A luminary in jazz has died today—Mr. Ornette Coleman. If you know anything about his music, you’ll know that it’s pretty out there, tonally and rhythmically, even by many jazz-fan standards. He had this idea that jazz could be much more harmonically and conceptually “diverse” than it had been—that people in the band could play in different keys and still be together. I love this quote from trumpeter Roy Eldridge from the memorial piece in The New York Times today,
“I listened to him high, and I listened to him cold sober,” he said. “I even played with him. I think he’s jiving, baby.”
In one of my jazz improv classes in college I had an instructor that would yell, “Ornette Coleman! Ornette Coleman!” whenever we’d drift too far outside the changes, and I admit that I felt a little stifled by that. There’s times when I want to fit right in there, but there are times I’m with Ornette—I want to ride my own center, playing right along with others that are riding theirs.
“I don’t want them to follow me,” he explained. “I want them to follow themselves, but to be with me.”
Another great has fallen but his legacy lives on in those that look beyond the structure and are open to all the weirdness.
In the video above, you’ll notice that things start off pretty together, then Coleman ventures in and out, not quite grounded in the original togetherness, but floating on and over it.