May 28, 2024

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A short but sophisticated Ornette Coleman gateway: Videos, Photos

During his early Atlantic years, Ornette Coleman recorded a whole bunch of immortal music in a very short period of time. The final LP was Ornette on Tenor, tracked during March 1961 with Don Cherry, Jimmy Garrison, and Ed Blackwell. It’s a fabulous date, albeit one for connoisseurs: Ornette’s signature flashy and wailing alto is replaced by his often overblown tenor, while Jimmy Garrison faces down the Coleman group language.

Fred Hersch recorded “Enfant” on his album Sarabande with Charlie Haden and Joey Baron. Haden shows he understands the harmony of the slight melody better than Garrison, although that is not to say that Garrison doesn’t deliver magnificence it in his own fashion — especially playing quarter notes with Blackwell during the blowing: What a vibe! Still, Haden with Ornette remains one of the wonders of the world, even when a pianist is playing the melody. (To his credit, Hersch does not harmonize the melody, he plays a single line like a horn.)

I listened to Sarabande a lot more than Ornette on Tenor, and at some point I became aware of an unusual structural feature: the out head is essentially “backwards” from the in head. There are four phrases. 1,2,3,4 to start, and 4,3,2,1 to end. Very hip.

My transcription is not correct — one cannot realistically notate Ornette Coleman accurately — but it is better than the one prepared by Gunther Schuller for the folio A Collection of 26 Ornette Coleman Compositions.





Whatever Ornette is doing, he isn’t changing time signatures in a metrical fashion. His melodies are far closer to human speech and blues shouting than most European-based classical composers.

I scorn Schuller’s 2/4 and 3/4 bars in “Enfant” almost as much as I scorn Schuller’s ghastly notation of “Una Muy Bonita” in 15/8 (from the same folio).


Of course, Haden and Billy Higgins are just playing in a groovy 4/4 on “Una May Bonita.” I teased Gunther about this horrible notation in our interview.

“Enfant” might turn up on one or both of the gigs next week.

Jamboree (in Barcelona) on Mon. July 3 w. Jorge Rossy, Bill McHenry, and Masa Kamaguchi

Vortex (in London) on Wed. July 5 w. Conor Chaplin and Martin France

Ornette Coleman: In His Own Language - JazzTimes

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