Happy 80th Birthday, Ornette!
Ornette Coleman Quartet (with Don Cherry, trumpet; Charlie Haden, bass; Billy Higgins, drums), live, Spain (Barcelona), 1987
The sounds you don’t hear can mean as much as the ones you do. Here, for instance, it’s hard to overstate the importance of what isn’t onstage—a harmony instrument (piano, guitar). Without it, the drums move forward in the mix. The bass has more space to fill. The sound of each instrument becomes clearer, more distinct. The group sound becomes lighter, more open.
When we were on relief during the Depression, they’d give us dried-up old cheese and dried milk and we’d get ourselves all filled up and we’d kept this thing going, singing and dancing. I remember that when I play. You have to stick to your roots. Sometimes I play happy. Sometimes I play sad. But the condition of being alive is what I play all the time.
You know what I realize? That all sound has a need. Otherwise it wouldn’t have a use. Sound has a use. . . . You use it to establish something—an invisible presence or some belief. . . . But isn’t it amazing that sound causes the idea to sound the way it is, more than the idea?
Music has no face. Whatever gives oxygen its power, music is cut from the same cloth.
(The first and last quotes are from Ornette’s website. The second is from Ben Ratliff, The Jazz Ear: Conversations over Music .)
It is not enough to say that Ornette Coleman’s music will affect jazz profoundly, for it already has so affected it, and not only the jazz of younger men but that of some of his elders as well. His music represents the first fundamental reevaluation of basic materials and basic procedures for jazz since the innovations of Charlie Parker. ‘Let’s play the music and not the background,’ Coleman has said. And when someone does something with the passion and deep conviction of an Ornette Coleman, I doubt if there could be any turning back; it seems mandatory somehow for others somehow to respond to his work.—Martin Williams, The Jazz Tradition (2d rev. ed. 1993)
Radio Ornette: all Ornette, all the time