Ornette Coleman Dies at 85

It is with great sadness that I read the news about Ornette Coleman’s death. Ornette was one of the first jazz musicians I ever heard of, an artist that inspired my love for jazz but also profoundly expanded my understanding of improvisation and free jazz.

There are a lot of great anecdotes about Ornette Coleman, like those about other musicians reportedly paying him not to play during his early days, and those about him studying music theory in an elevator while he had a part time job as an elevator operator.1 To me the greatest story about Ornette Coleman is his concert in Warsaw on July 18th, 2007, which was the first “big” jazz concert I ever went to. I remember I needed to get a leave from my part time call-center job explaining to my manager who Ornette Coleman is,2 and that I actually needed to save up the money two months in advance to be able to afford two tickets. And when the day came, an elderly man walked on stage of the Roma Music Theatre in Warsaw, and, together with his quartet, performed the most energetic jazz performance I have ever heard in my life, which was even more surprising given the fact that he was already 77 at the time and had difficulty walking.

It’s a great loss for the world of improvised music, but luckily Ornette Coleman’s legacy lives on strong, with so many records, concerts and young musicians inspired by his genius.

  1. Ornette Coleman didn’t have any formal music training, and did not know, among other things, that he needs to transpose the saxophone parts before playing with a piano.

  2. I also remember being shocked that my American manager did not know who Ornette Coleman was.

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