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So what’s the connection between Ornette and rap? Well, rap took the popular song form, obliterated

the harmony part, and emphasized preaching over a beat. And that was a revolutionary development,

a development foreshadowed by what had already happened in the jazz world.



Ornette Coleman Albums


Ornette Coleman: The Shape of Jazz to Come

By Kalamu ya Salaam


Ornette Coleman started rap in 1959 with a record called The Shape Of Jazz To Come. I don’t mean he literally invented rap, but aesthetically (in terms of the three main elements of music from a Western perspective) what Ornette did in jazz is analogous to what rap did in popular music.

Western music is based on a triad of melody, harmony, and rhythm. Popular Western music emphasizes melody. The high-art music emphasizes harmony. None of it swings too tough. And in all of it, a premium is placed on composition and technical correctness, i.e., adherence to various, abstract ideal standards that a specific performance is measured against.

What we call Black music is a different aesthetic. Hell, we can do away with harmony, simplify the melody, hit a groove and ride for days—like Mr. Dynamite recording a nine minute song without ever crossing a bridge. You know what I’m saying?

By Western standards a lot of James Brown songs technically aren’t songs. Plus, recordings both spread the music and froze the music, enabled cross-cultural (and cross-time, cross-place) study and appreciation of the music), but at the same time, the recording device locked the music into a static/processed thing, whereas in Black music one factor that is certain is change. It’s always changing. A record don’t never change. So in one sense while the record enabled the world to hear Black music, it also encouraged people to think that “one” way was “the” way.

(I’m coming to Ornette and rap, right now. Stay with me.)

Well, Ornette thought, Suppose you didn’t have to adhere to a standardized harmony? Suppose you could play whatever note you wanted to play at a given moment? Suppose your progression was based on your imagination and not a set of predetermined codes? Wouldn’t the music sound fresher?

So, that’s what he did. Chord changes? The changes were no longer predetermined ahead of time. For those reared to work off of changes, this freedom was anarchy of the most despicable sort. Hence, when Ornette hit New York in 1959, a number of seasoned musicians, not to mention the corps of jazz critics, thought Ornette was crazy (and that is their assessment when they were being charitable and giving Ornette the benefit of the doubt).

In the early Sixties, I was just getting into jazz and I didn’t know that Ornette was supposed to be controversial, not supposed to be considered in the jazz tradition. Of course, once I started subscribing to Downbeat, I quickly found out how wrong I was. I will never forget Downbeat giving no stars (zero, nada, zip) to Meditations by John Coltrane—but that is another story. Anyway, because I didn’t know any better I could dig Ornette. He sounded like he was preaching to me. I mean, in my estimation, he sounded like a preacher. And then when he did his trumpet and violin thing with his then nine-year-old son on drums (the record was Empty Foxhole), well, something was definitely happening that hadn’t happened before.

Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on your point of view) Trane was happening at the same time and at that time Trane was the Einstein of harmony. I used to walk out the room when Trane came on the radio because I couldn’t hear it at the time (circa 1963, early ’64). By 1965 I was deep into Trane, but again that’s another story. What I’m saying about Ornette is that his emphasis on melody and rhythm, on preaching over a beat regardless of how he hooked the words up, that strongly appealed to me. And of all of Ornette’s large body of work, the composition that most strongly appealed to me was “Lonely Woman.”

So what’s the connection between Ornette and rap? Well, rap took the popular song form, obliterated the harmony part, and emphasized preaching over a beat. And that was a revolutionary development, a development foreshadowed by what had already happened in the jazz world.

Meanwhile, over the years, Ornette’s revolution was absorbed by the jazz world. By the mid-Sixties, even Trane adopted and adapted Ornette’s approach—late period Trane is generally appraised as an acquired taste of the rarest sort, and again, that’s another story. Trane is another story. But a converging story in that Ornette’s approach became Trane’s approach.

By the mid-seventies, James Brown had saxophone players wailing like Trane—listen to “Superbad”—but it was really an Ornette Coleman approach: preaching over rhythm. Which is part of the reason that James Brown’s music is so often sampled, copied, appropriated, imitated, re-created, etc. in rap music. Whether the beat-meisters know it or not, it’s not simply the beat; it’s an entire aesthetic that they are plugging into.

An aesthetic that does not come in a linear fashion from Ornette Coleman to Dr. Dre, but rather a shared aesthetic that represents different ways of drinking from the same well, the water of African musical aesthetics liberally laced with African-American blues elements, the melancholy inside of our joy, the joy inside of our melancholy. The dialectic of getting down in order to rise above.

I, of course, contend you can hear all of that in “Lonely Woman,” and even if you can’t hear it, that don’t mean those elements are not there, just might simply mean, you ain’t hearing it—I’m aware it could also be that I’m hearing haints, i.e., hearing stuff that’s not there, but I doubt it: the scream, moan, shout, and cry manifests itself too consistently in Black music to be an accident. The element of trance, riding a groove to an altered state of consciousness, is a constant in this ever-changing music.

So, finally, what I’m saying is that there is cultural unity or commonality to all forms of our music that address the basic aesthetic of saying something over a groove, of inducing a trance as a way of transformation. And that’s what I liked about Ornette Coleman.

Obviously, I was not the only person who felt that way. In 2004 the San Francisco Jazz Festival commissioned Joshua Redman to lead a small band who would perform both original compositions and a program of compositions by a selected jazz composer. The inaugural year featured composer was Ornette Coleman. It’s a brilliant idea, wonderfully executed.

A limited-edition 3CD set of music was released—one CD is all Coleman interpretations and the other two CDs feature one composition from each of the eight band members.

“Lonely Woman” is on the recording and features the excellent alto work of Miguel Zenon. In fact, they ought to release the Coleman interpretations as a single CD—it’s just that good. . . . Additionally, I strongly urge you to check out a video documentary called Freestyle, The Art of Rhyme by Kevin Fitzgerald. Why? Well, because the art of freestylin’ in rap is aesthetically the same approach as Ornette Coleman.

Ornette and rap, for me it’s not a case of one leading to the other, or even one coming before the other, it’s simply what happens when the same sensibility is manifested by different individuals in different eras and different contexts. So actually I should have said: Ornette Coleman is a pre-rap manifestation of rap and rap is an Ornette Coleman approach to popular music. Seen? Heard?

Source: Breath of Life

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Ornette Coleman, after an unsuccessful spell with R&B in his Texas homeland,  moved to the freer atmosphere of the West Coast. There he hooked up with other sympathetic artists including Don Cherry and Charlie Haden who he would later collaborate with on a number of ventures.

Innovation has been the hallmark of Coleman’s career and though he has at times been regarded as being ahead of his audiences, he has released a number of highly regarded albums, widely praised as moving free jazz forward. Among his releases, the albums Change of the Century (1959), Science Fiction (1971) and Sound Grammar (2006) are considered to be among his strongest. The Sound Grammar album, released almost 50 years after his first, earned him a Pulitzer Prize.

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Ornette Coleman (born 9 March 1930 in Fort Worth, Texas) continues to push himself into unusual playing situations, often with much younger musicians or musicians from radically different musical cultures, and still performs regularly. An increasing number of his compositions, while not ubiquitous, have become minor jazz standards, including "Lonely Woman," "Peace," "Turnaround," "When Will the Blues Leave?" "The Blessing," "Law Years," "What Reason Could I Give" and "I've Waited All My Life", among others.

He has influenced virtually every saxophonist of a modern disposition, and nearly every such jazz musician, of the generation that followed him. His songs have proven endlessly malleable: pianists such as Paul Bley and Paul Plimley have managed to turn them to their purposes; John Zorn recorded Spy vs Spy (1989), an album of extremely loud, fast, and abrupt versions of Coleman songs. Finnish jazz singer Carola covered Coleman's "Lonely Woman" and there have even been country-music versions of Coleman tunes (by Richard Greene).

Coleman's playing has profoundly influenced, directly or otherwise, countless musicians, trying as he has for five decades to understand and discover the shape of not just jazz, but all music to come. On February 11, 2007, Ornette Coleman was honored with a Grammy award for lifetime achievement, in recognition of this legacy. On May 1, 2010, Ornette was awarded a honorary doctorate.Wikipedia

posted 18 May 2010

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Ornette Coleman Website

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Related files: Ornette Coleman The Shape of Jazz to Come   Lonely Woman