Happy Birthday: Ornette Coleman
On this day in 1930, the world was first graced with the presence of a man who would go on to become one of the greatest jazz musicians of the 20th century: Randolph Denard Ornette Coleman. Although Colemanâs stock and trade was jazz, he could switch up and work in whatever genre was asked of him, which is why we thought weâd offer up a four-pack of tracks which found him playing outside the jazz realm.
1. Yoko Ono / Plastic Ono Band, âAosâ (1970): Funnily enough, the 50th anniversary of this particular recording session just passed last weekâ¦or, rather, it would have if itâd been a leap year. On February 28, 1968, Yoko Ono and Ornette Coleman performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London, with Charlie Haden and David Izenzon on bass and Ed Blackwell on drums. As Ono recalled in a 1997 interview, âOrnette was already very, very established and famous and respected guy as a musician. And I met him in Paris. The way I met was, I was doing a show and after the show, somebody said, Oh, Ornette Coleman is here and he would like to - okay. Well, hello. Thank you for coming. That kind of thing. And he was saying, Well, okay. So he said that he was going to go and do a concert in Albert Hall and would I come and do it with him because he thought it was kind of interesting what I do.â Although both the performance and rehearsal preceding it were both recorded, only âAOSâ made it onto Onoâs album.
2. Eddy Grant, âDonât Back Downâ (1999): Grantâs chart heyday in the US was in the â80s, when his singles âElectric Avenueâ and âRomancing the Stoneâ ruled MTV, but the reggae singer has continued to record over the years, and he was lucky enough to secure Coleman to contribute to this track, otherwise known as the ââMuhammad Ali Storyâ Theme.â
3. Joe Henry, âRichard Pryor Addresses a Tearful Nationâ (2001): The story of how Henry scored an appearance by Coleman on his 2001 album SCAR is one for the ages, and itâs related in a 2006 piece about Henry for Believer. â[âRichard Pryor Addresses a Tearful Nationâ] was a languid blues, built around a saxophone solo he wrote with Coleman in mind. Henry didnât know Coleman and had no idea if heâd be interested in collaborating. But Henry sent a letter of introduction anyway, along with his most recent album, a moody, soulful release called FUSE (1999). Colemanâs lawyer called on a Friday and explained that Ornette was flattered, but he didnât do session work. On Monday, the lawyer called back. âI canât believe Iâm telling you this,ââ he said, âbut Ornette listened to your record over the weekend. He says he knows exactly why you want him to play on this project and heâd love to do it.â Such is the unsung mojo of Joe Henry.â
4. Lou Reed, âGuiltyâ (2003): Reedâs website is currently offline, but if you use the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, you can find the page dedicated to this song, the sessions for which Reed described as âone of my proudest moments: he did seven versions, all different and all amazing.â Hereâs hoping the site comes back up soon, because Reed had originally posted various takes, each one with Coleman playing against a different instrument.
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