Jazz great dies

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - RANDALL ROBERTS POP MU­SIC CRITIC randall.roberts@ la­times.com

An ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the late Or­nette Cole­man by pop mu­sic critic Randall Roberts.

Those less familiar with out-there jazz of the 1950s and ’60s might not have a clue as to why Or­nette Cole­man, who died Thurs­day morn­ing, was such a trans­for­ma­tive Amer­i­can mu­si­cian at that time, and well be­yond.

The sax­o­phon­ist’s mu­sic was so far re­moved from the smooth, easy Dave Brubeck tones then popular as to sound like an­other art form. Some­body once de­scribed Cole­man’s free jazz as sound­ing like a rag­time band — whose mem­bers were each play­ing a dif­fer­ent song.

The artist, born in Texas, first es­tab­lished him­self in L.A. in the mid-’50s. He and his quar­tet (Char­lie Haden, bass; Billy Hig­gins, drums; and Don Cherry, trum­pet) recorded his sem­i­nal early al­bum, “The Shape of Jazz to Come,” in 1959 in Hol­ly­wood. Later that year, a po­lar­iz­ing res­i­dency at the Five Spot in New York City drew the won­der and ire of the scene’s mu­si­cians and tastemak­ers.

That Cole­man con­tin­ued to ex­per­i­ment is a tes­ta­ment to his will­ful cre­ative spirit, but his early work for At­lantic Records is the stuff that up­ended the jazz world. In 1993, it was col­lected in an es­sen­tial Rhino Records CD box set called “Beauty Is a Rare Thing: The Com­plete At­lantic Record­ings.” A pro­found ex­plo­ration, “Beauty ...” is a lov­ing ode to Cole­man; its liner notes, part of a pack­age pro­duced by Yves Beau­vais, of­fer fur­ther ev­i­dence of the horn player’s in­flu­ence.

Specif­i­cally, pep­pered through­out the box’s book­let are quotes from jazz lu­mi­nar­ies, each re­act­ing to early en­coun­ters with Cole­man’s mu­sic. Be­low are some of the best, taken from those notes: “I don’t know what he’s play­ing, but it’s not jazz.” — Dizzy Gille­spie, Time mag­a­zine, June 1960 “[The day I met Or­nette], it was 90 de­grees and he had on an over­coat. I was scared of him.” — Don Cherry, Jazz mag­a­zine, 1963 “I lis­tened to him all kinds of ways. I lis­tened to him high, I lis­tened to him stone cold sober. I even played with him. I think he’s jiv­ing, baby.” — Roy Eldridge, Esquire mag­a­zine, 1961 “Are you cats se­ri­ous?” — at­trib­uted to Dizzy Gille­spie, at one of the Or­nette Cole­man Quar­tet’s Five Spot shows in New York City “His play­ing has a deep in­ner logic, based on sub­tleties of re­ac­tion, sub­tleties of tim­ing and color that are, I think, quite new to jazz. At least they have never ap­peared in so pure and di­rect a form.” — Gun­ther Schuller, Jazz mag­a­zine, 1963 “Man, that cat is nuts!” — Th­elo­nius Monk (un­dated) “He’s got bad in­to­na­tion, bad tech­nique. He’s try­ing new things, but he hasn’t mas­tered his in­stru­ment yet.” — May­nard Fer­gu­son

(un­dated) “This guy came up on­stage and asked the mu­si­cians if he could play, and started to sit in. He played three or four phrases, and it was so bril­liant, I couldn’t be­lieve it — I had never heard any sound like that be­fore. Im­me­di­ately, the mu­si­cians told him to stop play­ing, and he packed up his horn, but be­fore I could reach him he’d al­ready left through the back en­trance.” — Char­lie Haden, told to John Litweiler in “Or­nette Cole­man: A Har-

molodic Life” “The only re­ally new thing since the mid-’40s in­no­va­tions of Dizzy Gille­spie, Char­lie Parker and Th­elo­nius Monk.” — the Mod­ern Jazz Quar­tet’s John Lewis, 1960 “Hell, I just lis­ten to what he writes and how he plays. If you’re talk­ing psy­cho­log­i­cally, the man is all screwed up in­side.” — Miles Davis, Joe Goldberg, “Jazz Masters of the ’50s.” “It doesn’t mat­ter the key he’s play­ing in — he’s got a per­cus­sional sound, like a cat with a whole lot of bon­gos. He’s brought a thing in — it’s not new. I won’t say who started it, but who­ever started it, peo­ple over­looked it. It’s not like hav­ing any­thing to do with what’s around you, and be­ing right in your own world. You can’t put your fin­ger on what he’s do­ing.” — Charles Min­gus, Down­beat mag­a­zine, 1960

“When I worked with Or- nette, some­how I be­came more of a per­son in my own play­ing.” — Shel­ley Manne, Jazz mag­a­zine, 1963 “Coltrane used to come hear us ev­ery night. He would grab Or­nette by the arm as soon as we got off and they would go off into the night talk­ing about mu­sic.” — Char­lie Haden to Robert Palmer, Down­beat mag­a­zine, 1972 “He is a man of great con­vic­tion, a pi­o­neer al­ways mov­ing for­ward down the path he has cho­sen, a can opener who opens all of us up as mu­si­cians. I could not play what I play had it not been for Or­nette Cole­man.” — Her­bie Han­cock, New York Times, 1990 “The new breed has in­spired me all over again. The search is on. Let free­dom ring.” — Jackie McLean, in his own liner notes to “Let Free­dom Ring” “It’s like or­ga­nized dis­or­ga­ni­za­tion, or play­ing wrong right. And it gets to you emo­tion­ally, like a drum­mer. That’s what Cole­man means to me.” — Charles Min­gus, “Down­beat,” 1960

Carolyn Cole Los An­ge­les Times

OR­NETTE COLE­MAN’S play­ing was like “or­ga­nized dis­or­ga­ni­za­tion,” Charles Min­gus said in 1960.

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