Saturday, July 22, 2017

Chronicle Books - Blue Note: The Album Cover Art

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"They were sure that with these new
artists they were introducing, so many of them
were leaders for the first time, so
maybe the public in Harlem knew about them,
but across the country they didn't . . .
and they felt it was very important to put these
mens' photos as prominently as
possible on the covers and they got a lot of flak
from distributors across the country
who felt a pretty girl would have been better."

"I would say that ninety per cent of
Frank's photos were taken at the recording sessions.
I got the pictures from Frank and I
integrated them within the design of the moment. … Frank always hated it when I cropped one of his artists through the forehead.”

"Frank tried to get the artist's real expression . . . the way he stood. Reid was more avant-garde and chic but the two together worked beautifully."

“Gosh this is different!... that’s Blue Note … that’s what we want.”

"It didn't mean you had to have full colour —
two colours didn't hurt that product at all.
The few full colour covers I did were not as
strong as the ones with black and white and red."

“Those covers look as fresh today as they did twenty years ago ….”

"Fifty bucks an album . . . they loved it, thought it was modern, they thought it went with the music . . . one or two colours to work with at that time and some outrageous graphics!" 

Jackie’s Bag ...Frank hated that. It had no photograph.”

"That Blue Note era would never have happened in the context of a large company . . . it was a personalized, individual, approach."

In its heyday, the Blue Note record company was the most successful and influential of all the classic jazz record companies.

Blue Note: The Album Cover Art provides a comprehensive, album-sized collection of some of the best Blue Note album covers ever designed.

Opening with a concise history of the Blue Note record company, the book features the cover art of Reid Miles, who designed almost 500 record sleeves for Blue Note over a fifteen-year period.  Reid's canon of work was so individual that his covers were as evocative of the jazz scene as the trumpet timbre of Miles Davis or the plaintive melodies of Billie Holiday.

The covers also promoted a way of stylistic thinking, influencing many of today's trends in graphic art with their pioneering use of typography. And by presenting sophisticated images of fashion and personal flair that mirrored the taste and integrity of the records themselves, the Blue Note label embodied one word: style. It advocated a sense of casual confidence that is given new expression here in Blue Note: The Album Cover Art.

The records shown here continue to enjoy a tremendous following among jazz enthusiasts. The book's impressive array of artists and performers will make it an indispensable collection of memorabilia for both jazz and design buff alike.

FOREWORD:  HORACE SILVER  (Blue Note Recording Star 1952-1979) and at the time of this writing in 1990, in charge of Silveto Productions / Emerald Records.

"Blue Note Records were very meticulous in every aspect of their production: they used the best vinyl, they paid for rehearsals and when I asked to be in on the other parts of my album Alfred Lion (the label's founder) gave me every opportunity. A lot of musicians in those days worked very hard to make good music and once the music was done, they let Alfred Lion go with the rest of it.

One day I went to Alfred and said, I want to sit down with you and look at the pictures you want to use and pick them together and check the sleeve notes before you print them. He agreed to that, and so I had input over a lot of things the other guys didn't bother with.

I learnt a lot from that, and what I learnt about making a record I learnt from Alfred Lion. I don't have a favourite cover of mine . . . but thinking back now you know, I kinda like the Tokyo Blues cover!"


1925: Alfred Lion, aged sixteen, experiences Sam Woodyard and his Chocolate   Dandies in concert and is profoundly affected by the wonderful music.

1930: Lion makes his first trip to the United States, purchasing over 300 records unavailable in his native Germany.

1938: Lion emigrates to the US, escaping Nazism and embracing Hot Jazz. Attends the legendary Spirituals to Swing concert  and is transfixed by boogie-woogie pianists  Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis.

1939: Ammons and Lewis are recorded by Lion at an after-hours   session. The  results are pressed up into fifty twelve-inch discs which soon sell  out. The first  brochure  is produced  detailing the  label's  intent.  Sidney Bechet records
Summertime for Blue Note giving the label a 'hit'.

1941: Francis Wolff, Alfred Lion's associate, joins  him  from Germany.

1942: Blue Note suspends production for the duration of the war. Lion is drafted into US Army.

1943: The label resumes activities, moving to 767 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY, and during the next four years records small swingtets (comprising seven or eight players).

1948: By this time Blue Note had absorbed the stylistic changes of Bop and was recording the new talents, such as Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and Fats Navarro.

1951: The year that Blue Note moved from 78s to the ten-inch format, introducing as it did the need for cover art. Paul Bacon,Gil Melle and John Hermansader are the early cover designers.

1953: Gil Melle introduces Lion to Rudy Van Gelder, a recording engineer working from home in Hackensack, New Jersey. It was Van Gelder's ears that helped mould what became known as the 'Blue Note   sound'. His attention to details, such as   the audibility of the hi-hat cymbal, gave the records their definition and dimensional warmth.

1954: The Jazz Messengers are born (including Horace Silver and Art Blakey) heralding a new era of soulful, swinging and inventive jazz.

1956: Reid Miles begins working with Lion and Wolff as Blue Note's  graphic  designer. Soon-to-become legendary organist Jimmy Smith  is signed to the label, completing the cast, as Michael Cuscuna described it, with Lion, Wolff, Blakey, Silver, Van Gelder and Reid Miles.

1958: Fledgling 'Star', Andy Warhol, draws a reclining woman motif for the covers of Kenny Burrell's Blue Lights Volumes 1 and 2.

1959: Blue Note, with new A&R man Ike Quebec, move recordings to Van Gelder's new studio at Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

1963: Ike Quebec succeeded by Duke Pearson.

1964: Blue Note have two hit albums in the grooving Song For My Father by Horace Silver and The Sidewinder by Lee Morgan.

1965:  The recording  giant Liberty makes Blue Note chiefs Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff an offer to sell out. The two were becoming exhausted by their diligence to the label and accepted the offer.

1967: Alfred Lion quits Blue Note due to health problems. The label no longer has Reid Miles as graphic designer and the visual changes become disturbingly obvious.

1971: Francis Wolff dies. The label moves towards fusion and continues to have hits.

1975: A re-issue programme continues the tradition of Blue Note's heyday, with classic albums made available again. This particular programme survives until 1981.

1985: Blue Note is fully revived by Bruce Lundvall and Michael Cuscuna, at Capitol Records, with a comprehensive re-issue catalogue of old classics and previously unheard gems. New artists are signed, as well as new albums from old faces such as McCoy Tyner. The label celebrates with a party at the Town Hall, New York and the whole jamboree is committed to vinyl and video.

1990: Blue Note is afforded space in many surveys of Twentieth Century music, outlining its indelible importance.


“Reid Miles designed almost 500 Blue Note record sleeves during a period of some fifteen years: a canon of work so individually styled, that a Reid Miles sleeve was as recognizable as the trumpet timbre of Miles Davis or the plaintive phrasing of Billie Holiday.

As Blue Note embraced the musical changes of its recording artists, so Reid Miles caught the slipstream creating sleeves that transcended the mugshots and mysticism of other genres' sleeves.

Whether cropping the photographs (taken by label boss Francis Wolff) to minimal proportions or finding a funky typeface, Reid Miles made the cover sound like it knew what lay in store for the listener: an abstract design hinting at innovations, cool strides for cool notes, the symbolic implications of typeface and tones.

Though commercial artists such as Harold Feinstein and Andy Warhol were commissioned by Blue Note, it wasn't until Reid Miles took over as the in-house designer that the label could boast of a visual identity to match the 'Blue Note sound' created by Rudy Van Gelder and Alfred Lion. Though Miles considered the Warhol sleeves for Kenny Burrell's records to be wonderful, especially in their graphic simplicity, his own work still gives him a sense of tremendous pride. As with any innovator, Reid Miles could be found ahead of the pack; stylistic changes made in his work consistently re-invented themselves to prevent any sense of deja vu.

In 1958 the sleeve for Peckin' Time by Hank Mobley showed the album's acetate protective sleeve, handles and fortified corners clearly visible, with the main session details printed on the outside. In 1959 this was stripped down to a card folder for Jackie's Bag by Jackie McLean, tied in the centre by a coloured thong, with the session details printed on a label. A visual pun appears: Art Taylor is listed as Art Sailor but this is poorly concealed by a series of typed Xs. Miles considers this sleeve to be 'an incredible concept for the time'. The rakish angle of the stamp bearing the album's title combined with the humour create an informality that would only re-occur in the 'Sgt. Pepper' period.

As the label moved into the Sixties, Miles found the inspiration for what he considers his best work for Blue Note. The changes in the consumer world brought about an era of design classics, amongst them the E-Type Jaguar sports car. With its reptilian headlights and elongated, curvaceous wings it provided the perfect foil to frame the relaxed features of Donald Byrd. The album was titled A New Perspective which was triumphantly reiterated by the foreshortening effect of Miles' camera position. The fine lines combine to give a smoothness redolent of skin, not steel.

Miles' needle, despite this success, did not stick in this stylistic groove. In 1964 he produced the ultimate pared down graphics of In 'n Out for Joe Henderson. The typeface swerved to suit the implications of the title whilst the artist's photograph, so often abbreviated, became the definitive punctuation mark forming, as it did, the dot of the ‘i’.

However, Miles was to return to the car motif, almost a year to the day from the highway codes of In 'n Out, for Stanley Turrentine's Joyride. Perhaps this is the culmination of the design traits most associated with Blue Note through the Fifties and Sixties. The incorporation of the musician's face, two typefaces, a car and the abstract textures in equal measures forms a startling image. The headlight cowling puts the musician in context vis-a-vis the title; however, the swirl of undergrowth and the comparative sharpness of the musician's reflection suggest the capturing of a fleeting moment suspended in this timeless composition.

Whilst Pacific Jazz had William Claxton, with his photographic eye for 'la mode' of the medalist, and Clef had the unmistakable, quirky wit of David Stone Martin's much-copied linear drawings, Blue Note had Reid Miles. Whatever was Hank Mobley's next groove was Reid Miles' next move!”


“Consider the irony - the button-down shirt, which came to symbolize all that was hip about the Blue Note musicians, was originally English. Polo players at the turn of the century were seen by John Brooks, of Brooks Brothers, to fasten their collars with buttons to keep them from snapping in their faces. Brooks, no novice in such matters, took the idea back to New York and turned it into standard issue Ivy League.

This piece of sartorial history was of no concern to us, however; the mere fact that Hank Mobley, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey and other Blue Note luminaries were photographed wearing these shirts, on their respective album covers, was endorsement enough.

Now I'm sure to those musicians it was just another clean shirt, but in the early Sixties, unless your taste was for home-grown, the importance of being imported applied to the clothes as much as to the records. While Modern Jazz was required listening, the desired look for any self-respecting hipster was American Ivy League.

Time not going to clubs, listening to records or just hanging out was reserved for tracking down those essential imported threads. Black and white photographs on the backs of record sleeves, copies of Esquire and Down Beat magazines helped bring the details into focus.

It was an obsession; a friend of mine was not a happy person until he owned a striped button-down identical to the Shirt Big John Patton wore on the sleeve of The Way I Feel. Eventually the obsession turned into some kind of eternal quest to score the correct items of clothing on the menu -narrow lapels to go, hold the double-breasted!

Let me tell you what we looked like. You can probably get an argument about it, but the generally accepted shirt was either plain blue or white Oxford cloth button-down, a close second was the tab collar. The necktie was knitted, narrow, very black and made by Rooster. A leather or webbing belt held up the trousers of a three-button, natural-shouldered, half-lined raised-seam suit, with the inevitable six-inch hooked vent. The purist suit was in tan needlecord, or olive or dark blue cotton. At the bottom of the narrow, plain-front trousers, beneath the one-and-a-half-inch cuffs, was a pair of long wing-tip brogues or beef-roll loafers with the lowest heels you've ever seen.

The Mecca for most of these ready made American clothes was the late, great store - Austins', situated on Shaftesbury Avenue in London. A visit to which severely dented the hard-earned folding.

Today, by way of compensation, with original Blue Note records fetching prices that Sotheby's would be proud of, you can still buy a Brooks Brothers' button-down shirt for about forty-eight dollars - plus the airfare to New York.”

Friday, July 21, 2017

Ornette Coleman The "New Bird" by Grover Sales

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“When the musicians hang on to a few rhythmic phrases Coleman has been able to create — when they realize they have a new camouflage of atonality, no time bars, no key signature — when they simultaneously begin to jabber in this borrowed style in all the nightclubs all over America—then the walls of all the nightclubs will probably crumble. . . .”
- Charles Mingus,Mingus Dynasty (Columbia CL 1440):

“Mingus's foresight bordered on clairvoyance. In the sixties, as "free jazz" began to alienate much of the jazz audience, coinciding with the ascendancy of rock among the young, leading jazz clubs from New York to San Francisco closed their doors forever.”
- Grover Sales

Jazz is constantly transforming itself.

For proof of this, just checkout the many styles of the music that rapidly evolved from 1925 to 1975: from Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives/Sevens recordings in 1925 to Miles Davis’ Jazz-Rock Fusion, electronically ladened troika of Get Up With It [1974], Pangaea [1975] and Agharta [1976], the number of approaches to the music and the pace at which these changes occurred would literally make one’s head spin.

Many of these changes were jarring at first: The Swing Era’s collision with the Bebop movement as led by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie;  the Birth of the Cool and Modal Jazz with Miles Davis in the vanguard; the “Coltrane Changes” [major thirds modulations]; the unusual time changes initiated by Dave Brubeck’s Quartet; the fusing of Jazz with Rock ‘n Roll, to emphasize only a few, transformative examples.

But they were nothing compared to the explosive reaction from the Jazz World that greeted the arrival of the “music” of Ornette Coleman [1930-2015]. I put the word music in quotation marks because there were many at the time who refused to considered it as such.

One of the better descriptions of the effect that the appearance of Ornette Coleman had on the Jazz scene is contained in Grover Sales, Jazz America’s Classical Music.

By way of background, the following appeared in as an obituary following Grover Sales’ death in 2004. You can locate the complete text for Ornette Coleman The "New Bird"  in Jazz: America’s Classical Music [New York: Prentice Hall, 1984; New York: Da Capo Paperback Edition, 1992].

“Strongly opinionated and superbly literate, longtime Bay Area resident Grover Sales was the kind of jazz critic who left no doubt about where he stood on issues ranging from the genius of Lenny Bruce to the paucity of gay jazz musicians.

During a career that spanned 50 years Sales wrote about jazz, film and cultural politics and published widely in the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, the Tiburon Ark and Gene Lees' Jazzletter. He wrote three books: Jazz: America's Classical Music, a biography of John Maher and, with his wife Georgia, The Clay-Pot Cookbook, which sold more than 800,000 copies.

Sales was also publicist for the Monterey Jazz Festival from its birth in 1958 until 1965, and for the hungry i nightclub. He also did freelance publicity work for artists such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland and Dick Gregory, and wrote liner notes for several Fantasy recordings.

Over the years, he taught jazz history courses at Stanford University, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, San Francisco State University and the JazzSchool.

Sales became a jazz fan at 16, after hearing a broadcast of Benny Goodman's band with drummer Gene Krupa, and later became what he called "an inveterate Ellington groupie" after hearing a recording of "Black And Tan Fantasy".

After serving in the Army Air Corps in Southeast Asia during World War II, Sales studied at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and then settled in the Bay Area, where he received a BA in history from the University of California at Berkeley.”...

“Even before the passing of Bird the jazz press was abuzz with speculation on his successor, a fitting pastime for an era obsessed with experiment and change. Because jazz musicians and journalists tend to form a cloistered in-group, they naively anticipated a Mozartian fertility god like Parker to pop up every spring like some new welterweight. Where, they wondered, was the "New Bird"? Was it tenorman Johnny Griffin who was "faster than Bird"? Sonny Rollins? John Coltrane?

Suddenly, in 1958, word got out that the Messiah had arrived in the person of Ornette Coleman, a strange, intense young Texan who wrote bizarre tunes declaimed on a plastic alto sax in a radically new and disturbing way. Few would deny that Ornette Coleman is the most controversial musician in all of jazz. Even more than Parker and Gillespie in the bebop era, Coleman's ascension split the jazz world into two hostile camps. Nor was this breach soon to heal, for unlike Parker, the controversy over Coleman rages to this day.

Coleman's earliest champions included Gunther Schuller, Nat Hentoff, and Martin Williams who assigned him no less than three lengthy cuts in the Smithsonian Collection (Smic 12/1, 12/2, 12/3). His most prestigious support came from the Modern Jazz Quartet's John Lewis who claimed "Coleman is doing the only really new thing in jazz since the innovations of Parker, Gillespie and Monk." (Spellman, Black Music: Four Lives.) Many young soloists who were already notable and were to become more so — Rollins, Coltrane, Roland Kirk, Eric Dolphy — were profoundly changed by Coleman's concept of "free jazz." Tenorman Joe Henderson told Leonard Feather in 1966: "Ornette inspired me to move from the canal-like narrow-mindedness of the 40s through the latter 50s to the Grand Canyon-like harmonic awareness of the 60s." (Feather, Encyclopedia of Jazz in the Seventies.) Shelly Manne, the drummer on Coleman's second LP and one of the few older musicians to endorse his new style, offered a rare insight when he told Nat Hentoff:

Ornette sounds like a person crying or a person laughing when he plays. And he makes me want to laugh and cry The real traditional players will do those things to you. Although he may be flying all over the horn and doing weird things metrically, the basic feelings are still there. ... He makes you listen so hard to what he's doing that he makes you play a whole other way. . . . somehow I became more of a person in my own playing. He made me feel freer." (Hentoff, The Jazz Life.)

But most of the established players regarded Coleman's departures from bebop with skepticism at best. Roy Eldridge told Hentoff in The Jazz Life:

I listened to Coleman high, and I listened to him cold sober. 1 even played with him. I think he's jiving, baby. He's putting everybody on. They start out with a nice lead-off figure, but then they go off into outer space. They disregard the chords and they play odd numbers of bars. I can't follow them. I even listened to him with Paul Chambers, Miles Davis' bass player, "you—you're younger than me—can you follow Ornette?" Paul said he couldn't either.
Thelonious Monk, once stigmatized as a far-out cultist, sounded a lofty note of orthodoxy when he told Hentoff, "there's nothing beautiful in what he's playing. He's just playing loud and slurring his notes. Anybody can do that... 1 think he has a gang of potential though, but he's not all they say he is right now." (Hentoff 1975.) Leonard Feather's down beat "Blindfold Tests" drew similar responses when Ornette first burst on the scene:

Charlie Byrd: (1960) "Coleman's a sweet and sincere guy... but I resent his being touted as a great saxophonist ... as for people making an analogy of Parker and Coleman, that's kind of ridiculous."

Andre Previn: (1961)".. . an unmitigated bore . . . turning your back on any tradition is anarchy."

Benny Carter: "From the very first note he's miserably out of tune."

Miles Davis: "Hell, just listen to what he writes and how he plays. If you're talking psychologically, the man is all screwed up inside."

Alto saxist Paul Desmond told Gene Lees that "listening to Ornette is like being imprisoned in a room painted red with your eyes pinned open."

Coleman's painful struggle for acceptance and the barest livelihood is well covered in A. B. Spellman's Black Music: Four Lives. A native of Fort Worth, he toured the Southwest territory with rhythm 'n' blues bands that left a lasting mark on his urgent style. For all his drastic departures from tradition, Ornette, claim his advocates, remains basically a blues-man. By the late 1940s he was already forming the eccentric, unpredictable style that aroused the anger of fellow bandsmen. Leaders fired him or paid him not to play. Tenor sax giant Dexter Gordon rudely ordered him off the bandstand. He supported himself, poorly, with a succession of menial daytime jobs—the kind that jazzmen call "slaves." These humiliations were compounded by ugly brushes with racial violence that left him guarded and touchy but no less determined to follow his own bent. Moving to Los Angeles, Coleman began to attract a coterie of young players like the dextrous drummer, Ed Blackwell, who told Spellman:

Ornette sounded a lot like Parker back then, and he was still hung up with one-two-three-four time. I had been experimenting with different kinds of time and cadences . . . Ornette's sound was changing too, and a lot of musicians used to think he played out of tune. He never used to play the same thing twice, which made a lot of guys think that he didn't know how to play.

Coleman's first break came in 1958 when Lester Koenig, producer of the Los Angeles jazz label, Contemporary, gave him his first record date, Something Else! (Contemporary S7551) with Don Cherry on trumpet, Walter Norris on piano, Don Payne on bass, and Billy Higgins on drums. For all the fuss this record kicked up, its departures from standard bebop hardly seem radical compared to the records Coleman was to make within a few years. The instrumentation and basic structure of Angel Voice was similar to the Bird's Nest of Parker a decade earlier. Both pieces are based on I Got Rhythm; both begin and end with trumpet and alto sax unison statements of a "head" that sandwich a succession of solos. Coleman's pianist and bassist are still working along conventional bebop lines. What is most striking about Something Else!, besides Coleman's slide-whistle conception of pitch, is the originality of compositions like Invisible and The Disguise.

Coleman soon made drastic changes in his group to urge it closer to the "free" concept he had been hearing all along. Though the pianoless quartet did not originate with him, Coleman's exclusion of a keyboard instrument was grounded on a different rationale than Gerry Mulligan's. His playing, and that of his disciples, was freeing itself from the pianistic "prison" of the chromatic scale in order to explore off-pitch notes and quarter tones, common in African and other ethnic musics, that would clash with a "properly" tuned keyboard. "There are some intervals," said Coleman, "that carry the human quality if you play them in the right pitch. I don't care how many intervals a person can play on an instrument; you can always reach into the human sound of a voice on your horn if you're actually hearing and trying to express the warmth of the human voice." (Spellman, Black Music.) Coleman's most gifted followers—Coltrane, Dolphy, and Kirk—adapted his notion of "crying" through a horn.

The absence of a piano also helped to free Coleman and his group from improvising on chord progressions. Coleman told Nat Hentoff,

What I'm trying to do is to make my playing as free as I can. The creation of music is—or should be—as natural as breathing. ... Jazz is growing up. It's not a cutting contest anymore . . . if you put a conventional chord under my note, you limit the number of choices I have for my next note. If you do not, my melody may move freely in a far greater choice of directions. (Liner notes, The Best of Ornette Coleman, Atlantic SD 1558.)

Coleman's discovery of bassist Charlie Haden proved a major breakthrough; at last he had found the "free" bassist he sought all along. Coleman instructed the flexible, receptive Haden to

forget about changes in key and just play within the range of the idea.... so after a while of playing with me it just became the natural thing for Charlie to do ... it doesn't mean because you put an F7 (chord) down for the bass player he's going to choose the best notes in the F7 to express what you're doing. But if he's allowed to use any note that he hears to express F7. then that note's going to be right because he hears it, not because he read it off the page. (Spellman, Black Music.)

Coleman allied himself with drummers Billy Higgins and Ed Blackwell, who developed a freer style not tied to playing steady time but to making the drums more of an independent melodic instrument. As with bebop, Coleman's unorthodox rhythm section was the high hurdle most traditional players could not clear. Coleman's biographer, A. B. Spellman, confessed his reaction to the first LP was skeptical: "... typical of the general critical reception, I thought the saxophonist was some oddball imitator of Parker, but I can see now that this was more because of the rhythmic placement of his notes than because of the actual melodic material that he was using."

Aside from Coleman's "rhythmic placement of notes," his pitch threw many listeners off. Spellman wrote: "On first hearing, I actually did not recognize the melodic content of Ornette's music (because).. . these melodies, simple as they are, are difficult to sort out if one is offended by the sound of Ornette's instrument."

Lonely Woman (Smic 12/1) is Coleman's best-known and most accessible piece for the uninitiated. This haunting ballad begins and ends with a trumpet and alto sax unison statement of a theme that, for all its originality, lies so much within the tradition of the popular song that singer Carmen McRae performed it with her own lyrics. What lies between, however, is Coleman's and Charlie Haden's unconventional sliding in and out of pitch and drummer Higgins's "free" concept of time. Listeners who approach Lonely Woman with open ears and steel themselves against the abrasive "off" pitch of Coleman's plastic horn may find themselves strangely moved by the naked emotions of this declamatory outcry. His oblique approach to Gershwin's Embraceable You (Atlantic SD 1558) shows how far he departed from the relative orthodoxy of Parker's treatment (Smic 7/8, 7/9). On the same album Ramblin’ offers a good example of Coleman's way with a funky blues, bristling with wit and high spirits as does much of his work.

With his celebrated package, Free Jazz (Smic 12/3), Coleman cut his few remaining ties to bebop. The ten-minute excerpt in the Smithsonian Collection was taken from a 36 minute performance on Atlantic (S-1364).
Thanks to the long playing record, free jazz advocates could now stretch out as they did in nightclubs with uninterrupted 45 minute sets devoted to a single composition (to the alarm of club owners anxious to push drinks). Here, stereo recording technique plays a crucial role because Coleman spatially divided his disciples into a double-quartet for the 1963 waxing of
Free Jazz:

alto sax (Coleman) trumpet (Don Cherry) bass (Charlie Haden) drums (Ed Blackwell)

bass clarinet (Eric Dolphy) trumpet (Freddie Hubbard) bass (Scott LaFaro) drums (Billy Higgins).

Stereo allows the listener to separate these voices of an unusually dense octet that is improvising collectively. As Martin Williams indicates in his Smithsonian notes, this session took place "with no preconceptions as to themes, chord patterns or chorus lengths. The guide for each soloist was a brief ensemble part which introduces him and which gave him an area of musical pitch."

Today, twenty-five years after Coleman's hotly-debated debut, how does his work stand up? Do his records stand the test of time or will they survive only as historical curiosities? Is his legacy permanent? Just what kind of a musician is he?

In The Making of Jazz, James Lincoln Collier makes a sound case for Coleman as that anomaly in modern jazz, a primitive musician. Nothing derogatory is implied here. As Collier points out, primitive artists, like the painter Rousseau, function largely on instinct without the benefit (or, as some may insist, the hindrance) of formal academic training. While Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker were well schooled in harmony and could "think ahead" any number of chord changes at high speed, Ornette Coleman, unencumbered by such theories, felt "free" to pour out anything summoned up by his raw emotional state of the moment. This notion of Coleman-as-primitive is buttressed by his naive, self-taught playing of trumpet and violin, on which, his admirers claim, "he sounds amazingly like himself." (It was said that after hearing Coleman play violin in a club, Thelonious Monk admonished him at intermission: "Why do you bullshit the people? Do you have any idea how much discipline and training it takes to play the violin? Stick to the alto—you can play that.")

Coleman inspired a number of front-rank players whose work shows greater promise of survival than his own—Coltrane, Rollins, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and the extraordinary Eric Dolphy who has yet to be given his due two decades after his early death. History seems to recall not those who did it first but those who did it best. Franz Lizst was an early influence on Bartok, but few would deny Bartok was the better composer.

While Coleman opened new exploratory fields for Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, trombonist Roswell Rudd, soprano saxist Steve Lacy, and even former detractors like Cannonbail Adderley, his notoriety emboldened lesser talents to drape themselves in "free jazz" or the "new thing" to cloak a lack of inspiration and originality. Charlie Mingus saw this early in his 1959 liner notes to Mingus Dynasty (Columbia CL 1440):

When the musicians hang on to a few rhythmic phrases Coleman has been able to create — when they realize they have a new camouflage of atonality, no time bars, no key signature — when they simultaneously begin to jabber in this borrowed style in all the nightclubs all over America—then the walls of all the nightclubs will probably crumble. . . .

Mingus's foresight bordered on clairvoyance. In the sixties, as "free jazz" began to alienate much of the jazz audience, coinciding with the ascendancy of rock among the young, leading jazz clubs from New York to San Francisco closed their doors forever.”

[Obviously, the above was written in the early years of Ornette’s career. By the time of his death in 2015, Coleman’s music had endured and Ornette had attained international status as an acclaimed Jazz star.]

The Smithsonian references are to The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz which is available in both CD and vinyl used copies either singly or in boxed sets from a variety of resellers.