I'm sure that I echo the sentiments of many when I say that with the passing of Ornette Coleman, we not only lost an important and still relevant jazz figure, but a school of thought that became the face of modern jazz as we know it. I've been more occupied with Ornette and his music in recent months since becoming an active member of The Bad Plus' Science Fiction project, in which we play music from his 1972 Columbia Records release of the same name.
A while back, pianist Ethan Iverson asked me to write a few words about Ornette and his music for a piece that he was putting together for his blog Do the Math to promote some upcoming performances with the Science Fiction project.
Below is what I contributed to his piece. I thought it would be appropriate reprint again here today:
Two artists whom I think of as being the quintessence of originality are Ornette Coleman and Jackson Pollack. They both turned convention on its head--Ornette with sound and style, Jackson with colors and shapes. And Ornette was even more unique in that he was always Ornette. Jackson came into his own much later in life. Ornette, however, seemed to have been born into his--and has remained there. Whenever I hear Ornette's music, the message I always hear is that it's OK to be yourself. His music is a story of self-acceptance. He opened the doors of jazz, and welcomed all of those who felt that they had something say--both the well schooled and the untrained. His music taught black musicians that it's OK to embrace a black sound; it taught white musicians that it's OK to embrace a white sound. And even more importantly, it taught us all how to work together. On the surface, Ornette's music seems very militant--a blatant rejection of a European sensibility. But it's not that at all. At its core, his music doesn't reject anyone or anything. Through his music, Ornette embraced the world—and most of all, himself.
Thanks, Ornette, for the music. And congrats on a life well-lived. (RIP)