The Shape of Jazz to Come: A Guide to the Music of Ornette Coleman

A guide by Syd Fablo, Bruno Bickleby, and Patrick.

Introduction

 

This is a guide to the music of Ornette Coleman.  Albums are listed chronologically by recording date, broken down into multiple periods of his life and career and supplemented with biographical information.  Outtake and various artists collections are shown indented and with smaller font and images.  Bootlegs are listed, indented, but images and details are provided for only a few selected bootlegs that are of particular significance.  Guest and sideman appearances are listed separately toward the end.  Book, film/video/TV, and web site resources about or featuring Ornette are listed at the end.  The authors also provide curators’ picks and some other items of interest at the end.  While there are some compilations and box sets of Ornette’s work available, note that (with one exception) most focus on only a narrow period of time or are explicitly record label specific — the most significant of the label-specific ones being Beauty Is a Rare Thing: The Complete Atlantic Recordings.  It is somewhat unfortunate that many of Coleman’s recordings are currently out of print.  Moreover, unlike the deluge of archival, outtake and bonus material issued for certain other famous musical contemporaries of Ornette, there has been comparatively little of such material by him officially released to date.


A Brief Biography

 

Birth Name: Randolph Denard Ornette Coleman

Born: March 19, 1930 (or possibly March 9, 1930), Fort Worth, TX.

Died: June 11, 2015, New York, NY.

Ornette received almost no formal musical training, and was a noted autodidact.  Reports of him being unable to read music are often exaggerated in order to present him as a kind of primitive musical savant, rather than as someone from humble roots who willfully bucked convention.  Though he began playing music professionally while still a teenager, it was not until he was in his late 20s that he recorded as a bandleader and he was almost 30 years old before he found success as a solo act — rather late by typical jazz standards.  His music was resisted and disliked by many, but he showed an uncommon amount of “grit” in sticking with it despite adversities and setbacks.  Listeners tend to have a “love him or hate him” sort of reaction.  Usually described as shy (i.e., introverted), he also struck many as an unusual guy for his mannerisms and outlook on life.  He eventually developed his own musical theory that he dubbed “Harmolodics”, which he insisted can be applied to how one conducts their own life and to other artistic forms.  Often he described himself as a composer who performs.  “Lonely Woman” was his first “Harmolodic” composition, and is perhaps his best-known song.  One-time collaborator Pat Metheny said about him, “Ornette is the rare example of a musician who has created his own world, his own reality, his own language – effective to the point where emulation and absorbtion [sic] of it is not only impossible, it is simply too daunting a task for most musicians to even consider.”  His career (and fortunes) ebbed and flowed, with periods of intense activities and long stretches of public inactivity.  He nonetheless came to be regarded as one of America’s greatest musical innovators.  He also had a considerable art collection, and partly due to those interest notable contemporary artworks were reproduced on many of his albums, on the cover, back and/or inserts.  At least after achieving career success, he was a dapper dresser, often wearing brightly colored custom made suits.  His sister Truvenza (Trudy) Coleman also had a musical career, though she did not work with her brother professionally.


Legend

🎷🎷🎷 = top-tier; an essential

🎷🎷 = second tier; enjoyable but more for the confirmed fan; worthwhile after you’ve explored the essentials and still want more

🎷 = third tier; a lesser release, for completists only



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Some Critiques of Silicon Valley User Exploitation

Selected links to materials critiquing the morally dubious and exploitative nature of the business models of “online” software companies from places like Silicon Valley, as well as a few relevant quotes.  While the latest buzz in the mass media is about privacy, that is really only one relatively small part of a larger set of issues about exploitative conduct.

 

“They Didn’t Even Need to Hack Facebook”

“Facebook’s Latest Data Breach Reveals Silicon Valley’s Fortunes Are Built on Pilfering Privacy” (see also “Facebook Must Face Class Action Over Facial Recognition, Judge Rules”)

“‘The Gig Economy’ Is the New Term for Serfdom”

“Cambridge Analytica Didn’t Abuse the Happiness Industry – It Was Used Exactly How It Was Intended to Be” (and “Assange Works for the People – Now We Need to Save Him”)

“Can We Be Saved From Facebook?” (note the casual deployment of “horseshoe theory” and “cognitivism”/”scientism” here)

“Imagine Having So Much Money You Can Spend It on Instagram ‘Influencers’”

“Goodbye Facebook, and Screw You Too”

“Facebook CEO Presents Plans for Mass Censorship at Senate Hearing”

“F-Word: What if Ida B. Wells Depended on Facebook?”

“RYM Shitheads”

The People’s Platform

Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet

“Google Tracks Your Movements, Like It or Not”

“Google and Apple’s Systems to Track you in Person: What the Media Isn’t Telling You”

“Cloud Computing Is a Trap, Warns GNU Founder Richard Stallman”

“The Limits of the Web in an Age of Communicative Capitalism”

“The Massive Monopolies of Google, Facebook and Amazon, and Their Role in Destroying Privacy, Producing Inequality and Undermining Democracy”

Jodi Dean, “Communicative Capitalism and Class Struggle”:

“In communicative capitalism, capitalist productivity derives from its expropriation and exploitation of communicative processes.

***

“If we are honest, we have to admit that there is actually no such thing as social media. Digital media is class media. Networked communication does not eliminate hierarchy, as we believed, in entrenches it as it uses our own choices against us.

***

“Dispossession, rather than happening all at once, is an ongoing process. No one will deny the ongoingness of data dispossession. Sometimes it is blatant: the announcement that our call will be monitored for quality assurance, the injunctions to approve Apple’s privacy changes again or the necessity of renewing passwords and credit card information. Sometimes the ongoingness is more subtle; in maps, GPS signals, video surveillance, and the RFID tags on and in items we purchase. And sometimes the ongoingness is completely beyond our grasp, as when datasets are combined and mined so as to give states and corporations actionable data for producing products, patterns, and policies based on knowing things about our interrelations one to another that we do not know ourselves. Here the currents of lives as they are lived are frozen into infinitely separable, countable, and combinatory data-points.

“Approached in terms of class struggle, big data looks like further escalation of capital’s war against labor.”

 

Slavoj Žižek, Revolution at the Gates:

“[Adapting a statement of Lenin regarding central banks,] can we also say that ‘without the World Wide Web socialism would be impossible . . . . Our task is here merely to lop off what capitalistically mutilates this excellent apparatus, to make it even bigger, even more democratic, even more comprehensive?” (p. 293)

“However, does capitalism really provide the ‘natural’ frame of relations of production for the digital universe?  Is there not also, in the World Wide Web, an explosive potential for capitalism itself?  Is not the lesson of the Microsoft monopoly precisely the Leninist one: instead of fighting this monopoly through the state apparatus (remember the court-ordered splitting up of the Microsoft Corporation), would it not be more ‘logical’ simply to nationalize it, making it freely accessible?  So today, I am thus tempted to paraphrase Lenin’s well-known slogan ‘Socialism = electrification + the power of the soviets’: ‘Socialism = free access to the Internet + the power of the soviets.’  (The second element is crucial, since it specifies the only social organization within which the Internet can realize its liberating potential; without it, we would have a new version of crude technological determinism.”  (p. 294).

For a more watered-down, less practical alternative to nationalization, see “Facebook: A Cooperative Transformation”

Jerry White – Teachers Unions Intensify Efforts to Suppress Growing Class Struggle in the US

Link to an article by Jerry White:

“Teachers Unions Intensify Efforts to Suppress Growing Class Struggle in the US”

 

Bonus link: Poor People’s Movements and “Making Greater Possibilities Inconceivable: Another Thought or Two on the Logic of Lesser Evilism”

Bill Dixon Orchestra – Intents and Purposes

Intents and Purposes

The Bill Dixon OrchestraIntents and Purposes RCA Victor LSP-3844 (1967)


The 1960s represented a crucial period for jazz music, with its commercial appeal dropping precipitously, a host of radical new innovations developing, and recording technology reaching an important plateau of sorts.  It was an era producing many acclaimed albums, which the album format in general coming into its own during the decade.  But even among the many great jazz albums of the era, Intents and Purposes stands out.  Bill Dixon was one of the great jazz artists of the 20th century, though for a variety of reasons his name is not particularly well known and his relatively small catalog of recordings has not consistently remained in print.  That was somewhat the fate of Intents and Purposes.

Recorded with a large group orchestra, the music is able to realize a wide range of textures and produce rather large swings in dynamics.  The pieces tend to, strangely enough, include many highly conventional elements of jazz and classical music.  There are clear melodic statements, tightly choreographed harmonies, and even syncopated rhythms.  But what makes the album so unique is that those conventional elements are a rather small part of the music as a whole.  Dixon places an unusually large emphasis on timbre/texture, space, and compositional movement.  There are frequently almost independent statements, such as a passage with a simultaneous trumpet improvisation, string harmonies, a pizzicato bassline, and skittering percussion, each of which might have stood on its own.  The way Dixon puts these elements together largely eliminates distinctions between foreground and background.  Filmmaker Robert Bresson famously said that while most people considered film the combination of theater and photography, he saw it as the combination of painting and music.  With Dixon, he seems to make music that combines philosophy and (wordless) poetry.

It has been noted that Dixon drew substantial influence from the work of Ornette Coleman, whose unique style of composition and performance utilized motive structures (as described by Gunther Schuller in the liner notes to Ornette!).  Dixon offers his own take on Coleman’s motivic development.  It is fair — and perhaps appropriate — to call Intents and Purposes “harmolodic” music, after Coleman’s portmanteau term for his own artistic theory.  Though Coleman tended to always emphasize elements of juxtaposition, while Dixon emphasizes synthesis a bit more.  That is evident in how he merges foreground and background, eliminating soloist/accompaniment distinctions.  There are also some resemblances here to “third stream” music, such as the collaborative album Jazz Abstractions.  Of course, The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra grew out of Dixon’s earlier, less documented efforts and is certainly one of the closest counterparts to this music — compare their self-titled album from the following year.

There is a very non-competitive aspect to this music.  It asserts itself through a kind of self-actualization, but resists easy comparisons and the sort of jockeying for recognition and prestige that characterizes most other music. That sort of an outlook describes most of Dixon’s career, in which he spent comparatively more time as an educator, recording infrequently and often merely privately.

More than half a century later, this album still sounds unique and impressive.  That is to say it hasn’t aged a day.  But that shouldn’t surprise, because while this certainly is a part of the social fabric of its time, it was always a work of unique self-expression that showed no deference to commercial trends or fads.

Matt Bruenig – How Did Private Property Start?

Link to an article by Matt Bruenig:

“How Did Private Property Start?”

 

Bonus quotes:

“The first person who, having enclosed a plot of land, took it into his head to say this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him was the true founder of civil society. What crimes, wars, murders, what miseries and horrors would the human race have been spared, had some one pulled up the stakes or filled in the ditch and cried out to his fellow men: ‘Do not listen to this imposter. You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all and the earth to no one!’”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men” (1755)

“The illegitimate violence by which law sustains itself must be concealed at any price, because this concealment is the positive condition of the functioning of law.  Law functions only insofar as its subjects are fooled, insofar as they experience the authority of law as ‘authentic and eternal’ and do not realize ‘the truth about the usurpation’.  That is why Kant is forced, in his Metaphysics of Morals, to forbid any question concerning the origins of legal power: it is by means of precisely such questioning that the stain of this illegitimate violence appears which always soils, like original sin, the purity of the reign of law.”

Slavoj Žižek, “The Limits of the Semiotic Approach to Psychoanalysis,” from Psychoanalysis and… (Feldstein and Sussman, eds., Routledge 1990).

Pat Metheny & Ornette Coleman – Song X

Song X

Pat Metheny / Ornette ColemanSong X Geffen GHS 24096 (1986)


Song X paired Ornette Coleman with the relatively popular guitarist Pat Metheny, augmented by the multifaceted drummer Jack DeJohnette and Coleman’s frequent collaborators Denardo Coleman and Charlie Haden.  Metheny’s music –primarily from his band the Pat Metheny Group — is sometimes derisively referred to as “fuzak”, meaning a kind of jazz/rock fusion that is so dull and unengaging that it resembles “Musak” brand piped-in background music.  But whatever might be said about his solo recordings, he really rises to the challenge of playing with Ornette here.  For his part, Ornette returns to a style of playing and writing that hadn’t been heard much since the 1960s.  These songs have clear melodic content, not just repeatable riffs like with his Prime Time band, and the guitar and saxophone play together in harmony.  DeJohnette is great.  It is somewhat a shame that this is the only recording of Ornette playing with him.  While the cliched 1980s production values are a bit unfortunate, they don’t detract too much from what are otherwise uniformly good performances. I think that is really the key to this album’s success.  It doesn’t devote its energies to inventing some kind of “new style” or musical theory.  It instead presents excellent new compositions that expand upon the old styles/theories and the musicians all play to the best of their abilities.  Anthony Braxton came up with a useful three-part taxonomy for musicians and their work, which was not meant to favor any particular category or categories: restructuralists (i.e., innovators and game-changers), stylists (i.e., expanding on an established framework with a uniquely identifiable perspective), and traditionalists (i.e., preserving and faithfully recreating the language and techniques of the past).  Song X represents these musicians performing as “stylists”, even as Ornette had elsewhere established himself as a “restructuralist”.  Metheny and Coleman supposedly butted heads when recording the album, in a friendly, constructive way.  It seems that friction prevented either of them from coasting on a past reputation, and works in favor of the resulting album.

This is probably my favorite of Ornette’s 1980s albums.  I can’t say I’m familiar enough with Metheny to offer a similar comparative view, though this is certainly much better than his prior solo effort Rejoicing (which featured Haden and Billy Higgins, both of whom played with Ornette in the past).  Most listeners will want to seek out the expanded Twentieth Anniversary Edition of the album, which adds some very decent bonus tracks.

Tracy Frisch – An Investigative Reporter Talks Glyphosate

Link to an interview with Carey Gillam, author of Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science (2017), conducted by Tracy Frisch:

“Monsanto’s Toxic Legacy: An Investigative Reporter Talks Glyphosate”

 

Bonus link: “Historic Ruling Against Monsanto Finds Company Acted with ‘Malice’ Against Groundskeeper with Cancer”

Maura Ewing – Philadelphia’s New Top Prosecutor Is Rolling Out Wild, Unprecedented Criminal Justice Reforms

Link to an article by Maura Ewing:

“Philadelphia’s New Top Prosecutor Is Rolling Out Wild, Unprecedented Criminal Justice Reforms”

 

Bonus links: “Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner Promised a Criminal Justice Revolution. He’s Exceeding Expectations.” and “Meet Larry Krasner” and …And the Poor Get Prison

 

No doubt about it, Krasner is one of the most heroic public servants in office in the U.S. today.  Nothing about Krasner’s policies is “wild” though, and it is quite sad that in this day and age they are “unprecedented” — his policies should probably be the norm not the exception.  It is, however, important to note that a key factor in Krasner winning office was substantial funding from out-of-towner George Soros.

The USPTO’s Predicament

The United States Patent & Trademark Office has made a big announcement that it expects to issue U.S. Patent Number 10,000,000 by the summer of 2018.  One (big) problem:  the USPTO already issued U.S. Patent No. 10,000,000 in 1936.

U.S. Pat. No. 10,000,000So, obviously, the original U.S. Patent No. 10,000,000 was a joke, issued to serve as the menu for a banquet in honor of the centennial anniversary of the modern patent office.  Presumably, patent office officials at the time thought that they would never reach ten million patents, or otherwise didn’t consider that in the future they would want to make a big deal out of the issuance of a patent with the same number.  So this raises a concern:  whatever unfortunate patentee is assigned a patent numbered “10,000,000” in 2018 (as the USPTO is announcing it plans to do) will probably face a legal challenge regarding the prior issuance of U.S. Pat. No. 10,000,000 in 1936. Suffice it to say, all this is poised to be an embarrassing mess for the USPTO.

Ornette Coleman – Sound Museum: Hidden Man

Sound Museum: Hidden Man

Ornette ColemanSound Museum: Hidden Man Harmolodic  314 531 914-2 (1996)


Sound Museum: Hidden Man (a companion album to Sound Museum: Three Women) is appropriately titled.  Like a museum, this is sort of a curated look back at what Ornette had accomplished in his career through the mid-1990s.  And yet it also offers a slightly different perspective on his past accomplishments.  He is recording with a pianist (Geri Allen) in the most substantial way since the late 1950s.  Bassist Charnett Moffett, son of Ornette’s former drummer Charles Moffett, adds understated yet substantial coloring.  But what strikes me most about this music is the way Ornette’s trumpet playing resembles that of Bill Dixon so much.  That aspect was detectable going back to The Empty Foxhole.  Here it is unmistakable — compare Dixon’s Son of Sisyphus (1990), for instance.  There is a lightness to this music, full of space, with a conversational tone to it much like the style Dixon pioneered.  While Hidden Man might not be the most immediately striking album Ornette released over his long career, it is perhaps better than anything he released until his death in 2015.