Remembering Ornette Coleman
I saw Ornette Coleman only once in my life and it was around 15 years ago. He played a concert of standards in the “free” style that he is so notably associated with. I thoroughly enjoyed the way he “bended” time while playing the melody and then played the bebop and hardbop language that he and any jazz aficionado knows so well, during his solos. Even though the language was from that golden era of jazz, his elastic way of playing placed those phrases and patterns into a whole new context. This made his sound completely original and it was a joy to experience.
To many the avant garde or free jazz music is difficult to listen to because there are no conventional musical elements to “hang your hat on” while you are listening to it. For me personally, I found the only musicians of that time that I could really follow were John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. Even though the philosophy of the avant garde is to be “without borders” (meaning no melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic structure) these two musicians still gave listeners a rope to cling on, by playing their solos melodically, harmonically and rhythmically.
Coleman’s album (which had Charlie Haden playing bass, another luminary who just passed last July) led the way for many in that style and his approach will be studied for years to come.