What do you think of Ornette Coleman

Jazz musician Ornette Coleman : He felt the pain of freedom

When it comes to freedom, that's where the fun ends. A young black man from Texas who had little to laugh about was the first to understand this in Fort Worth, where he grew up in a settlement of poor huts near the tracks where heavily loaded freight trains thundered on their way from the east to the west coast Ports on the Gulf to the industrial regions in the north, emitting a sharp warning signal at the level crossings that the young Ornette Coleman heard so often that he later tried to imitate it on his saxophone. It should give freedom a new sound. And if that sound didn't sound like a fanfare, then there was a reason.

Freedom. What a powerful word. American. Imperial. There's actually no feeling for this word unless you miss it. Or someone has put on a jazz record and you can hear this wobbling, bubbling sound of an improvisation, the play of patterns that arise from the body of European instruments and harmonies, from African rhythms. As if it's nothing to play like that. A simple.

Ornette Coleman's music has always known how complicated freedom really is, how aggressive it is against one's own feelings. The saxophonist, the last great freedom fighter in jazz, died on Thursday. His family announced that his heart simply stood still. At the age of 85, the life beat of this idiosyncratic, highly educated musician broke off. What remains is an erratic work, a pioneering achievement by Afro-American culture, a music of freedom that robs freedom of illusions without betraying them. While listening to Coleman's music, which was to be presented to the public for the first time in 1959, one understood that a finer sensorium is required in order to live in freedom, a sense of gaps and breaks and a lack of answers that has yet to be developed.

Of course, it makes a big difference whether you have to work for your freedom or live it, because there is no question about that. Ornette Coleman's freedom stemmed from a misunderstanding. His mother had given the boy an alto saxophone when he was 14. The father, a construction worker and cook, as they say, was long dead by this time. Ornette Coleman would later claim that his family were "poorer than poor", but this is not true in view of such an expensive instrument as the saxophone could. Ornette taught herself to play it. What he didn't know: In order to harmonize with other instruments, Coleman would have had to transpose the notes. When he found out, a lifelong distrust of the laws of harmony was the result. And many of his later bands were no longer to have harmony instruments such as piano or guitar.

Aren't harmonies the ground that gives you stability? The middle of it all? Coleman believed that everyone had their own harmonious center. So its music doesn't have to fill it. The ability to “unison”, as he used to call the interaction of several musicians, was nothing more than the synchronization of different personal tones and chords. "I don't want them to follow me," Coleman said of his fellow musicians in 1995, "I want them to follow themselves, but be with me."

Coleman's "harmonic system", which he expanded over the years, is still one of the mysteries of jazz history today. Only absolute experts overlook its finesse, which has given Coleman's compositions the fate of unplayability. But even as a child he learned to ignore the lack of understanding of his surroundings. In church he had to listen to the warning to the other children never to play like him, never. When he started his solo runs, which were more like a jerky walk, the audience froze. But from the best saxophonist of the time in Fort Worth, a largely forgotten musician named Thomas "Red" Connors, he learned that jazz is not so much a tradition as "an idea".

It goes without saying that the bebop and the screeching tirades of Charlie Parker spurred him on at first. But the bebop was a long way from Texas. He soon lost his job in a minstrel band with which he toured the south. He is said to have taught bebop phrases to a fellow musician. His biographer, John Litweiler, tells of several occasions when Coleman was bloodily beaten by angry local musicians. He then bought a plastic saxophone that was to become a symbol of his rebellious nature.

In New York, Coleman was a key figure in the hipster scene in his sixties with the colored velvet suits he wore. But it was probably the six years previously spent in Los Angeles that laid the foundation for his breakthrough. Because there he met important companions such as trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Billy Higgins, who, like him, were interested in a less formal language and with whom he made his groundbreaking records "A Shape of Jazz to Come" (1959) and "Free Jazz" (1960) should record. He also walked around in the self-made clothes of his wife, the poet Jayne Cortez, a wild, long-haired Jehovah's Witness whom Cherry described as "a kind of black figure of Christ".

When Coleman came to New York at the age of 29, the city of bebop and hardbop, he had fully developed his musical radicalism. He renounced chord changes and harmonies, everyone in his quartet seemed to follow their own pace, about which, as in the sad ballad "Lonely Woman", a certain agreement was reached only in the melody passages. He seemed to "eat up" the beat with his saxophone, as Litweiler writes ("A Harmolodic Life"). The balance of power was reversed, bass and drums sometimes played more melodic than trumpet and saxophone. They blew up abbreviations, ciphers, and the tiniest fragments of melodies that had no connection whatsoever. But what tradition had been preserved in these lines was simply no longer recognizable. The blues above all.

The force with which Coleman invalidated the rules of jazz was enormous. In the three years until 1962, during which he recorded his most important records and made guest appearances at the Five Spot Café in Manhattan, he influenced a generation of musicians. John Coltrane, who had stood on stage for twelve minutes in the Five Spot with Coleman, said in remembrance that it was "the most intense moment" of his life. But Miles Davis had trouble with the new star, whom he thought was utterly shattered inside. Coleman soon embarked on the collective improvisation of free jazz, to which he had given the name with his "Free Jazz" album, but not yet given the final form. It was even freer than free.

Coleman himself was not interested in total unleashing as a method his successors sought in the late sixties. He just wanted to create space for a new structure with his albums, which were pushing the boundaries. Two years, in which he withdrew from everything after the collapse of his grandiose quartet, also separated him from the flourishing jazz scene. Once again he returned with a harmoniously slimmed-down trio formation to a sensational concert series ("Live at the Golden Circle"). After that, however, he turned more to composing and seldom left the desk where he worked on his system. In the mid-seventies, Coleman formed his electric band Prime Time, which very loudly followed primarily polyphonic patterns. Instead of shocking the world with emptiness, he condensed sound spaces into powerful, tyrannical clumps of noise. Freedom was only to be had in abundance.

So the long life of this jazz musician has been a painful process of reconciling the destruction of the old and the tried and tested with the creation of something equally strong. If you want true freedom, you have to be able to live in the music of Ornette Coleman.

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