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 This is a full-length biography of the jazz legend, making extensive use of previously unpublished interviews and detailed musical examples that further illustrate the text.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.
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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.From Kirkus Reviews:
Life of the innovative, ``free jazz'' composer-musician that attempts to place him among the gods with Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker. Litweiler, a former Downbeat editor, pursued free jazz in The Freedom Principle (1984). When alto-saxist Ornette Coleman (b. 1930) hit N.Y.C. in 1959 on a wave of critical praise and walked straight into a top gig at the Five Spot, older players were jealous, and few would accept his odd, seemingly wrong and unmusical way of playing. This was nothing new to Coleman, who had broken into the music business around Fort Worth, playing four-square white music for dances and be-bop for black clubs, and had been beaten in alleys for the way he soloed. But he heard within himself a wild goose honking to be free of the chords and key signatures that shackled other soloists. This liberation of jazz melody from traditional harmonic and rhythmic patterns led to free-form and post-bop jazz, with Coleman as its standard bearer. But despite his many, many recordings--few of which sell well--and great respect abroad, the musician's ``harmolodic concepts'' have not caught on widely in the States. When finally signed by a major label, Columbia, which recorded his Skies of America symphony, Coleman, according to Litweiler, wasn't given the proper backing in the studio and after. His latest work has done better and includes his brilliant soundtrack for the film Naked Lunch, and the infectious pop-music spirit of his recent Virgin Beauty album, with Jerry Garcia. A bio for initiates. Litweiler focuses strongly on the music, though if one hasn't heard it, no words can describe it--and newcomers will find it tough to follow the overload of ever- shifting personnel changes. (Eight page of b&w photographs--not seen.) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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