After Ornette Coleman died in 2015, I was shaken. It’s not that I didn’t know he was frail. It was that I could no conceive of a world without him. I posted one hasty piece that began like this:
Coleman, who died at 85 on June 11, delivered on the promise of the title to his 1959 album, “The Shape of Jazz to Come.” The flow of jazz ever since in fact has been redirected, its course widened and altered.
Yet Coleman gave us no template or mold. Rather, he offered liberation from these things while suggesting—no proving—that such freedom did not mean forfeiture of aesthetic purpose or historical grounding. No one has or likely will make music quite like his, but few serious and searching jazz musicians have ignored the possibilities suggested by the doors he blew open.
I wrote in a later post about Coleman’s funeral—about how it felt ot be among those eulogizing him:
It’s hard to describe how it feels to stand at the podium of Riverside Church, to look down at a coffin that holds Ornette Coleman’s body, and to look out at a large crowd including Yoko Ono, Sonny Rollins, Henry Threadgill, John Zorn and Jason Moran, along with so many musicians and artists and friends from all corners of New York’s cultural world and from a much wider world, too.
An hour earlier, I’d attended the viewing. Lying in state, Coleman looked resplendent in one of his customary silk suits; he looked happy, bathed in his own glowing light, much as he’d always seemed when I saw him….
I looked out over that diverse and deeply focused crowd, and began like this:
“Let’s put it this way. On this planet, there is human expression, which has been related through art for many years. But this expression has not been free of categories or preconceptions.”
Ornette Coleman told me that 20 years ago.
This community, here today, celebrating Ornette, is distinctly free of categories and preconceptions. This community is among the many wondrous things that only Ornette could have shaped. It’s humbling in a transformative way to be part of it.
I didn’t realize that my words, along with those of many others who spoke, as well as all the wonderful music played that day would be captured on DVD, within “Celebrate Ornette,” a loving tribute of a boxed set, produced by Denardo Coleman, that documents Ornette’s final live appearance at a concert in 2014, and his funeral service.
You can find my Wall Street Journal review here, and below. Continue reading “Celebrating Ornette”