Ornette Coleman is one of the great architects of jazz. Like Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker, he changed the way we listen. His soaring, cascading, note-rich "free" improvisations added a new vocabulary to the alto saxophone; and his "harmolodic" compositions, shattering Western harmonic and rhythmic conventions, gave jazz a new musical language. This is a full-length biography of the jazz legend, making extensive use of previously unpublished interviews and detailed musical examples that further illustrate the text. It is a compelling portrait of a living legend and a lively history of postwar jazz.
In the wake of Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker, the saxophonist Ornette Coleman completes a kind of Holy Trinity of jazz improvisation. Like his predecessors, Coleman seems to have reinvented the art, not to mention the expectations of his audience. His keening alto floats free of bar lines, chord sequences, and tempered pitch, but always in the interest of emotional impact. ("There are some intervals," Coleman has said, "that carry that human quality if you play them in the right pitch.") John Litweiler's biography, the first, is a meticulous and intelligent account, as well as a fine listening companion. Although I've always enjoyed Coleman's own, rather concise account of his life--"Born, work, sad and happy and etc."--it's wonderful to have it fleshed out.