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Coleman, Ornette (1930- ), American saxophonist, who pioneered in the creation of atonal free-form jazz. Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Coleman moved to Los Angeles in 1950 and began to develop his unconventional concepts and style. His work emphasized the concept of free jazz, which essentially left the musician free to explore improvisation without melodic, harmonic, or metric limitations. Coleman attracted worldwide attention with the release of a series of recordings, including _The Shape of Jazz to Come_ (1959), _Change of the Century_ (1959), and _Free Jazz_ (1960).
During the 1960s Coleman taught himself to play the trumpet and the violin and inspired an emerging European avant-garde jazz movement. His larger, symphonic works reflected his theory of harmelodics, which involved musicians simultaneously playing the same melody at different pitch levels and in different keys.
In the mid-1950s, Ornette
Coleman revolutionized the way people played and heard jazz. His unusual
approach to harmony, rhythm, and melody transformed it into something both
more unrestrained and more expressive. Though it is often called "free
jazz," Coleman preferred the term "harmolodic." Since that time he has
led numerous other bands, composed classical music and film scores, and
performed and recorded with myriad musicians including Jerry Garcia, Pat
Metheny, and the traditional Moroccan group of master
musicians from Jajouka. In the mid-1990s, after a lengthy hiatus from
recording, Coleman started the Harmolodic record label.
During the early '50's. while in Los Angeles, Ornette's musical ideas were so controversial he rarely found public performance possibilities. He did, however, find a core of musicians who took to his musical concepts:
trumpeters Don Cherry and Bobby Bradford, drummers Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins, and bassist Charlie Haden. (Haden's daughters (triplets) formed the L.A. band That Dog))
In 1959 with the release of his debut album, _Something Else_, it was immediately clear that Coleman had ushered in a new era in jazz history. This music, freed from the prevailing conventions of harmony, rhythm and melody - often called "free jazz," transformed the art form. This concept Coleman called Harmolodic. In the 1960's, based on this theory, Coleman also began writing string quartets, woodwind quintets, and symphonies. In 1966 Denardo Coleman made his debut in music at age 10 playing drums on the recording The Empty Foxhole with his father. Denardo also recorded twice more in the '60s with his father, including Ornette at 12 and Crisis.
In the early 1970's Ornette traveled throughout Morocco and Nigeria playing with the local musicians and interpreting the melodic and rhythmic complexities of their music into his Harmolodic approach. In 1975, seeking the fuller sound of an orchestra for his writing, Coleman constructed a new ensemble. Entitled _Prime Time_, the ensemble included the doubling of guitars, drums, and bass. Combining elements of ethnic and danceable sounds, this approach is now identified with a full genre of music and musicians.
In the 80's, another birth of surprises including trend setting albums such as _Song X_ with guitarist Pat Metheny and Virgin Beauty featuring Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia. Both records were widely accepted. It was also in the1980's that Denardo Coleman not only began producing the recordings of his father, but also became his manager. It was during this period that the Coleman's took control of all of their business affairs. Out of this, Harmolodic Inc. emerged.
The 1990's have continued to be a very productive and creative time for Ornette. With large works like the recent premiere of "Architecture in Motion", Ornette's first Harmolodic ballet, as well as work on the soundtracks for the films "Naked Lunch" and "Philadelphia". And now the dawning of the Harmolodic record label for which Ornette has been heavily involved in new recordings.
There has been a tremendous out pouring of recognition
bestowed upon Coleman for his work, including numerous honors and celebrations
- Honorary Degrees from the University of Pennsylvania (1989), California
Institute of the Arts (1990), Boston Conservatory of Music (1993), and
most recently, an honorary doctorate from The New School For Social Research.
He was also named as a recipient of the distinguished 1994 MacArthur Fellowship