Ornette Coleman: Free Jazz

The genre of jazz would not be the same without the man born by the name Randolph Denard Ornette Coleman. Jazz has a long rich history, and Ornette Coleman is one of the fathers of the subgenre of Free Jazz. Jazz began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, pulling inspiration from previous genres such as ragtime, swing, and blues. Different genres of jazz include Traditional Jass (1900-1920), Swing (20s-30s), Cool Jazz (40s), Beebop (50s), and Free Jazz (60s-70s).

Who is Ornette Coleman?

Ornette Coleman was born on March 9, 1930, in Texas and lived in a house near railroad tracks. He attended I.M Terell High School where three of his future bandmates also graduated and many other popular jazz artists who influenced Coleman. He first learned to play saxophone on an alto saxophone his mother gifted him at age 14. He played alto and tenor saxophone in bands around Texas and would often practice styles that stars Illinois Jacquet and Arnett Cobb would use. Still, he was heavily fascinated by the sound of the newly emerging bebop sound and its imaginative phrasing.

His first album “Something Else!!!! The Music of Ornette Coleman” in 1958 used less of a strict rhythm than jazz sounds he had been influenced by. His record “Tomorrow Is the Question!” lacked a piano player, and that would become a characteristic of his music for a long time. In 1959, he was invited to the School of Jazz, run by John Lewis. In November of 1959, with his quartet, he performed his first gig in New York. Two weeks turned to two months and soon Ornette Coleman was a topic of conversation among established jazz artists.

The Creation Of Free jazz

As unintentional as it might have been, Ornette Coleman popularized the term Free Jazz (and consequently the music genre) with the release of his 1961 album “Free Jazz: a Collective Improvisation”. The album includes a double quartet and was recorded on stereo with each element isolated in a stereo channel. The innovative use of one drummer playing straight while the other played in double time and a series of solos for each member in the band created many mixed reviews. Soon, Free Jazz would be considered a new genre, with Ornette Coleman at the forefront.

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