Ornette Coleman

When Ornette Coleman codified one stream of avant-garde jazz into the free-jazz movement, he let loose a new form of expression within the idiom. Born in Texas in 1930, Coleman performed in his high school band until improvisation led to his dismissal. In 1949, as a tenor saxophonist, Coleman joined the Silas Green from New Orleans traveling tent show, which toured around the South. Following an assault that destroyed his instrument, Coleman switched to the tenor saxophone, eventually joined Pee Wee Crayton’s band, and relocated to Los Angeles. He worked odd jobs while pursuing music in Los Angeles and found a group of musicians sympathetic to his radical, improv-heavy approach. In 1958, Coleman’s debut album, Something Else!!!, was released on Contemporary Records and caused a stir in the jazz community for its free linkage of roots blues and jazz. His sophomore effort, 1959’s The Shape of Jazz to Come, on Atlantic, exhibited exactly what its title suggested. Coleman, who played a plastic saxophone, attracted controversy after the album and a residency at New York’s Five Spot Café, which saw the city’s artistic luminaries divided on the value of the new direction. In 1960, Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation, established the title for the genre he established. Coleman used a double quartet, and released what was the longest continuous piece of jazz recorded, to mixed reviews. In the mid-1960s, Coleman moved to Blue Note Records as the rest of the jazz scene caught up to his new approach. Through the 1970s, Coleman continued to develop his avant-garde approach while exploring other genres, notably funk on 1976’s Dancing in Your Head. He continued to work with rock and funk through the 1980s and 1990s. The 2006 album Sound Grammar was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for music as Coleman began to receive honors and accolades from the academic music establishment. Coleman died in 2015 and, true to his nature, had a funeral that lasted over three hours and featured performances and speeches from his collaborators and colleagues.