A Son’s Tribute to the Father of Many Things: Celebrating Ornette

Ornette and Denardo Coleman, in 1969/ photo courtesy of the artist

The musicians who’ll gather Thursday evening (June 12) at the bandshell in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park for Celebrate Ornette: The Music Of Ornette Coleman” come from all over music’s landscape.

Such range is fitting, as is the concert’s site. Coleman is most clearly identified as an iconic jazz master and a founding father of free jazz (a term that, despite its muddied meaning today, signified something as the title of Coleman’s 1961 LP). Yet as an alto saxophonist (as well as on trumpet and violin), and as a bandleader and composer, it’s fair to say that Coleman, now 84, is father to the ideas that drive and distinguish the best modern jazz (maybe even what makes it ‘modern’), and the most innovative music across a range of other styles. His music befits the rolling hills and trees of Prospect Park: It, too, is an engineered environment brilliant enough to celebrate what is natural and organic.

Ornette Coleman is also father to Denardo Coleman, a drummer who first played on one of his father’s recordings at age 10. Now 58, Denardo still generates from his trap set the firm but subtle pulses that define his father’s rhythmic sensibility; he’ll do so at the helm of a quintet that will serve as Thursday’s house band.
Denardo also projects both the air of compassion and dismissal of convention that are bedrock attitudes of his father’s work. Those two qualities more than any stylistic sense form the logical thread through the list of musicians on this program, presented jointly by Celebrate Brooklyn and the Blue Note Jazz Festival: Henry Threadgill, James Blood Ulmer, Laurie Anderson, Patti Smith, Ravi Coltrane, Bill Laswell, Bruce Hornsby, Flea, David Murray, Geri Allen,  Bachir Attar and The Master Musicians of Jajouka and Thurston Moore, among others (perhaps including Ornette).
As a critic and journalist, I’ve written about Ornette Coleman’s music and interviewed him many times through the years. (Here’s one Wall Street Journal piece from a decade ago.) As a father, I’ve been able to share Ornette’s music with my boy, Sam. As a human being, I just like to live in the world this music calls up whenever I can: This concert promises to be a communion, onstage and off, of folks who feel the same way.
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