In Memoriam | Jazz Great Ornette Coleman

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Jazz has lost one of its greatest, most innovative musicians as Ornette Coleman passed away this morning in Manhattan at age 85. A family representative told the New York Times the cause of Ornette’s death was cardiac arrest.

Ornette Coleman was born on March 9, 1930 in Fort Worth, Texas. He started out as a tenor saxophonist but quickly switched the alto, which was his primary instrument throughout his long and illustrious career. Coleman was a key figure in the free jazz movement of the 1960s and is even credited with having invented the term as his 1961 album was entitled Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation.

Coleman influenced many in all different walks of the music world thanks to his willingness to innovate. Even the Grateful Dead were influenced by Ornette’s music and had the saxophonist sit-in with them twice in 1993. While the saxophonist is well-known for his role in the free jazz movement, he went on to engage with the jazz avant-garde that followed in his footsteps in the early ’70s. Ornette was also an incredibly talented and prolific composer whose work had more melodic content than one might think from his association as a free jazz icon. He performed frequently even into his later years and recently filed a lawsuit over what he thought was improper use of his work.

The JamBase team sends our thoughts and prayers to Ornette’s friends and family.