May 24, 2024

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Don Cherry one of the most lyrical and important jazz trumpeters: Video

18.11. – Happy Birthday !!! Born on 1936, in Oklahoma City, OK; father was a bartender/club manager and trumpet player; wife’s name, Moki (an artist); children: Eagle-Eye (son), Nenah (stepdaughter). 

Education: Attended School of Jazz, Lenox, MA, 1959. Played in Samuel Brown’s jazz band, Los Angeles, 1951; led the Jazz Messiahs, c. 1952; toured West Coast and Canada with James Clay; played with Ornette Coleman, beginning in 1953; performed at Five Spot Cafe, New York City, 1959-61; played with Sonny Rollins, 1961; co-founded New York Contemporary Five, c. 1962; toured Europe, 1963; co-led band with Gato Barbieri, 1964-66; member of quartet Old and New Dreams Band, beginning in the late 1970s; formed Codona, 1978; performed in jazz opera Cosmopolitan Greetings, Hamburg, West Germany, 1989; toured with quartet MultiKulti, beginning in 1990; performed with Hieroglyphics Ensemble big band, early 1990s. Teacher at Dartmouth College, 1970.

By the late 1980s, through the efforts of pop stars like Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, and David Byrne, the musical expressions of peoples as far-flung as South Africa, Brazil, and Bulgaria had begun to meld with Western styles to create what has become known as “world music” or “world beat.” But jazz trumpeter and cornet player Don Cherry had become immersed in these unusual outpourings almost two decades earlier, traversing the planet in search of ever more exotic sounds, pursuing what he has called “the fun of endless learning.” In fact, the nomadic Cherry is regularly referred to as “the musical Marco Polo.”

As a trumpeter and veteran of jazz’s front lines, Cherry has lent his personal sound and lyricism to groundbreaking work by musicians as diverse as Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Gato Barbieri, and Lou Reed. As a teacher, Cherry’s students have included, according to his press biography, “Dartmouth [College] upperclassmen, Middle Eastern goatherders, teenagers at a Swedish music camp, and grammar-school children at the Storefront School in [New York City’s] Harlem.” The trumpet innovator has studied music in Morocco, India, Eastern Europe, and Sweden. And his “acoustic expeditions” throughout the underdeveloped quarters of the Earth are renowned.

Cherry was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on November 18, 1936, the grandson of a Choctaw Indian. He moved with his parents to the Watts section of Los Angeles in 1940, when he was four years old. Back in Oklahoma, Cherry’s father, a trumpet player, had overseen the Cherry Blossom Jazz Club; in Los Angeles, the elder Cherry continued to play the trumpet and became involved with the then-flourishing Central Avenue jazz scene. His son was also enchanted by music and took piano lessons before starting trumpet in junior high school.

Cherry’s high school music teacher and private tutor was Samuel Brown, who also instructed saxophonists Charles Lloyd and Wardell Gray, trumpeter Art Farmer, and pianist Hampton Hawes. Cherry would skip school to absorb the wisdom of radio tastemaker Johnny Otis and to catch performances by jazz greats Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, and Los Angeles native Dexter Gordon when they were playing nearby. At the age of 15, his truancy in full flower, Cherry began playing with an impressive jazz band led by Brown at neighboring Jefferson High School. At one point during high school, he led his own group, the Jazz Messiahs. Cherry even gigged with local professionals, including Gordon on occasion; by then he was proficient on the trumpet and piano and could compose as well.

As his high-school career progressed, Cherry’s musical instincts began to develop and became more eclectic; he loved bebop, the early rock and roll of the Platters, and the Afro-Cuban sounds brought back to Los Angeles from south of the border by the merchant marine. It was during this seminal time in Cherry’s development that he was introduced to saxophonist Ornette Coleman.

Cherry had just returned from a tour of the West Coast and Canada with Texas saxophonist James Clay. At the age of 17, he met Coleman, with whom he would have a long and fruitful association, in a Watts record store. Coleman had been generating quite a bit of controversy with his decidedly different approach to jazz improvisation. Cherry’s preferred instrument at the time was a high-pitched pocket cornet. The young player’s inclusive, experimental approach to his craft enabled him to enthusiastically embrace the style becoming known as free-form jazz.

In 1959 he spent a summer with Coleman at the School of Jazz in Lenox, Massachusetts; later Coleman’s quartet, with Cherry on board, began its legendary engagement at New York City’s Five Spot Cafe, which brought international attention and interest to the band. Releasing improvisation from the established chordal specifications of bebop, the quartet would ultimately exert a profound influence on the contemporary music that followed. In those early years of the “free-jazz” movement, Cherry’s strong, wiry tone and rhythmically elastic phrasing rendered him an apt foil for Coleman. He developed an assortment of vocalized sounds, producing expressive squeals and split notes on both cornet and pocket trumpet.

After appearing on Coleman’s first seven records, Cherry left the visionary saxman’s group in 1961. He spent the following eight months playing with saxophonist Sonny Rollins. Over the next few years, Cherry worked with John Coltrane, Steve Lacy, and George Russell. He also co-founded a group called the New York Contemporary Five with saxophonists Archie Shepp and John Tchicai. In 1963, Cherry toured Europe with Albert Ayler and Shepp and met Argentine tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri. Soon he was recording with Barbieri.

The full emergence of Cherry from Ornette Coleman’s shadow was evidenced in 1965 on his collabortion with Barbieri on Blue Note Records’ Complete Communion. Cherry’s compositions are continuous, multithematic pieces reflecting a versatile, assertive, and creative improviser. From 1964 to 1966, Cherry co-led a European band with Barbieri.

In the late 1960s, Cherry began to explore the music of the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Indonesia. On 1968’s Eternal Rhythm, Cherry played native wind and percussion instruments to create novel sounds. His direction was a marked departure from the free-jazz of that era.

After teaching at New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College in 1970, Cherry and his family–he is the father of rap-soul artist Neneh Cherry and an actor-drummer son named Eagle-Eye–lived in Sweden until 1975, residing in an art school he had purchased there. After leaving Scandinavia, the family explored Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, traveling by camper. All the while Cherry gave casual concerts and jammed with the locals. “I didn’t have any jobs lined up when I went,” he revealed in his press biography, “I just went, and that’s the way to do it if you’re going to meet all the musicians and learn melodies and rhythms–if you’re going to see all there is to see.”

In the late 1970s, Cherry reunited with three former Coleman sidemen–Dewey Redman, Ed Blackwell, and Charlie Haden–to form the Old and New Dreams Band. The quartet labored to preserve and perpetuate the musical vision of their august former leader. Cherry formed an ensemble called Codona in 1978 with multi-instrumentalists Collin Walcott and Nana Vasconcelos. Codona specialized in a kaleidoscope of ethnic musics. Cherry sang and played piano, organ, melodica, wooden flutes, and a Malian hunter’s guitar called the doussn’gouni. He continued to canvass the vast horizon of global music throughout the 1980s. His interests led him to compose extraordinary pieces, many of a solemn and ritualistic complexion.

In 1989, in Hamburg, West Germany, Cherry participated in the premiere production of avant-garde theater impresario Robert Wilson’s jazz opera Cosmopolitan Greetings. Also that year, Rolling Stone named Cherry’s Art Deco record of the year. In 1991, the artist received two San Francisco Bay Area Music Awards for his album MultiKulti, its title a play on the word multicultural. By then Cherry had become a Bay Area resident. According to his press bio, Cherry was also honored when New York City’s jazz station WKCR-FM aired his work for an entire week, broadcasting over 100 hours of recordings, interviews, and commentary dating from 1959.

In 1990, Cherry hit the road with another quartet, also called MultiKulti, bringing his unique “gumbo” to, and undoubtedly borrowing from, locales from Spain to Japan. He was also performing then with his Hieroglyphics Ensemble big band, which had lent a hand to the MultiKultisessions. “It’s a great time in music right now,” Cherry told Detroit Free Press contributor W. Kim Heron at the time, “whether they call it global music, world music, world beat, whatever. I just call it multikulti.” Of the trumpet player’s universal oeuvre Heron wrote, “Cherry’s albums have been like so many postcards mailed home from an incredible musical journey.”

Don Cherry, one of the most lyrical and important jazz trumpeters, died on Thursday at the home of his stepdaughter, Neneh Cherry, near Malaga, Spain. The cause was liver failure caused by hepatitis, said his wife, Moki.

Mr. Cherry used a pocket cornet — a shrunken cornet — to get an open, quiet sound. He managed emotionally charged statements without force, and his playing radiated fragility, as if he had come to his style without study.

He began his career studying the works of the trumpeter Fats Navarro, and his playing was often a lyrical paraphrase of be-bop ideas without a wasted note. By the end of his life, his music incorporated funk and ethnic musics from around the world, fusing his avant-garde vocabulary with folk and pop music. In describing his studies to the drummer Art Taylor for the book “Notes and Tones” (Da Capo Press, 1993), Mr. Cherry said, “First it was form, then phrasing and then sound, always sound.”

Mr. Cherry was a product of the fertile postwar be-bop scene in Los Angeles in the 1940’s. He came from a musical environment, with a grandmother who played piano accompaniment for silent movies, a mother who played piano at home and a father who owned a music club in Tulsa. His father also worked as a bartender at the Plantation Club, a leading jazz club, in the Watts section of Los Angeles.

At Jefferson High School, Mr. Cherry studied with Samuel Brown, a respected teacher who had taught the jazz musicians Wardell Gray, Frank Morgan, Hampton Hawes and Art Farmer. The Los Angeles of his youth produced or was home to many jazz musicians who helped to set the standard for experimentation in the next few decades, including Charles Mingus, Scott LaFaro, Gary Peacock, Eric Dolphy, Charlie Haden and Paul Bley.

By 1954, Mr. Cherry, still a teen-ager, was playing professionally, a career course his father tried to stop. Two years later, Mr. Cherry met Ornette Coleman, a meeting that changed the course of jazz history.

Mr. Cherry, along with the drummer Billy Higgins (whom Mr. Cherry met when both were high school students in a truant-detention school) and a tenor saxophonist, James Clay, were drawn to Mr. Coleman’s ideas and began rehearsing regularly with him. At the same time, Mr. Cherry was performing in the area, working with the intermission band at the Lighthouse, which was then the most famous jazz club in Los Angeles.

In 1958, Mr. Cherry and Mr. Coleman, along with the pianist Paul Bley (who was the leader of the group), the bassist Charlie Haden and the drummer Mr. Higgins began an engagement at the Hillcrest Club; live recordings of some of those sessions show the band playing Mr. Coleman’s tunes with authority and a sense of experimentation.

In February 1958, Mr. Coleman began his recording career with “Something Else,” an album that included Mr. Cherry and Mr. Higgins. The pianist John Lewis arranged for the group to join Atlantic Records, where it recorded the album “The Shape of Jazz to Come” a year later. That same year, the group spent two and a half months at the Five Spot in New York, a stay that was meant to last only two weeks. Mr. Coleman’s music split the jazz world between those who believed in his rewriting of jazz orthodoxy and those who didn’t.

The importance of Mr. Coleman’s recordings with Mr. Cherry cannot be overestimated. The rhythmic relationship between the two musicians, loose and flexible yet completely empathetic, took jazz modernists away from an emphasis on overt discipline and precise detailing. And both Mr. Cherry and Mr. Coleman drew on a huge variety of sources for their melodies. They knew be-bop, but even Mexican melodies showed up in their improvisations, along with country blues lines. This added a rural, folk element to jazz.

Mr. Cherry first recorded under his own name in 1960, on an album called “The Avant Guarde”; John Coltrane was a sideman. He recorded infrequently in the next few years, but began a series of associations that had him collaborating with nearly every important player in the mushrooming avant-garde of the time.

In 1962, he began an association with the saxophonist Sonny Rollins that included concert appearances around the world and recordings; he also recorded with the saxophonist Steve Lacy. That year Mr. Cherry also helped form the New York Contemporary Five with the saxophonists Archie Shepp and John Tchicai. By 1964, Mr. Cherry had begun work with the saxophonist Albert Ayler.

In 1964, after touring Europe, Mr. Cherry went to Paris. He formed a band of international musicians there that included the tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri. A year later, the band came back to New York City, where it recorded what is often considered Mr. Cherry’s masterpiece, “Complete Communion,” for Blue Note records, beginning a short association with the label.

In the mid-60’s, Mr. Cherry began experimenting with all sorts of music, and for the rest of his career he wandered internationally. He began playing duets with the drummer Ed Blackwell, which he continued until the 1980’s.

In the 70’s, he taught at Dartmouth College, and lived not only in Europe but also in the Middle East, all the while absorbing local music. In 1973, he recorded the “Relativity Suite,” with the Jazz Composers’ Orchestra, which included a string section. He recorded with Lou Reed, the singer and guitarist, and took part in the group Codona, with Nana Vasconcelos and Collin Walcott.

Mr. Cherry recorded a funk-and-ethnic album in Paris and also performed with the band Old and New Dreams, a revival of Ornette Coleman’s acoustic quartet with the saxophonist Dewey Redman in Mr. Coleman’s place. In 1984, he founded the group Nu, which included the saxophonist Carlos Ward and Mr. Vasconcelos. He continued to make recordings into the 90’s.

In addition to his wife, of New York City, and his stepdaughter, he is survived by his sons Jan and David, of Los Angeles; Eagle Eye, of New York; Christian, of Copenhagen, and his mother, Daisy McKee of Los Angeles.

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