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Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman
@ the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre
20 November 2011

Click an image to enlarge.

Biography

Rarely does one person change the way we listen to music, but such a man is Ornette Coleman. Since the late 1950s, when he burst on the New York jazz scene with his legendary engagement at the Five Spot, Coleman has been teaching the world new ways of listening to music. His revolutionary musical ideas have been controversial, but today his enormous contribution to modern music is recognised throughout the world.

Coleman was born in Fort Worth, Texas in 1930 and taught himself to play the saxophone and read music by the age of 14. One year later he formed his own band. Finding a troublesome existence in Fort Worth surrounded by racial segregation and poverty, he took to the road at age 19. During the 1950s while in Los Angeles, Coleman’s musical ideas were too controversial to find frequent public performance possibilities. He did, however, find a core of musicians who took to his musical concepts: trumpeters Don Cherry and Bobby Bradford, drummers Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins, and bassist Charlie Haden.

In 1958, with the release of his debut album Something Else, it was immediately clear that Coleman had ushered in a new era in jazz history. This music, freed from the prevailing conventions of harmony, rhythm, and melody, often called ‘free jazz’ transformed the art form. Coleman called this concept Harmolodics. From 1959 through the rest of the 60s, Coleman released more than fifteen critically acclaimed albums on the Atlantic and Blue Note labels, most of which are now recognised as jazz classics. He also began writing string quartets, woodwind quintets, and symphonies based on Harmolodic theory.

In the early 1970s, Coleman travelled throughout Morocco and Nigeria playing with local musicians and interpreting the melodic and rhythmic complexities of their music into this Harmolodic approach. In 1975, seeking the fuller sound of an orchestra for his writing, Coleman constructed a new ensemble entitled Prime Time, which included the doubling of guitars, drums, and bass. Combining elements of ethnic and danceable sounds, this approach is now identified with a full genre of music and musicians. In the next decade, more surprises included trend-setting albums such as “Song X” with guitarist Pat Methany, and “Virgin Beauty” featuring Grateful Dead leader Jerry Garcia.

The 1990s included other large works such as the premier of “Architecture in Motion,” Coleman’s first Harmolodic ballet, as well as work on the soundtracks for the films Naked Lunch and Philadelphia. With the dawning of the Harmolodic record label under Polygram, Coleman became heavily involved in new recordings including “Tone Dialing,” “Sound Museum,” and “Colors”. In 1997, New York City’s Lincoln Center Festival featured the music and the various guises of Coleman over four days, including performances with the New York Philharmonic and Kurt Masur of his symphonic work, “Skies of America.”

There has been a tremendous outpouring of recognition bestowed upon Coleman for his work, including honorary degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, California Institute of the Arts, and Boston Conservatory, and an honorary doctorate from the New School for Social Research. In 1994, he was a recipient of the distinguished MacArthur Fellowship award, and in 1997, was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2001, Ornette Coleman received the prestigious Praemium Imperiale award from the Japanese government. Coleman won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his 2006 album, “Sound Grammar,” the first jazz work to be bestowed with the honour. In 2008, he was inducted into the Nesuhi Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame. The NEJHF honours legendary musicians whose singular dedication and outstanding contribution to this art shaped the landscape of jazz.

Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman & Band


Recommended
Listening

 

change of the century The Ornette Coleman Trio at the "golden circle" Stockholm Beauty Is A Rare Thing Ornette Coleman & Prime Time - Tone Dialing
Dancing In Your Head ornette Coleman Double Quartet - Free Jazz Love Call Ornette
Ornette Coleman Quartet - Reunion 1990 The Ornette Coleman Quartet - This Is Our Music Skies Of America Something Else
Song X Sound Grammar The Complete Science Fiction Sessions The Shape Of Jazz To Come

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