Archives for posts with tag: Ornette Coleman

Words by Hank Williams. Photos by Joyce Jones.


Jazz great Ornette Coleman, known for his Harmolodic approach to music and expansion of the field of jazz, died on June 11, 2015. He’s been the subject of an exhaustive list of obituaries assessing his work and New York FM radio station WKCR—known for its memorial broadcasts for jazz musicians–turned over its airwaves to play nothing but Coleman’s music for a full week after his death.

He’ll likely be the subject of many tributes to come, but the one people were looking forward to was held on June 27, in Manhattan’s historic Riverside Church, which was filled with hundreds of people from the jazz world and fans who wanted to share one last moment of reflection on Coleman’s life.

Recurring themes were Coleman’s gentle spirit, ferociously creative artistic drive, and overall humanity, which were the starting points for most of the musical and spoken tributes.

The event was emceed by veteran educator, jazz historian, and WKCR radio broadcaster Phil Schaap, who opened the proceedings with his recollections of Coleman. Schaap related Coleman’s history with the radio station — which was a long one– and culminated with their weeklong tribute to Coleman which played only his music continuously for the week after his death. In addition to their memorial broadcasts, WKCR is also known for their birthday broadcasts where they focus on the work of a single artist for 24 hours. Coleman had additional significance in that he was the last living musician to be honored in that way.

Howard Mandel: “Ornette didn’t play free jazz; he freed jazz.”

Author and Jazz Journalists Association president Howard Mandel offered his own reflections on Coleman, recalling interviews with him and concluding that “Ornette didn’t play free jazz; he freed jazz.”

Award-winning Amsterdam News journalist Herb Boyd was tasked by Coleman’s son Denardo to assume the monumental job of assessing Coleman’s contributions to Black culture. Boyd focused on Coleman’s forward thinking aesthetics, pointing out that some artists “not only capture the essence of black culture — the past the present — some of them look into the future and the rest of the culture has to catch up”.

Pianist Cecil Taylor read 2 poems for Ornette and then played a tribute. Taylor’s become somewhat reclusive in recent years and it was a rare opportunity to see him perform and read his work.

Video by Liza Bear|YouTube.

Journalist Larry Blumenfeld recalled that Coleman “also liberated the world around jazz”, noting that “it’s harder to live harmolodically”: the latter a referral to Coleman’s signature musical style, which he took as a directive that went beyond music.

Blumenfeld said that “Ornette always talked about tones and sounds, but never notes” because he realized that individual notes could get trapped in spaces. In a nod to Coleman’s true commitment to harmolodics, Blumenfeld pointed out that “getting to know Ornette and his son [Denardo] taught me that you could parent harmolodically — without hierarchichies”. Blumenfeld posted his thoughts on Coleman after the service.

Poet, activist, broadcaster (and now Newark mayor Ras Baraka’s communications director) Felipe Luciano recalled that he and Coleman “never spoke about music. We spoke about God. We spoke about mysticism.” Luciano explained that his talks with Coleman had a calming influence on him as a young activist and also pushed him to think more deeply about his politics, the world, and how he related to people. Their discussions led to more complex questions: “How can we get beyond [the limitations of the world]? How can we fly?” Luciano ended with a poem dedicated to Coleman.

Ornette Coleman: “Everything is music”

Vibraphonist and pianist Karl Berger recalled that Coleman “wanted you to go beyond simple logic” “He always wants you to find your own intuitive logic, your own music.” Coleman told him that “thinking is too slow for music making”, instead stressing intuition: the ability to feel intuitively what’s happening and respond musically according to those feelings. Berger remembered Coleman once being asked what he was listening to and replying “everything”. “Everything”, the questioner asked, to which Coleman replied, “Everything is music”.

Visual artist Mel Edwards recalled that one connection they both had was in being Texas natives. “Like Texans of our generation, we went west to go north”, Edwards explained. Edwards and Coleman were both part of the Los Angeles Black Arts cultural scene before Coleman took up residence in New York.

Edwards stressed the mutual understanding they shared of the importance of being politically committed artists and the commitment to not simply creating “art for art’s sake”, but rather the imperative to create art that would help people see clarity in the world and somehow improve their lives.

Henry Threadgill and pianist Jason Moran collaborated on the composition “Sail”, written specifically for the tribute.

Yoko Ono recalled that she knew Ornette “for 50 short years” and choked back tears while cradling an unfinished scarf she knitted for him and left it on the podium as a reminder. While Ono had little to say, her inability to articulate more than she did spoke volumes about the deep connection she felt with Coleman and the level of loss she felt.

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The tribute also featured musical remembrances by saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders, pianist Geri Allen and saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, drummer Jack DeJohnette and tap dancer Savion Glover, and a quintet of saxophonists David Murray and Joe Lovano, bassists Al McDowell and Charnett Moffett, and drummer Denardo Coleman.

Coleman’s been laid to rest in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx along with a host of other jazz greats. The tribute and his musical and personal legacy suggest that he is indeed in good company and that although he’s gone, his influence will live on for a long time.

Hank Williams is an associate producer for Suga’ in My Bowl on WBAI Radio and webmaster for the Suga’ and Behind the Mic sites. He is also a PhD candidate in English and Africana Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center and teaches at Hunter and Lehman Colleges and The City College of New York.

Joyce Jones is producer and host of Suga’ in My Bowl on WBAI Radio. A graphic artist by training, her photography has also been published in the Black Renaissance Noir journal


355px-Ornette-Coleman-2008-Heidelberg-schindelbeckPhoto: Ornette Coleman, Heidelberg Germany 2008.| Credit: Frank Schindelbeck. Via WikiCommons. Creative Commons licensed.

We’re passing on info on two separate NYC events via Kim Smith Public Relations and from Vision Fest organizers Arts for Art. Memorial events for the legendary saxophonist Ornette Coleman and percussionist Jerome Cooper have been announced.

You have probably already gotten the news that Coleman died on June 11th. The official memorial will likely be the first of many for Coleman, who leaves a huge musical legacy and whose influence lives on in many musicians.

Coleman’s legacy is also deeply tied to New York and the evolution of jazz through his involvement in the downtown loft scene and engagement at the Five Spot club among other things.

Coleman’s memorial service is Saturday June 27 at 11 AM at Manhattan’s historic Riverside Church: 490 Riverside Drive (between 121-122 Sts.). The standard advice for these events applies here: get there very early if you want to be sure of getting inside. As large as Riverside is, we’re guessing that it’ll still be inadequate to hold the multitudes of people wanting to say a final goodbye to the man whose music was so influential and, by all accounts, was incredibly thoughtful and generous in his personal life.

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A less-noted passing is that of percussionist Jerome Cooper, who died on May 6 in Brooklyn. Cooper was an active member of the avant garde jazz scene and is probably best known for his work with the Revolutionary Ensemble with violinist Leroy Jenkins and bassist Sirone.

Cooper’s memorial is scheduled for 7 PM on Tuesday June 30 at Roulette in Brooklyn: 509 Atlantic Ave (corner of 3rd Ave). It’s a short walk from the Atlantic Avenue subway and LIRR hub and should be familiar to Vision Fest attendees, since it’s where the event was held for the last two years. There are scheduled musical tributes by Thurman Barker, Tom Buckner, Cooper-Moore, bassist William Parker, multi instrumentalist Charles Gayle, Reggie Nicholson’s OGJB Quartet (Oliver Lake, Graham Haynes, Joe Fonda, Barry Altschul), drummer William Hooker, percussionist Adam Rudolph and others.

Hank Williams is an associate producer for Suga’ in My Bowl on WBAI Radio and webmaster for the Suga’ and Behind the Mic sites. He is also a PhD candidate in English and Africana Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center and teaches at Hunter and Lehman Colleges and The City College of New York.

The line of people stretched down the block in the cold on West 43rd Street in Manhattan for a chance to get inside the Town Hall Theater and say goodbye to the great bassist Charlie Haden. The memorial nearly filled the expansive hall on Tuesday, January 13th, as attendees listened to musical tributes to and–memories of–Haden, many of the latter punctuated by imitations of Haden’s signature warm greeting of “hey, man”.

Haden, 76, died July 11, 2014 in Los Angeles after a long battle with post-polio syndrome. Haden suffered from polio as a child.

Trumpeter Michael Rodriguez started the memorial with a solo trumpet piece titled “going home”.

Ruth Cameron-Haden: Charlie “really did feel a responsibility to bring beauty to the world”

Haden’s widow (and producer on many recordings) Ruth Cameron-Haden provided opening remarks and served as host for the evening in addition to being one of the key organizers. She offered personal reflections of what it was like to live with Charlie. As might be expected for someone widely known as both a jokester and an artist with an intense devotion to honing his musical craft, life with him was a rollercoaster ride. The takeaway, though, and a point stressed in different words throughout the evening, was Cameron-Haden’s recollection that Charlie “really did feel a responsibility to bring beauty to the world” and acted on this through both his music and activism.

Long time collaborator and friend guitarist Pat Metheny took the stage next to play a solo acoustic guitar medley of songs in memory of Haden followed by some personal reflections. Metheny recalled first meeting Haden as a very young musician, already in awe of the latter’s status in music. As an icebreaker, Metheny told Haden that he was from Missouri, too, and they became fast friends. “Charlie and I literally played hundreds and hundreds of concerts all over the world”, Metheny said, recalling collaborations starting with his own groundbreaking and critically acclaimed 80/81 release and Song X, which featured sax innovator Ornette Coleman. Metheny recalled that he and Haden “could play anything together from the most out stuff to harmonic stuff to songs of the most complete simplicity”, but pointed out that their relationship went way beyond music, despite their 17-year age difference.

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Coleman was not feeling well enough to attend, but wanted to express his support and sent his son, drummer Denardo Coleman, in his place. Denardo remembered being on one of his father’s recording sessions at the tender age of 10 years old and how Haden welcomed him, mentored him, and made him feel accepted as a musician.

Bassist Putter Smith: “He was a rascal. A very charming rascal, but he could charm anybody out of anything, including me”.

Bassist Putter Smith recalled getting calls from Haden at the last minute to fill in for his classes at the California Institute for the Arts, where Haden helped found the jazz program and taught for decades. “He was a rascal,” Smith said, “a very charming rascal, but he could charm anybody out of anything, including me”. What Haden brought to bass playing “was the permission to play with a very charming intimacy”, Smith added.

Saxophonist Lee Konitz and pianist Brad Mehldau joined together for a bluesy duo. “We haven’t figured out what to play [yet],” Konitz admitted, “so we’ll just figure it out as we go along”, which they did after a minor hiccup and did spectacularly well. Mehldau then went to the microphone and remembered Haden as a spiritual mentor in addition to he musical lessons he gave. Mehldau recalled one story Haden told him to end a discussion that had erupted over the role of drugs in music and the popular lore that drugs acted as a creative muse. Haden, Mehldau recalled, adamantly insisted that some of the musical greats who struggled with drug addiction and died young such as Charlie Parker and Jimi Hendrix achieved what they did despite their addiction, not because of it. “Imagine what they would have achieved if they’d gotten clean”, Haden pointed out. Mehldau’s recollection was but one of many in the evening stressing Haden’s humanity.

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Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, pianist Geri Allen, and harpist Brandee Younger took the stage to perform “For Turiya”, Haden’s tribute to Alice Coltrane.

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Dr. Maurice Jackson, Associate Professor of History at Georgetown University remembered Haden’s principled and uncompromising stand against racism and his solidarity as an ally to Black people.

Dr. Maurice Jackson

Dr. Maurice Jackson

Tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman, drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist Scott Colley, and pianist Kenny Barron performed as a quartet. Colley was Haden’s first student at CalArts.

After performing, Redman recalled learning about his father, saxophonist Dewey Redman, through their common musical relationship with Haden. Redman recalled not knowing his father very well, but getting to understand him and learn much more about him through the elder Redman’s music and with his own interaction with Haden, whom both had played with.

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Haden’s children closed the program with “Voice From On High” And “Oh Shenandoah” accompanied by guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Mark Fain. Haden’s daughters–Tanya, Rahcel, and Petra–perform as The Haden Triplets and his son Josh Haden plays the bass.

Josh Fain (b), The Haden Triplets, Josh Haden (obscured), Bill Frisell (guitar, obscured)

Josh Fain (b), The Haden Triplets, Josh Haden (obscured), Bill Frisell (guitar, obscured)

Bassist Scott Colley returned to the stage for one last number with Quartet West, Haden’s group on the west coast with pianist Alan Broadbent, tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts, and drummer Rodney Green. They formed, Ruth Cameron-Haden recalled, from Charlie’s complaint that there was “no one to play with in Los Angeles” until she reminded him of some of the musicians living there whose playing he liked.

(L-R): Alan Broadbent, Scott Colley, Ernie Watts

(L-R): Alan Broadbent, Scott Colley, Ernie Watts

The evening was closed, appropriately enough, with members from Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, who played "Amazing Grace", "Silence", and closed the program with "We Shall Overcome". It was a fitting way to end a night in the memory of someone who struggled so long and cared so deeply for nearly everyone whose life he touched in one way or another.

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Photo Credit: Hank Williams (all photos). Creative Commons licensed (non-commercial, some rights reserved.)

For a more in-depth look at Haden, see Joyce Jones’s extensive 2011 interview of Charlie and Ruth on Suga’ in My Bowl.

The Haden family asks for donations to be sent to the CalArts Scholarship fund that assists needy students in the music program that he helped found. Donations can be made online here (Select the “Charlie Haden Scholarship Fund” under the “Gift Allocation” menu.) Checks can be mailed to The Charlie Haden CalArts Scholarship Fund / P.O. Box 520/ Agoura Hills CA 91376.

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Hank Williams is an associate producer for Suga’ in My Bowl on WBAI Radio and webmaster for the Suga’ and Behind the Mic sites. He is also a PhD candidate in English and Africana Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center and teaches at Hunter and Lehman Colleges and The City College of New York. Follow him on Twitter: @streetgriot

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