Tributes have poured in for Ornette Coleman, the legendary jazz alto saxophonist who passed away at the age of 85 last Thursday, June 11, in Manhattan. The cause of death has been noted as ‘cardiac arrest.’
Randolph Denard Ornette (born March 9) coined the term ‘free jazz’ to describe his style of ‘harmolodics’ which challenged mainstream jazz audiences in the 1950s and 1960s.
Coleman released his debut studio album, Something Else!!!!, in 1958 and, in 1959, released the ground breaking album, The Shape of Jazz to Come, with Charlie Haden on bass and Don Cherry on cornet.
Coleman’s most recent recording was the live album Sound Grammar, released in 2006. In the past decade he also made notable guest performances on Joe Henry’s 2001 album Scar) and Lou Reed The Raven (2003) and bassist Jamaladeen Tacuma’s album For The Love of Ornette (2010). Tacuma was a sideman for Coleman on five albums in the ’70s and ’80s.
A box set of the jazz legend’s Celebrate Ornette tribute concert – including performances from Sonny Rollins, Patti Smith, Flea and Coleman – will be released later this year.
Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello called Coleman a ‘titan… who created, explored, defined and perfected free jazz”, while Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea said, “Ornette Coleman is the most beautiful man that ever lived.”
Young saxophonist Kamasi Washington told Billboard that “even beyond music, beyond jazz, people were touched by Ornette because he expressed himself without fear.”
“Ornette’s work is so profoundly tied to the notion of liberty,” Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid told Rolling Stone. “One thing that came to mind was a line by the 19th Century African-American writer-statesman, Frederick Douglass: ‘Freedom is a road seldom traveled by the multitude’.”
“I only met Ornette Coleman a couple of times,” wrote Robert Wyatt, “what a gent. Did he ever raise his speaking voice in anger? It’s hard to imagine. What I remember is his (often mentioned) amused but welcoming Old World courtesy. (He was, by the way, as is the wonderful Archie Shepp, a very snappy dresser. Just see the photographs: no shabby chic for Ornette!)”