Ornette Coleman was born March 9, 1930, Fort Worth, Texas. Coleman began playing alto, then tenor saxophone as a teenager and soon became a working musician in dance bands and rhythm-and-blues groups. While working as an elevator operator, he studied harmony and played an inexpensive plastic alto saxophone at obscure nightclubs.
In 1958, Coleman recorded his first album, Something Else!!!!, which notably featured trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Billy Higgins. The three musicians, along with bassist Charlie Haden, later formed a band, and the quartet’s classic recordings included The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959) and Change of the Century (1960). Coleman then moved to New York City. His recordings like Free Jazz (1960), and Beauty Is a Rare Thing (1961), were also influential.
In the 1960s, Coleman taught himself to play the violin and trumpet, using unorthodox techniques. His most notable extended composition is the suite Skies of America, which was recorded in 1972 by the London Symphony Orchestra joined by Coleman on alto saxophone. Coleman formed an electric band called Prime Time, where the music was a fusion of rock rhythms with harmonically free collective improvisations.
Coleman’s early style influenced not only fellow saxophonists but also players of all other instruments in jazz. In recognition of such accomplishment, he received the Japan Art Association’s Praemium Imperiale prize for music in 2001.
Personal life and death
Coleman married poet Jayne Cortez in 1954. The couple divorced in 1964. They had one son, Denardo, born in 1956. Coleman died of a cardiac arrest at the age of 85 in New York City on June 11, 2015. His funeral was a three-hour event with performances and speeches by several of his collaborators and contemporaries.