Happy Birthday: Ornette Coleman

Friday, March 9, 2018
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 Coleman’s stock and trade was jazz, he could switch up and work in whatever genre was asked of him, which is why we thought we’d offer up a four-pack of tracks which found him playing outside the jazz realm.

1. Yoko Ono / Plastic Ono Band, “Aos” (1970): Funnily enough, the 50th anniversary of this particular recording session just passed last week…or, rather, it would have if it’d 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, “Ornette 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.” Although both the performance and rehearsal preceding it were both recorded, only “AOS” made it onto Ono’s album.

2. Eddy Grant, “Don’t Back Down” (1999): Grant’s chart heyday in the US was in the ‘80s, when his singles “Electric Avenue” and “Romancing the Stone” 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 “‘Muhammad Ali Story’ Theme.”


3. Joe Henry, “Richard Pryor Addresses a Tearful Nation” (2001): The story of how Henry scored an appearance by Coleman on his 2001 album SCAR is one for the ages, and it’s related in a 2006 piece about Henry for Believer. “[‘Richard Pryor Addresses a Tearful Nation’] was a languid blues, built around a saxophone solo he wrote with Coleman in mind. Henry didn’t know Coleman and had no idea if he’d 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). Coleman’s lawyer called on a Friday and explained that Ornette was flattered, but he didn’t do session work. On Monday, the lawyer called back. ‘I can’t believe I’m telling you this,”’ he said, ‘but Ornette listened to your record over the weekend. He says he knows exactly why you want him to play on this project and he’d love to do it.’ Such is the unsung mojo of Joe Henry.”

4. Lou Reed, “Guilty” (2003): Reed’s 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 “one of my proudest moments: he did seven versions, all different and all amazing.” Here’s 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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