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  1. #1

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    Having never properly investigated them I was listening to Ornette Coleman's first 5 albums before "Free Jazz" and was surprised how enjoyable they were. I first listened to "Free Jazz" ages ago and didn't really like it that much. However the ones before it are all really melodic, swinging and funky.

    I was wondering why Coleman caused such a shock to the system at the time? Was it purely down to the "Free Jazz" album or did his earlier albums get negative responses as well? What I find strange it all the guys can obviously play, there are strong themes (not total chaos) and there are progressions and harmony you can follow. I vaguely understand the concept that everyone was meant to use the melody purely as the guide to their improv and also that the rhythm section was now freed to be an equal partner in the music making. However Charlie Haden is always playing funky lines and carefully guiding the harmony, albeit in an "in the moment" fashion. Ornette certainly has a very vocal inflected sound but he is quite smooth and logical.

    Is it just the passage of time that has made it seem straight forward as his language has been absorbed into the mainstream sound of modern jazz? What is it that drove people so insane with rage?

    I hope you are all staying safe and well btw!

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  3. #2

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    I think it was because they were revolutionary at the time. ‘The Shape Of Jazz To Come’ doesn’t sound all that ‘way out’ nowadays. But in 1959 it was something of a shock to listeners.

  4. #3

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    I think Ornette also got some stick for using a plastic saxophone as seen on the cover of that album. In fact it was intended as a serious instrument, and Charlie Parker played one on the famous Massey Hall live album. Some critics said Ornette was playing a ‘toy saxophone’ so he must be a charlatan etc.

    Grafton saxophone - Wikipedia



    Explain why Ornette Coleman is different?-dd3b57ff-2f1e-450d-9bf5-bcde4bcc33fa-jpg

  5. #4

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    His music remains revolutionary for its playfulness and swing. A lot of "free jazz" that came after was way too serious.

  6. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by grahambop
    I think Ornette also got some stick for using a plastic saxophone as seen on the cover of that album. In fact it was intended as a serious instrument, and Charlie Parker played one on the famous Massey Hall live album. Some critics said Ornette was playing a ‘toy saxophone’ so he must be a charlatan etc.

    Grafton saxophone - Wikipedia



    Explain why Ornette Coleman is different?-dd3b57ff-2f1e-450d-9bf5-bcde4bcc33fa-jpg
    Never noticed that was a plastic sax lol!

  7. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by grahambop
    I think Ornette also got some stick for using a plastic saxophone as seen on the cover of that album. In fact it was intended as a serious instrument, and Charlie Parker played one on the famous Massey Hall live album. Some critics said Ornette was playing a ‘toy saxophone’ so he must be a charlatan etc.
    Wonder if they were the same critics that dubbed Parker’s music as “Chinese Music” Given where I live now and that I often have to teach Asian musics, that’s quite an irony.
    Cheers!

  8. #7

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    I read a lot of books written about that period of music (1959), and most jazz musicians hated OC's music when it first came out. Max Roach came down to the club where OC was playing back then, and on a break, walked up to OC backstage and knocked him out with one punch.
    Max followed him back to where he was staying, and beat him up again in front of his apt.

    James Moody still hates his music, and if you mention OC's name, he'll spend an hour (at least) telling you why he thinks OC is a jive ass.
    In a fairly recent interview with the great alto sax player Herb Geller, he said, "Don Cherry and OC played free, because they couldn't play changes. OC's version of 'Embraceable You' is a laugh. The emperor has no clothes. He showed me one of his original tunes, and all the bar lines were in the wrong places, and he didn't know what chord symbols to use. He blew the arpeggio of a G major chord thinking it was a B minor. He knew nothing about chords."
    Tubby Hayes, in his bio, said he heard OC live, when OC was sharing the bill with his GF, Joy Marshall for a stay at Ronnie Scott's. Hayes said he found his playing, "largely unappealing. A lot of it sounded pretty basic", he told Melody Maker. "Unfortunately, I found it a little boring at times."
    And so on...

  9. #8

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    It wasn't just his own playing. He influenced a band of devotees, who proceeded to deconstruct the norms of their instruments, and created "something else" out of them. But he did it with a certain arrogance too, seen in the titles of his albums around this time: The Shape Of Jazz To Come, for example. With a title like that, you really do have to come up with the goods. And they did. That's my favourite Ornette period. But he should have left the violin at home. Not a fan of his violin playing! My all-time favourite album was Soapsuds, Soapsuds, duets with Charlie Haden.

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by sgcim
    James Moody still hates his music, and if you mention OC's name, he'll spend an hour (at least) telling you why he thinks OC is a jive ass.
    Even from beyond the grave...that’s a strongly-held opinion!

  11. #10

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    I always hear a blues foundation embedded in Ornette's playing. And despite Geller's criticism, if you were to present the same discussion to Pat Martino he would recognize the B minor as being interchangeable with the G Major, because Martino converts everything to a minor in some form or another. It would be pretty silly to argue that Pat Martino doesn't know anything about chords.

    When bebop came along, it too provoked arguments and fistfights. People complained that Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie lacked instrumental skill and played fast to cover up that they couldn't play in tune, etc. There was a sense of discontinuity between swing and bebop and then between bebop and free jazz. although I don't know that Ornette and company were really playing "free jazz," as they did have some structure and rules to their approach. Ornette later referred to those as harmelodics.

    I think the real issue was that Ornette Coleman came along and blew the hell out of everything people thought they knew about jazz and music, which was profoundly disorienting and threatening. Edit: he was also more or less out of left field. There were some ground-shifting jazz albums that came out that year (Miles, Coltrane, Bruebeck, Mingus and OC- the other four were well-known and well respected. They had paid their dues whereas I think it maybe seemed like Ornette was cutting in line). A fair amount of Ornette's stuff was not "pretty" music and jazz, despite the developments of bebop and the complaints of its own detractors to the contrary, had not gone over to atonal music. The establishment got threatened, just as it would later again by fusion music as well as the astonishing rise of pop and rock music with the Beatles, etc.

    An irony in this is that by the end of his life Charlie Haden was revered in both the free and more traditionalist sides of the jazz family as one of their own. And heck, he even made forays back into country music where his roots were. Charlie bridged a lot of musics.
    Last edited by Cunamara; 04-09-2020 at 01:11 AM.

  12. #11

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    If you want to read some of the contemporary reports on Ornette’s New York debut, check this out:

    The 1959 Project - November 17, 1959

  13. #12

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    you guys should have all watched that charlie haden bio video that was linked here last week..rambling boy

    haden talks about meeting ornette...and going to ocs house and playing for days straight... immediately getting it...oc didnt want you to follow the changes..he wanted you to follow where the melody took him...

    playin to changes is not the only music in the world!!

    trane loved oc...and later albert ayler, who took it out equally

    tho it all kind of sounds relatively tame these days...


    cheers

  14. #13

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    I love that Haden film.

  15. #14

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    Long time lurker; first time poster. And not even a guitarist.

    Of all the music I've heard, Ornette's always seemed like something beamed in from another dimension.

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cunamara
    I always hear a blues foundation embedded in Ornette's playing. And despite Geller's criticism, if you were to present the same discussion to Pat Martino he would recognize the B minor as being interchangeable with the G Major, because Martino converts everything to a minor in some form or another. It would be pretty silly to argue that Pat Martino doesn't know anything about chords.

    When bebop came along, it too provoked arguments and fistfights. People complained that Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie lacked instrumental skill and played fast to cover up that they couldn't play in tune, etc. There was a sense of discontinuity between swing and bebop and then between bebop and free jazz. although I don't know that Ornette and company were really playing "free jazz," as they did have some structure and rules to their approach. Ornette later referred to those as harmelodics.

    I think the real issue was that Ornette Coleman came along and blew the hell out of everything people thought they knew about jazz and music, which was profoundly disorienting and threatening. A fair amount of it was not "pretty" music and jazz, despite the developments of bebop and the complaints of its own detractors to the contrary, had not gone over to atonal music. The establishment got threatened, just as it would later again by fusion music as well as the astonishing rise of pop and rock music with the Beatles, etc.

    An irony in this is that by the end of his life Charlie Haden was revered in both the free and more traditionalist sides of the jazz family as one of their own. And heck, he even made forays back into country music where his roots were. Charlie bridged a lot of musics.
    No, Geller asked him to play a B minor arpeggio, and Ornette played B-D-G instead of B-D-F#. He literally didn't know how to spell out a Bm triad!

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by grahambop
    Even from beyond the grave...that’s a strongly-held opinion!
    I hold regular seances with him...

  18. #17

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    [QUOTE=neatomic;1023006]you guys should have all watched that charlie haden bio video that was linked here last week..rambling boy

    haden talks about meeting ornette...and going to ocs house and playing for days straight... immediately getting it...oc didnt want you to follow the changes..he wanted you to follow where the melody took him...

    playin to changes is not the only music in the world!!

    trane loved oc...and later albert ayler, who took it out equally

    tho it all kind of sounds relatively tame these days...


    Roland Kirk said, "you got go in, before you can go out!" Even Monk thought he was jive!
    I liked OC's later rock stuff, when he just stayed on one chord, he could even jam well with The Dead.

  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob MacKillop
    ...the titles of his albums around this time: The Shape Of Jazz To Come, for example. With a title like that, you really do have to come up with the goods. And they did.
    Ornette may have come up with that title, but this was the era when small jazz labels were very fond of hyperbole when marketing their artists.

    "The Amazing Bud Powell!"
    Thelonious Monk, "Genius of Modern Music!"
    "The Incredible Jimmy Smith!"
    "The Prophetic Herbie Nichols!"
    "The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery!"

    Back then, all the artists who were a little "difficult" (and some who were simply virtuoso musicians) were marketed this way.

    I've read he was, in terms of his personality, an odd duck and sometimes out of touch with the realities of the jazz marketplace. He's not that often described as arrogant or self-satisfied.

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by sgcim
    No, Geller asked him to play a B minor arpeggio, and Ornette played B-D-G instead of B-D-F#. He literally didn't know how to spell out a Bm triad!
    That's awesome!! If I was Ornette and somebody asked me that I'd probably do the same just to get rid of them :)

  21. #20

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    Many, if not most, musicians are reactionary and afraid of change---afraid of suddenly becoming irrelevant. OTOH a lot of listeners are either gullible or want to be seen as 'hip' enough to get in on new trends. Same goes for musicians and double for the younger critics trying to make their names behind being 'right' in their predictions.

    IMO we have to get behind people with the guts and self-believe to buck the herd and try new things---if they're really hearing it and it has the basic elements---builds on what was there before. Ornette had that, Dolphy had it. I think Woody Shaw was an innovator of sorts, maybe not as consistently 'out'. I personally find Albert Ayler unlistenable after the themes. But maybe he'll get to me one day. Never really heard Anthony Braxton.

    Innovation and originality are also often confused. A person can be original and have no influence on anyone else. Maybe that's a reflection on the art, maybe not. Innovation to me is defined by coming up with something that either supplants or builds on what was there, and others pick up on and incorporate (or, too often imitate) it.

    Then there's the ultimate arbiter: the test of time.

    So, as Beckett would say: On!...

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jazzism
    Wonder if they were the same critics that dubbed Parker’s music as “Chinese Music” Given where I live now and that I often have to teach Asian musics, that’s quite an irony.
    Cheers!
    I think it was Louis Armstrong who called bebop "Chinese music."

  23. #22

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    Right. Was gonna post that myself. 'Ju Jitsu' music, he said---proving my above point...

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes
    I think it was Louis Armstrong who called bebop "Chinese music."
    Was that the source of the lyric reference in "Aja"?

  25. #24

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    As if there's some problem with Chinese music...

  26. #25

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    Ha.... just remembered that when I saw Ornette mid 70's he was wearing a nicely tailored suit that was made from Chinese brocade!!

  27. #26

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    I have a feeling a lot of record companies were responsible for the seemingly self aggrandizing titles. Monk was relatively obscure at the time, as was bud and certainly Herbie Nichols. Maybe some were high on themselves...

    Funny about miles. He didn't like ornette or Eric Dolphy but the later quintet w/ Wayne Herbie, etc certainly sounds pretty free, spacious... hard to believe he wasn't influenced by them in some amount.

  28. #27
    Quote Originally Posted by sgcim
    I read a lot of books written about that period of music (1959), and most jazz musicians hated OC's music when it first came out. Max Roach came down to the club where OC was playing back then, and on a break, walked up to OC backstage and knocked him out with one punch.
    Max followed him back to where he was staying, and beat him up again in front of his apt.

    James Moody still hates his music, and if you mention OC's name, he'll spend an hour (at least) telling you why he thinks OC is a jive ass.
    In a fairly recent interview with the great alto sax player Herb Geller, he said, "Don Cherry and OC played free, because they couldn't play changes. OC's version of 'Embraceable You' is a laugh. The emperor has no clothes. He showed me one of his original tunes, and all the bar lines were in the wrong places, and he didn't know what chord symbols to use. He blew the arpeggio of a G major chord thinking it was a B minor. He knew nothing about chords."
    Tubby Hayes, in his bio, said he heard OC live, when OC was sharing the bill with his GF, Joy Marshall for a stay at Ronnie Scott's. Hayes said he found his playing, "largely unappealing. A lot of it sounded pretty basic", he told Melody Maker. "Unfortunately, I found it a little boring at times."
    And so on...
    Wow great info! If nothing else Ornette deserves credit for sticking with his sound through such hatred! I found the full Geller interview here, very interesting read.
    Jazz Profiles: Herb Geller - The Gordon Jack Interview

  29. #28
    Quote Originally Posted by grahambop
    If you want to read some of the contemporary reports on Ornette’s New York debut, check this out:

    The 1959 Project - November 17, 1959

    Amazing read thanks!

  30. #29
    Quote Originally Posted by Thumpalumpacus
    Was that the source of the lyric reference in "Aja"?
    Almost certainly, The Dan were jazz nerds. Also the song is about drying out in a drug clinic.

  31. #30
    Quote Originally Posted by arielcee
    I have a feeling a lot of record companies were responsible for the seemingly self aggrandizing titles. Monk was relatively obscure at the time, as was bud and certainly Herbie Nichols. Maybe some were high on themselves...

    Funny about miles. He didn't like ornette or Eric Dolphy but the later quintet w/ Wayne Herbie, etc certainly sounds pretty free, spacious... hard to believe he wasn't influenced by them in some amount.
    I am sure he was influenced, lots of David Liebman's playing on On The Corner and later live albums is very free, although he is also more organised in his approach and I am not sure he actually wanted to play like that! The guitar of Pete Cosey is very free and a lot of it even sounds like a sax to me when he plays with his fuzz pedal, the atonality and screams are very Albert Ayler. Miles wouldn't have let someone play something he didn't like.

    You do always get the sense of ultra competitiveness with Miles, there is an interview (I will try and find it) where he does a blind listening test and basically hates on all the records! I believe he says something like "that sounds so bad it has to be Eric Dolphy"!

    There is a good live album called Live At The Fillmore East (March 7, 1970) - It's About That Time, where Chic Corea, Dave Holland and Wayner Shorter really push into free territory.

  32. #31

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    And he also did this:


  33. #32

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    And for wind quintet:


  34. #33

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    String quartet:


  35. #34

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    With Jim Hall :-)



    Abstraction · Ornette ColemanBeauty Is A Rare Thing- The Complete Atlantic Recordings? 1993 Atlantic Recording Corporation Double Bass: Alvin BrehmViolin: Charles LiboveDrums: Ed BlackwellViola: Harry ZaratzianGuitar: Jim HallProducer: John LewisCello: Joseph TekulaProducer: Nesuhi ErtegunTenor Saxophone: Ornette ColemanViolin: Roland VamosDrums: Sticks EvansComposer: Gunther Schuller

  36. #35

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    Chris Thile Band getting Free on mandolin...


  37. #36

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    Finally, Ornette's Lonely Woman on solo guitar:


  38. #37

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    Quote Originally Posted by sgcim
    No, Geller asked him to play a B minor arpeggio, and Ornette played B-D-G instead of B-D-F#. He literally didn't know how to spell out a Bm triad!
    Maybe it was a Bm harmolodic arp?

    One thing nobody has mentioned is that Ornette knew how to write a catchy tune, especially on those early records. Even some of his detractors conceded that. Here’s a good example:


  39. #38

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    For what it is worth, here is a contemporary review from the American Record Guide: Vol 26, 1959, p339.

    'Coleman is, apparently, all things to all men. According to Martin Williams, who wrote the liner notes for this album, his playing "will affect the whole character of jazz music profoundly and pervasively". An advertisement for a concert he is participating in refers to him as "the new alto saxophone sensation”. A jazz disc jockey calls him the "most talked-about musician in town". And in the "Goings On About Town" section of The New Yorker, he is "Ornette Coleman and his perhaps mortally wounded alto saxophone”.

    I will be more than happy to leave technical discussion of Coleman's music to Williams' liner notes, for he seems to have a much better grasp of the situation than I.
    What I hear from this group (Coleman, alto sax; Don Cherry, trumpet; Charlie Haden, bass; and Billy Higgins, drums) is almost completely different on fast and slow numbers. The uptempo selections are nerve-shattering unrealized fragments, departing, it would seem, from Charlie Parker at the time of KoKo. On slower numbers, Coleman, who sounds much like the late Ernie Henry, is capable of composing strange melody lines that stick naggingly in the mind for days, and, on his solos, playing isolated phrases that have an instantly affecting beauty.

    The instrumentation of this group will suggest the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, but the only point of similarity is that Coleman's musicians have taken harmonic advantage of the absence of a piano, while Mulligan's thought in such a harmonically conventional way that the piano might as well have been there all along.

    In reference to the various quotations above, it will be interesting to see what happens to the career of the first new prophet to appear since the publicity machinery of jazz has gotten itself in full swing. Coleman's is an authentic attempt, and the initial praise for it came from musicians. Now it seems, everyone else has climbed aboard for what may be a long, long ride.'


  40. #39

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    The one thing that always strikes me first with 1950s/60s jazz writers is that they insist on change, change, change, innovation. If you don't change the course of music you're not worth listening to. What a massive burden that was to bear.

  41. #40

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    Charlie Haden remembered opening his eyes during the 5 spot days & finding someone kneeling on stage with his ear pressed against his Bass, he started to kick him away until OC told him to 'Cool it man. that's Leonard Bernstein'

  42. #41

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  43. #42
    Quote Originally Posted by sgcim
    I read a lot of books written about that period of music (1959), and most jazz musicians hated OC's music when it first came out. Max Roach came down to the club where OC was playing back then, and on a break, walked up to OC backstage and knocked him out with one punch.
    Max followed him back to where he was staying, and beat him up again in front of his apt.

    James Moody still hates his music, and if you mention OC's name, he'll spend an hour (at least) telling you why he thinks OC is a jive ass.
    In a fairly recent interview with the great alto sax player Herb Geller, he said, "Don Cherry and OC played free, because they couldn't play changes. OC's version of 'Embraceable You' is a laugh. The emperor has no clothes. He showed me one of his original tunes, and all the bar lines were in the wrong places, and he didn't know what chord symbols to use. He blew the arpeggio of a G major chord thinking it was a B minor. He knew nothing about chords."
    Tubby Hayes, in his bio, said he heard OC live, when OC was sharing the bill with his GF, Joy Marshall for a stay at Ronnie Scott's. Hayes said he found his playing, "largely unappealing. A lot of it sounded pretty basic", he told Melody Maker. "Unfortunately, I found it a little boring at times."
    And so on...
    Could you expand a bit on what James Moody said please? What didn't he like about Ornette, his technique, the tunes?

  44. #43

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    Quote Originally Posted by Babaluma
    Ornette certainly has a very vocal inflected sound but he is quite smooth and logical.

    Is it just the passage of time that has made it seem straight forward as his language has been absorbed into the mainstream sound of modern jazz? What is it that drove people so insane with rage?
    Give another listen to what Ornette is playing when the horns come in on "Focus on Sanity" from 1959:


    "Smooth" is probably not the first word that would come to many listeners minds

    James Moody was forming his ideas about jazz in 1940-1945. As a young man, he absorbed and embraced Charlie Parker and bebop after that, which not all his contemporaries did (take, for example, Paul Desmond, who was almost his exact same age). But at some point, most musicians not named Miles Davis lock into a stylistic niche and take pride in their ability to refine their playing within that niche. They start to guard the traditions they worked so hard to put into place. I've never heard or read Moody discuss Coleman, but it's not hard to imagine what a player of his particular generation would think about a figure like Coleman who maintained a mystique and critical approval for decades while remaining way outside the tradition.

    Here's a great quote from Ethan Iverson about another musician like Moody, Benny Golson. It doesn't have anything to do with Coleman per se, but I think it illuminates the discussion:

    "Speaking of Golson, he’s an example of a much older musician with clear ideas about what jazz is and isn’t. I suspect Golson left jazz because the early 70’s disheartened him; certainly, he is on record as crediting Wynton Marsalis and the return of acoustic values as the reason he began recording and touring again. Anyone sweating what [Mike] LeDonne says [about jazz being defined by certain types of swing and certain traditions] should count their blessings that they don’t have Golson, Lou Donaldson, George Coleman, or Barry Harris pinning them to the wall with a glare and some firm talk."

    Bass Genius | DO THE M@TH

  45. #44

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    That reminds me, a Les Paul is a damn nice sounding guitar for jazz.

  46. #45

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cunamara
    That reminds me, a Les Paul is a damn nice sounding guitar for jazz.
    Well somebody had to..


  47. #46

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    Quote Originally Posted by ccroft
    As if there's some problem with Chinese music...
    Nothing to do with Ornette. I just like the title (& the tune).

    I Only saw him play once, half way through the concert some bemused looking geezer in a tweed jacket wandered onto the stage from the wings looking slightly lost & stood just behind OC peering out at the audience

    I said 'Is that Don Cherry?'

    someone behind me said 'I think so'

    My then girlfriend said 'is he going to sing ? there's no microphone'

    At which point we all found out just how small a pocket a pocket trumpet can be produced from.


  48. #47

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    Quote Originally Posted by Babaluma
    Could you expand a bit on what James Moody said please? What didn't he like about Ornette, his technique, the tunes?
    I read this book when it first came out. It should tell you about the different reactions of musicians to OC's music:
    Sorry! Something went wrong!

  49. #48

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    I went to a clinic with James Moody once. He kind of lived up to his last name (as he has every right to). But also super cool, he had the Roosevelt HS jazz band (seattle) rhythm section playing with him, they were having the time of their lives and he dug the hell out of them too. Funny however I remember him sort of encouraging free thought: "just because 25,000 people call it an automobile doesn't mean that's what it is."

    Off topic...
    Last edited by arielcee; 04-09-2020 at 08:19 PM.

  50. #49

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    I saw James Moody several times at Ronnie Scott’s. As well as being a superb player on sax and flute, he was also very funny, he had some brilliant gags and comic routines. I guess he was inspired to develop that after playing with Dizzy Gillespie.

  51. #50
    Quote Originally Posted by 44lombard
    Give another listen to what Ornette is playing when the horns come in on "Focus on Sanity" from 1959:


    "Smooth" is probably not the first word that would come to many listeners minds

    James Moody was forming his ideas about jazz in 1940-1945. As a young man, he absorbed and embraced Charlie Parker and bebop after that, which not all his contemporaries did (take, for example, Paul Desmond, who was almost his exact same age). But at some point, most musicians not named Miles Davis lock into a stylistic niche and take pride in their ability to refine their playing within that niche. They start to guard the traditions they worked so hard to put into place. I've never heard or read Moody discuss Coleman, but it's not hard to imagine what a player of his particular generation would think about a figure like Coleman who maintained a mystique and critical approval for decades while remaining way outside the tradition.

    Here's a great quote from Ethan Iverson about another musician like Moody, Benny Golson. It doesn't have anything to do with Coleman per se, but I think it illuminates the discussion:

    "Speaking of Golson, he’s an example of a much older musician with clear ideas about what jazz is and isn’t. I suspect Golson left jazz because the early 70’s disheartened him; certainly, he is on record as crediting Wynton Marsalis and the return of acoustic values as the reason he began recording and touring again. Anyone sweating what [Mike] LeDonne says [about jazz being defined by certain types of swing and certain traditions] should count their blessings that they don’t have Golson, Lou Donaldson, George Coleman, or Barry Harris pinning them to the wall with a glare and some firm talk."

    Bass Genius | DO THE M@TH

    Thanks very much, that makes a lot of sense and I enjoyed the full article!