Ornette Coleman

Transitions. Ornette Coleman (March 9th, 1930-June 11th, 2014) 

Fall. A Few Decades Ago.Siler City, North Carolina.

I am wandering through the record library at my dad’s radio station. 

The station is small…a 1000 Watt daytimer…but the record library is massively oversized for the size of the station and the market.

It was then a real record library containing LPs and 45s and some other odd formats (tapes, transcriptions of programs, etc.). Today, of course,

all the music is on a hard drive and there are no physical recordings but…that was a different time.

The library is huge and it’s not a normal “top 40” library….there is every type of music in there from Country & Western to Dixieland.

How much of it was due to my father’s very wide taste in music and how much due to the fact that, at that time, the record companies shipped

every broadcaster with an ASCAP/BMI license (which was all of them) tons of product because that was how recording artists became known and records got sold, is unknown.

Probably a bit of both

Aside: In the current “streaming” world of internet digital music, the artists are whining because they feel they are not receiving enough royalties for the performance of their work, conveniently forgetting the fact that the internet streamers pay a lot more rights and permissions money for their streams than radio and TV stations do for their broadcasts,  to play the  same music, to much smaller audiences. 

If you dive a little deeper, it becomes very obvious that the business model behind the current major streaming companies (Spotify and Pandora among others)  is precisely the same as the one that has served the radio industry for decades: free music made available by selling advertising on the stream (or station). 

The only thing different is the delivery system and more effective lobbyists for the broadcasters (the N.A.B. is extremely efficient).

But..that’s a digression.

After my shifts at the radio station, I’d always go into the library and pull some stuff to listen to.

Not just music or artists I’d heard before, but music I had not heard before…it was a great way to explore new sounds and types of music.

I would take the albums home and crank them up on the stereo system, going through two or three a night.

If I found one I really liked, I’d look to see if there others by the same artist in the library.

And that’s how I found Les McCann, Thelonious Monk, Sun Ray (and his Solar Arkestra), Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and….

Ornette Coleman..going through the library, on the Hunt for New Music.

Ornette Coleman was one  whose albums I kept bringing home. The music was adventurous, it was risky, it was discordant and yet it all tied together very neatly.  He was a force and even then…in small, unsophisticated Siler City, I knew that he was special.

I got weird looks from my dad when he’d come in the room and hear Ornette on the stereo. He’d just shake his head and move on.

And once, when I dared to put up an Ornette Coleman song during one of my shifts on the radio…right in there between  Bobby Rydell and Elvis…the control room phone rang and two words were said: “never again”….which was code for, you’re outta here if you put that up on the air even one more time.

So the listening remained at home, my own modest attempts to disrupt the general musical order, curtailed. 

I never stopped listening to Ornette Coleman and this weekend, I think I’ll go into the LP Library and pull out one of his albums and play  it through the big

system, out on the deck, looking over the lake, and again enjoy the revolution that he brought to music.  

The neighbors won’t get it, of course, but

that’s ok. 

Music is a very personal thing and Ornette’s music was always the most personal of all.

The Ornette Coleman ClickPak.

 Ornette was one of the most interesting musicians of our era. Below, a selection of thoughts and comments on the man, his music, and impact, along with a link to some videos.

Duet: Two rembrances of Ornette Coleman.     (Source: Paris Review)

The New York Times on Ornette Coleman.        (Source: The New York Times)

A Tribute to Ornette Coleman.                              (Source: The Guardian)

NPR on Ornette Coleman.     (Source: NPR.org)

Quotes on Ornette Coleman.  (Source: Reuters.Com)

Ornette’s Revolution. (Source: The New Yorker)


Ornette Coleman plays “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”  (Source: embed via YouTube, from “Sound Museum”, posted 21 February 2014) )

Note: There are few better ways to understand a musician’s talent and perspective than to hear them play something you are familiar with. It’s always an ear-opener.

 Ornette Coleman Sextext Free Jazz  (Source: embed via YouTube. Uploaded by Bob Hardy on 1 July 2009, from a concert in Germany in 1978)

The title video for this post is Ornette Coleman and friends performing the soundtrack for the film “Who’s Crazy”  ,  produced by Paul Ferkel, 1966.

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