I just saw that Ornette Coleman has died. I’m not a jazzbo by any means, but he’s one of 3 jazz artists (mid-’60s John Coltrane and Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis) who first opened my thick head to the genre. I still think there’s something special about him, a floating, open quality to his music that goes down easy for me, that doesn’t raise my suspicions over the motives of those jazz chord–playing cats who’d previously failed to move me.
“I don’t want them to follow me,” he explained. “I want them to follow themselves, but to be with me.”
I will likely never understand the theory behind jazz music and Coleman’s harmelodics concept, but it felt like he and his bandmates were playing bits and pieces of nursery songs, devoid of the context of chords. Too much about life is surrounded by context, surrounded by chords. I still find it exciting to hear he and his mates blurt out their little sing-songy melodies. Sometimes they’re in unison, sometimes not. When the music of Ornette really works for me, it just sounds like kids playing on a schoolyard. “Ramblin’,” for instance, is like the sound of kids jumping rope or playing hopscotch.
It wasn’t always jump rope and hopscotch for Coleman. Another favorite is “Sadness,” from the stark Town Hall, 1962 album.