'll probably switch over to the 6-disc box set Beauty Is a Rare Thing: The Complete Atlantic Recordings--about which AllMusic wrote:
...this is, along with John Coltrane's Atlantic set and the Miles & Coltrane box, one of the most essential jazz CD purchases.
The Esquire interview with Ornette Coleman has some great aphoristic moments:
I wasn't so interested in being paid. I wanted to be heard. That's why I'm broke.
How can I turn emotion into knowledge? That's what I try to do with my horn.
I don't try to please when I play. I try to cure.
As "Doughnuts" plays, I see that the NYT has caught up:
His run of records for Atlantic near the beginning of his career -- especially "The Shape of Jazz to Come," "Change of the Century" and "This Is Our Music" -- pushed through skepticism, ridicule and condescension, as well as advocacy, to become recognized as some of the greatest records in jazz history. [...]
His music had such a force that even John Coltrane said, in 1961, that 12 minutes he had spent on stage with Coleman amounted to "the most intense moment of my life."
Among his many achievements are the following:
He was awarded a National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master fellowship in 1984, and was made a MacArthur Foundation fellow in 1994; he had reached old-master status on the jazz-performance circuit... [...]
In 2007 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his album "Sound Grammar." That same year he was given a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award and performed at the rock-centered Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee. [...] His performing schedule declined in his last five years; his final public performance was at Prospect Park in Brooklyn in June 2014, as part of a tribute to him organized by his son.
Fred Kaplan pegs Coleman as "the man who freed jazz" in this 2006 piece that said, "he's, above all, a musician of melody:"
Ornette's style of "freedom" lies not so much in what the musicians play as in their relationship to one another. Coleman made up his own odd word for his music: "harmolodic," roughly defined as music where harmony, motion (or rhythm), and melody play equal roles. No part is subordinate to the others. All the players feel free to improvise whenever they want.
Rolling Stone notes that:
A box set of the jazz legend's "Celebrate Ornette" tribute concert - including performances from Sonny Rollins, Patti Smith, Flea and Coleman himself - will be released this fall.
The Atlantic's David A. Graham calls Coleman "one of the genre's true polarizing geniuses:"
Jazz's version of the famous--or infamous--1913 Armory show that introduced Americans to modern art came on November 17, 1959, when Ornette Coleman began a run of shows at the Five Spot Cafe in New York.
It was an era when giants walked the jazz landscape. Charlie Parker had been dead for four years, but bebop, his brainchild, had propelled jazz to musical peaks, even as the genre's commercial appeal faded. Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, perhaps the greatest jazz record ever, had just been released. John Coltrane's Giant Steps was about to ship. Then Coleman, a short, eccentric alto saxophonist from Texas by way of Los Angeles, arrived with his band, playing something that sounded nothing like what was on the scene--but sounding quite a bit like a provocation.
Salon's Scott Timberg notes that Coleman "lived longer than almost any jazz great, and made important and challenging music for decades:"
The soft-spoken Coleman made music for half a century and released dozens of records. More than almost any musician in history, they're various enough that one listener will love an era and completely ignore or dislike another. Some of us who love Ornette are still puzzled by entire periods of his work.
The Guardian assesses Coleman as having "brought a new vocabulary to jazz, in the widest terms: melody, instrumentation and technique were all taken in new directions in his music." My Quote of the Day, despite the previous encomiums, is from guitarist Pat Metheny:
Even for the best musicians, playing with Coleman could be a challenge. In 1986, he guitarist Pat Metheny recounted the experience of playing alongside Coleman in full improvisatory flow: ""The challenge in this situation is that sometimes Ornette plays and stops, then I have to play. The other night in Washington, we did this tune called Broadway Blues, and he played the most perfect musical statement I've ever heard. I gave it my best, but I have no pretenses of improvising at that level."