Dr. Randy Westbrook
Ornette Coleman and his influence on popular music/jazz
Ornette Coleman is one of the most influential artists in jazz and considered an American icon and legend. There are not many musicians that emerge who dramatically changed the way we listen to music. Ornette Coleman was of the major innovators of free jazz as well as a great saxophonist and composer. Coleman’s bluesy, playful music revolutionized jazz by ignoring regular harmonies and rhythm. He even created his own theory “harmolodic” and applied it to rock instrumental in his group Prime Time. The musician’s new style helped to regenerate jazz by allowing for the genre to go into a new direction and be placed for his music to be placed in a group of major 20th century composers. This paper will discuss how Ornette Coleman borrowed from the world of jazz to influence concert hall compositions. Ornette Coleman was a revolutionary saxophone player who expanded contemporary boundaries of music. He gained those remarkable skills by teaching himself how to play saxophone at the age of 14 and by playing with musicians in local rhythm and blues bars while growing up in Fort Worth, Texas in the late 1940s and early ‘50s. Some of his legends include Charlie Parker and two local musicians in Fort Worth Ben Martin and Reed Connors. Coleman loved Charlie Parker and bebop and thought of it as the most advanced collective way of playing a melody and at the same time improvising. Parker taught Coleman many lessons especially about the quality of what he could play and knowing the audience (Ratliff 63). The musician decided to travel to L.A. and played in various establishments. He eventually made his way to New York with his first band having a good sense of melody and ideas of playing without any preconceived chord changes (Ratliff 55). People thought of him as a genius and others denounced him as a charlatan. His music was considered controversial for instance in his quartet they had no chordal instruments such as the piano. Listeners said his music was radically rejecting jazz traditions, but a few praised him and said the music was an extension of the historical practice (Martin,Waters). As he was traveling in R&B jazz bands across the country, he switched back and forth between alto and tenor sax. Resistance was normal for Coleman, and he was use to being fired. In 1950, he wrote an unpublished book that deals with a theory that melody has nothing to do with harmony, chords, or key centers. In 1958, he formed his own band that was established on a mode of playing which no one player had the lead but anyone could come out and play at any time. Beginning in 1959, Coleman and his quartet went to New York and developed the concept of free jazz (George-Warren and Pareles). Free jazz and improvised music did away with any of the strict forms of jazz and classic music such as tonality, chord changes, formal shape and structure, etc. Coleman was put into the category along with Cecil Taylor and Albert Ayler, and they abolished the traditional hierarchy of instrumentation in jazz, classical rock, and pop allowing for any instrument to be equal in improvising. Many performers were encouraged by these individuals to go beyond the regular technique to develop “extended” techniques (Cox, Warner 252). Coleman’s group debut in New York was unlike anything anyone had ever heard. The bassist or drummer did not function in a conventional rhythm sense, and there was no piano to provide chordal harmonies. When Coleman played with his group, they did not have any idea what the end result would be. The group was even able to get the attention and approval from conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein and composer Virgil Thompson along with other writers and painters (Europe Jazz Network). Each player in his group contributed what he felt in the music at any moment, and each member is not told what to do...
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