Free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman,
New York City, c. 1966.
Courtesy of Chuck Stewart.
Born March 9, 1930, in Fort Worth, TX
“The theme you play at the start of the number is the territory,” Ornette Coleman said, “and what comes after, which may have very little to do with it, is the adventure.” Coleman relished the adventure as few had before him. He sought “to reach into the human voice” through his horn, and, despite the slings and arrows of skeptics, he liberated the improvising musician from the rhythmic and harmonic structures of jazz. He called his music free jazz. Coleman’s adventure began in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1930, where the young alto saxophonist absorbed the sounds of gutbucket blues and the robust, squealing “Texas tenors” who held forth at local nightclubs. The feeling of the blues, along with the language of fellow saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker, would become inscribed in both his tone and his compositions, even when a fixed pitch seemed lost, a steady pulse distant. His recordings of the late 1950s and early 1960s (including The Shape of Jazz to Come and Free Jazz) placed him at the forefront of the avant-garde, but Coleman always saw himself as firmly within the jazz tradition. “Bird would have understood us,” he said. “He would have approved of our aspiring to something beyond what we inherited.”
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