Ornette Coleman, whose forthrightness and conviction helped change the course of jazz, died today in New York. He was 85. To many, the alto saxophonist, composer and bandleader seemed to have come from nowhere, or outer space, when his first albums appeared in the late 1950s. In fact, his style—inevitably called ”iconoclastic” by his early critics, often with a sneer—grew out of Charlie Parker and Texas rhythm and blues. His music fell on some musicians’ closed ears, but to others it was a searchlight that showed the way to new possibilities of openness and freedom. Here is one of Coleman’s earliest and most enduring compositions, “Lonely Woman,” played in 1959 by his quartet with trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Billy Higgins.
There will be dozens of Coleman obituaries in the morning papers. For one that is thoroughly researched, see Ben Ratliff in The New York Times. Richard Brody’s analysis and appreciation of Coleman appears in The New Yorker online.
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