For me, the jazz legend Ornette Coleman was the man who gave me a thirst for understanding jazz. I’d listened to Miles Davis and John Coltrane. I had an album by Charlie Parker. I loved it all. But some of my musical heroes talked about Ornette as the great innovator. I needed to know why.
I soon found out. The first time I played Lonely Woman, I was gripped by its otherness. It was recognizable as jazz. But it was out there on the edge. It felt new, even decades after it was recorded. It’s still my favorite jazz standard.
We were very lucky indeed to see Ornette play at the Palau de la Musica a few years ago. He must have been around 78 years old. His playing was still beautiful, haunting, forceful and unpredictable. And then he played my favorite, Lonely Woman. A dream come true.
The Guardian’s interview with him from around the same time contains lots of quotes which seem to sum up the man. None more so than this:
Coleman’s first saxophone was bought with money he had earned shining shoes. “I thought it was a toy and I played it the way I’m playing today,” he says. “I didn’t know you had to learn to play. I didn’t know music was a style and that it had rules and stuff, I thought it was just sound. I thought you had to play to play, and I still think that.”
Thank you, Mr. Ornette Coleman, for being one of those rare people who really changes the world for the better. For not caring about the rules. For everything.