Tuesday, January 1, 2008


Mr. Coleman, did you like The Outsider, the article music journalist Scott Spencer wrote about your life in the December issue of Rolling Stone magazine? Spencer explained how you kept blowing despite the ugly things critics, club owners, and some of your peers said about your music. The article made me reminisce about who introduced me to your music. In 2004, I asked my buddy William, a red blooded jazz aficionado, questions about free-jazz. William suggested I check you out. Then he gave me a copy of Four Lives in the Be Bop Business by jazz historian A.B. Spellman. I learned a lot about you reading that book.

You grew up in Forth Worth, Texas. Rosa Coleman, your mom, encouraged you to play music. Flutist Prince Lasha and drummer Charlie Moffett were your childhood running buddies. Your high school music teacher booted you out the school’s band. He caught you teaching your band-mates jazz licks. I bet the music teacher never thought you would make over 50 albums, win a Pulitzer Prize, and receive the prestigious "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation.

Mr. Coleman, you never lost faith. I admire that. You had plenty of reasons to quit. I heard about the incident in Baton Rough, Louisiana when you worked in Clarence Samuel's rhythm and blues band. Angry patrons mangled your horn, and pummeled you because they hated your playing. After that incident, I would have changed careers. You kept blowing. Level with me, did you ever contemplate quitting?

“The Outsider” inspired me to re-listened to Something Else!!!, Tomorrow Is the Question, The Ornette Coleman Trio at the Golden Circle Stockholm Volume One, Change of the Century, New York Is Now, and Free Jazz a Collection of Improvisation. I had an issue with the latter. The playing was jumbled. Were you certain people would understand it? I asked my buddy, William, the same question, and he explained how you guys were feeding off each other.
Something Else!!! your first album for Contemporary Records is the album I listened to over and over when I finished Spencer's article. Mr. Coleman, Something Else!!! sparked a heated exchange between William and me. I told William Contemporary should have marketed it as a Be bop album. On the tunes Chippie and Invisible, for example, you played as if Charlie Parker was at the session coaching you, and throughout the recording Don Cherry sounded like Dizzy Gillespie. William disagreed.

“To you Something Else!!! sounds like Be bop because you're experiencing it 50 years after Coleman made it,” William said.

“I don’t follow you.”

“If you were listening to it, for example, in ‘58 when Coleman made the album you would hear it differently, and appreciate what he was doing. He took what was essentially Be bop and reshaped it by doing something different with a song’s harmony and melody.” He called it harmoldic. Coleman didn’t want to be a slave to the conventional way chords were played. That’s how he approached things.

“Be bop is Be bop no matter what you call it or how you approach it, right?”

“No, because it sounds that way to you don’t mean that’s what he was playing. Coleman had essentially figured out a new way to improvise…”

“…That’s clear as day on Change of the Century and Tomorrow Is the Question. But Something Else is a Be Bop album. I'll go to my grave believing that."
"Chances are you'll be the only stiff there who believes Coleman was playing Be Bop. Your mind is made up. I don’t see the point in continuing this conversation.”

Mr. Coleman am I absolutely nuts for believing Something Else!!! wasn't a free-jazz album? I trust my ears.
I started by asking if you liked Scott Spencer’s article. But I ended up questioning you about a recording you made nearly 50 years ago. I hope I haven't offended you. Mr. Coleman “The Outsider” was a thoroughly written article that captured what you had to endure to become a music icon, and it got me excited about your music again.
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