Jazz Remembrance: Ornette is Gone, and Musicians Reacted

The profound impact of Ornette Coleman can be seen in the reactions of the music world to his passing.

Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman

By J. R. Carroll

Only a handful of individuals can truly be said to have altered the course of music. The world woke up yesterday to news of the loss of one of them (see Michael Ullman’s tribute here in the Arts Fuse), and took to Twitter to express their reactions:

As the news broke yesterday, the media weighed in. Here are some of the more insightful articles:

For the sound of Ornette’s own words and music, radio takes the lead:

A few personal observations:

  • My introduction to Ornette was the pair of Live at the “Golden Circle” albums recorded in Stockholm in the mid-60s. Against the backdrop of the escalating war in Vietnam, the track “The Empty Foxhole,” with Ornette on trumpet, made a powerful impression (strengthened, perhaps, by its echoes—in my perception—of The Unanswered Question by Charles Ives, whose music I made acquaintance with around the same time).
  • I’m struck by the number of personal stories of transformative encounters with Ornette Coleman (including the Arts Fuse’s Michael Ullman’s recollection of Ornette’s visit to Tufts University). Despite his reputation for inscrutability, it’s remarkable how many individuals had eye- and ear-opening (and even life-changing) encounters with this polite and generous man.
  • On a couple of occasions I’ve heard radio tributes to Ornette that relied on audio clips from his Free Jazz album. Iconic as this recording is, having cemented its title as the de facto definition of Ornette’s music (and of those who followed in his path), brief chunks of audio can be very confusing due to the simple fact that what is heard is two quartets—one led by Ornette, the other by Eric Dolphy—sometimes interacting and sometimes proceeding independently. For the uninitiated, the presence of these two giants can be befuddling; their styles and musical conceptions are unmistakably different, but I can imagine for a newcomer it may be difficult to discern the one from the other. Better, then, to draw on the classic Coleman Quartet of the early 60s for audio examples.
  • Finally, with all due respect to the late Sir Christopher Lee, I’m simply not on board with the all-too-numerous comments that seem to equate a musical giant like Ornette Coleman to an actor—let’s be honest here—who made his name as a B-movie vampire. Just sayin’.

And, finally:

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