Every day we see death notices on Facebook of our favorite artists, actors, musicians, and so on. I’ve gotten so accustomed to seeing those familiar “RIPs” that I barely give them a second thought. People die…life goes on…
Today, however, I opened my Facebook and saw that Ornette Coleman had left us. I burst into tears. It surprised me. I thought, “Wow, what brought that on?”
Ornette was more than just another musician to me. He was an intrinsic part of all of my own musical development for decades. He was much more than a groundbreaking alto saxophonist who played a plastic sax. He took jazz themes and moods that weren’t really unfamiliar and managed to transmute them into something none of us had ever imagined. To call him “avant-garde” isn’t quite accurate. In a way, Ornette was mainstream. The blues permeated his work, and he wasn’t really “out there” in the sense of no melody, no form. But he took the music into another realm—a place of wild freedom and sassy childlike innocence.
I remember distinctly when his albums “The Shape of Jazz to Come” and “Change of the Century” appeared in my world. I was part of a little coterie of very young jazz musicians in Boston. We considered ourselves part of the avant-garde. But when we heard those albums, with their disarming simplicity and yet mind-blowing innovativeness, it took our breath away. Those two albums in particular still take my breath away.
I’m not going to write a bio of Ornette—you can easily find that online if you’re not familiar with his work. I just wanted to express my unending admiration today for a man who knew who he was, stuck to his vision, and enriched everyone who had ears to hear what he was saying.