Remembering Ornette Coleman, “Free Jazz” Pioneer

American jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman (1930-2015)
American jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman (1930-2015)

American jazz saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman passed away yesterday in Manhattan at the age of 85. In the 1960s Coleman was at the forefront of free jazz, a movement which liberated jazz from its traditional harmonic and formal rules. This 1961 album and the 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning Sound Grammar will give you a sense of the adventurous nature and rhythmic sophistication of Coleman’s music. Traditional jazz was often built on melodies from the American songbook and followed a strict structure. Coleman’s music discarded these conventions. The result was music which gradually evolved over longer periods of time and erupted with a uniquely visceral spontaneity. Coleman’s distinctively mournful sound captured the soul of the blues.

John Zorn’s “Spy vs. Spy”

I first discovered Ornette Coleman’s music through an excerpt from John Zorn’s 1989 album, Spy vs Spy: The Music of Ornette Coleman. Zorn, a saxophonist and New York Avant-garde composer, pushes Coleman’s music into the world of thrash jazz and punk rock. We hear the rebellious edginess of rock…the thrilling, metallic, full decibel “noise” of the contemporary world.

Listen to Ornette Colman’s original Good Old Days from the 1967 album, The Empty Foxhole:

Then listen to Zorn’s take on the same music:

If you feel inspired, share your thoughts about the music in the thread below.

Charlie Haden, Embracing the Moment

Charlie Haden (1937-2014)
Charlie Haden (1937-2014)

Charlie Haden, the legendary and influential jazz double bass player, passed away last Friday in Los Angeles at the age of 76. Haden enjoyed long associations with fellow jazz greats such as Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarrett. His death comes a month after passing of another important figure in American jazz, pianist Horace Silver (listen here).

This interview offers a glimpse at Charlie Haden’s extraordinary life and political activism. He believed that jazz is “music of rebellion” and he wasn’t afraid to use it as a powerful tool for protest. At the same time, his approach to music was deeply spiritual:

I learned at a very young age that music teaches you about life. When you’re in the midst of improvisation, there is no yesterday and no tomorrow — there is just the moment that you are in. In that beautiful moment, you experience your true insignificance to the rest of the universe. It is then, and only then, that you can experience your true significance.

I want [students] to come away with discovering the music inside them. And not thinking about themselves as jazz musicians, but thinking about themselves as good human beings, striving to be a great person and maybe they’ll become a great musician.

I always dreamed of a world without cruelty and greed, of a humanity with the same creative brilliance of our solar system, of an America worthy of the dreams of Martin Luther King, and the majesty of the Statue of Liberty…This music is dedicated to those who still dream of a society with compassion, deep creative intelligence, and a respect for the preciousness of life — for our children, and for our future.

Silence, from the 1987 album by the same title, features Haden with Chet Baker (trumpet), Enrico Pieranunzi (piano), and Billy Higgins (drums):