Ornette Colman: The Shape of Jazz to Come

Student Analysis of "The Shape of Jazz to Come"

“A Shape of Jazz to Come” is a groundbreaking album by the American jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman, released in 1959. The album is considered to be one of the most influential and innovative jazz albums of all time. The album features Coleman playing the alto sax, Don Cherry on trumpet, Charlie Haden on double bass, and Billy Higgins on drums. Each track on the album represents a significant shift in the development of jazz, moving away from traditional harmonic and rhythmic structures and into a more free-form style. 

Breakdown of each track

*Lonely Woman

I did like this track. This track is known for its melodic and haunting melody. The harmony of the piece is one of the notable aspects of this piece. This piece lacks the traditional chord changes. Instead, it’s based on a recurring, haunting theme that continues to unfold throughout the song. Now the soloing is really good throughout this song. Ornette Coleman’s saxophone solo is so unique and he uses his extended techniques of bending pitch. Don Cherry’s trumpet solo complements this mood beautifully, by coming in after his solo. 


 Now in this piece It’s more of a collective improvisation, with the instruments often playing independently of each other. The harmony  in this piece is ambiguous, with Coleman’s focus of melodic interplay and spontaneous improvisation. The solos aren’t all over the place I would say, but more so all of them are independent but yet all play together so wonderfully. The rhythm in this song is mainly focusing on Billy Higgins’ (who plays the drum) and how his skills are essential to the piece, providing a loose and responsive rhythmic foundation.


I did like this song. It was more organized and reminded me more of a ballad. It had a better structure compared to the previous songs that were on the album. It has a distinct melody, and this song reminds me more of a traditional jazz form. The harmony in “Peace” is relatively simple, allowing the listeners to feel the song and make emotional connections to it. The soloing in this song was led by Ornette Coleman’s sax and Don Cherry’s trumpet. Their soloing work on this track is expressive and emotional. The musical conversation between the saxophone and trumpet was a major highlight for me.

*Focus on Sanity

This song is much more at a faster-paced and has more of a complex rhythm than the other songs. It features a recurring theme but there are also individual solos and improvisation. The harmony of this song isn’t really the focus on this song, whereas the focus is on melody and rhythm. I did like this song because it has a lot of energy, it’s upbeat and the trumpet and sax have that musical interaction as in the previous song.


Now this song was different. I realized that this song was unique and didn’t compare to the other songs. The track features both collective improvisation and individual solos. The harmony of this piece is really highlighted more so on how the instruments often playing outside of tonal boundaries. Just like previous songs, in this song Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry is a key aspect with their contrasting and musical playing. This song really highlights both the trumpet and saxophone’s differences in complementary styles.


I’m not for certain if I liked this song a 100%. It was good. In this song it was a brisk tempo but yet structured. In this song, Instead of relying on traditional chord progressions, like past genre of jazz like bebop and trad jazz, this song follows a steady rhythm and collective improvisation. The piece has a recurring theme or motif that serves as a focal point for the musicians. Like in the rest of the album, Ornette Coleman’s alto saxophone and Don Cherry’s trumpet often move in parallel or in contrasting lines, creating a sense of harmonic ambiguity. Just like that musical conversation I was talking about earlier, all throughout this album, Coleman and Cherry’s talents are highlighted throughout their solos, improvisations, and musical conversations. Throughout Don Cherry’s trumpet he often complements and interacts with the saxophone, sometimes echoing the theme and other times providing counterpoints. The rhythm in “Chronology” is more free and less dependent on a steady pulse than in traditional jazz. The beat can be felt, but it is not as hard to be defined. Drummer Billy Higgins and bassist Charlie Haden provide a flexible rhythmic foundation, adapting to the spontaneous improvisations of the other instruments playing. The improvisation in this piece was remarkable. Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry take turns with their solos, exploring a wide range of techniques, including bending with other pitches, and unique note choices. The improvisational aspect of the piece reflects the free jazz movement, highlighting and encouraging musicians to express themselves without the constraints of traditional jazz harmony and structure. 

“A Shape of Jazz to Come” as an album represents a turning point in the history of jazz, moving it away from established “ways of playing jazz” and into a more of a free-form and soloed type direction. It’s a prime example of the shift towards free jazz and the rejection of established norms in the genre. Ornette Coleman’s innovative approach to melody, harmony, and improvisation had a profound impact on the future of jazz, influencing numerous musicians and shaping the development of free jazz. Each track on the album contributes to this groundbreaking musical journey.

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