shape of jazz to come



Bite me. I feel massive in pale skin-tight

boy briefs. Vicious with ruptured ribs, missing

arm, gin and poppy juice. Poppycock. Bite

me. It’ll take more than a shiv on a spring

day to break me in. You put two fingers

in my open mouth: “Cómete mi rico

cariño.” I taste honey’s sting, liqueur’s

purr. You get your whole hand down that hollow

that I call a throat. Suck that flower down,

I tell myself. Suck hard. My chest concaves.

My stump oozes.  I wish it’d rain. I wish

mischief didn’t hurt so; that a meltdown

did more than burn. Bite me. What misbehaves

gets pulped, twist of the wrist, bit of a swish.


Formlessness comes from form; shapelessness from

shape. Jazz rises from classics. Directness.

Simplicity. Structure. You want napalm

but you’re Coitus—fucking–Interruptus.

Sonnets should be like Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do;

water with words’ flow. Here’s the scar that ripped

me from asshole to apatite. I knew

that the blade had form, that each drop that dripped

contained structure. I’ve lost an arm, an eye,

a tongue. I’ve misbehaved while a groundswell

rose on the horizon. If this is rhyme

it is harsh. If there is form it’s the sly

sort that I carry with me into hell

along with all my gristle and bone-slime.


But when I returned, haunted and bloody,

I took the leftover bulgolgi out

and ate it in gulps, cold. I was hungry,

hurt and all my bruises were a copout —

by the time you read this they’ll be gone. Bones

set back in place. “Gyrate and cum,” you said.

One dark night.” My soul rumbles: “Slush, Cyclones,

Twisters.” As if this dark sky was what bled

me and not my cravings. Korean beef.

Sultry. My jaw exposed down to the slime.

Flap of skin. Groundswell. Bite me. I chew hard.

All words are shapes that lead to scars since grief

contains no form. The paradox of rhyme.

Art that the avante-garde must disregard.



In Spanish, “Cómete mi rico cariño,” translates into, “Eat my delicious honey.” Considered, “non-classical,” Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do is a style of Chinese Kung Fu best summed up as, “the art of fighting without fighting … be like water; move fluidly without hesitation.” You need the form in order to break free from it. Or, as Charles Mingus said, “Anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.” Like Bach. I am more in love with the rhyme than the horrendous narrative flow.

Ornette Coleman, The Shape of Jazz to Come [Atlantic, 1959] was a watershed event in the genesis of avant-garde jazz, profoundly steering its future course and throwing down a gauntlet that some still haven’t come to grips with. The record shattered traditional concepts of harmony in jazz, getting rid of not only the piano player but the whole idea of concretely outlined chord changes. The pieces here follow almost no predetermined harmonic structure, which allows Coleman and partner Don Cherry an unprecedented freedom to take the melodies of their solo lines wherever they felt like going in the moment, regardless of what the piece’s tonal center had seemed to be. Plus, this was the first time Coleman recorded with a rhythm section – bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Billy Higgins – that was loose and open-eared enough to follow his already controversial conception. Coleman’s ideals of freedom in jazz made him a feared radical in some quarters; there was much carping about his music flying off in all directions, with little direct relation to the original theme statements. If only those critics could have known how far out things would get in just a few short years; in hindsight, it’s hard to see just what the fuss was about, since this is an accessible, frequently swinging record. It’s true that Coleman’s piercing, wailing alto squeals and vocalized effects weren’t much beholden to conventional technique, and that his themes often followed unpredictable courses, and that the group’s improvisations were very free-associative. But at this point, Coleman’s desire for freedom was directly related to his sense of melody – which was free-flowing, yes, but still very melodic. Of the individual pieces, the haunting “Lonely Woman” is a stone-cold classic, and “Congeniality” and “Peace” aren’t far behind. Any understanding of jazz’s avant-garde should begin here.


Intro to Jazz

A few months back @espy asked me to do a Intro to Jazz post. I really do not feel qualified to do such a post. However, I do think I can provide a good starting point for anyone who wants to begin a journey in jazz music. This is my list. It is not THE list. What THE list is I don’t know but I can tell you this isn’t it. I suppose THE list is YOUR list. Hopefully, after listening to these albums (pictured above) you will subtract from these and add your own favorites. So here goes…

The world changed when Louis Armstrong stepped off a train in Chicago on August 8, 1922 from his native New Orleans. He travelled there to play with his mentor King Oliver. He was pop before pop knew it was pop. He was MJ before MJ was thought about. He was any artist you think is the best of the best and he was that before them all. Any Intro to Jazz in my view has to start with him.

It never ceases to amaze me how much people know about the mistakes in life Billie Holliday and Charlie Parker made collectively, but how little they know about their music. Music For Torching (1955) is Lady Day with all the sadness, comfort and beauty you expect to hear from her. Charlie Parker vol. 1 (1955) contains some of his most revolutionary work such as “Now’s the Time” and “Chasing the Bird”. Don’t pigeon hole Lady Day and Bird into the drug addict box…they gave the world of jazz and at large much, much more than that.

Thelonious Monk has been described as innovative, weird, eccentric, proflic, crazy, and just about every other adjective you can think of. Sounds like a genius to me. “Round Midnight”, “Straight No Chaser” everybody loves those. Mine? Epistrophy…have some.

Sonny Rollins is what makes me wholly unqualifed to write this post. How in the hell do you describe music that good in words? You could start with Saxophone Colossus (1956) or Way Out West (1957) but I love Freedom Suite (1958) because i just feels like Rollins not giving a damn about anything or anyone and playing…love that.“

Trane. Live at the Village Vanguard man. The fan blowing on a 70 degree night man. The very definition of proflic man. Spiritual man. I’m not explaining this choice any further man. Because Trane. Man.

I’ll admit this straight out. I’m not the biggest Ornette Coleman fan. That’s because I’m not a big free jazz guy. Hard Bop is more my thing. But there are two albums of his that just are everything: Something Else!!! (1958) and The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959). To me, he’s an important part of your introduction because innovated an entire new style of playing. Some have free jazz described as self-indulgent I don’t agree but I’ll let you decide that.

Art Blakey is my favorite jazz artist of all time. It was Lee Morgan (who could have easily made this list) but that changed with Free For All (1964). In my opinion, Art Blakey reclaimed jazz from those who dared to believe that black people were no longer at the forefront of the genre. From Hank Mobley to Wynton Marsalis, any list of "Messengers” reads like a who’s who in jazz music so you would be wise to delve into any and all Blakey albums. “The Core” on Free For All is just a transcendant piece of music to me…beyond dope, but you could probably say that about alot of Blakey offerings.“

You know damn well why Miles is on this list. Miles takes notes, unpacks them, holds them up, shows them to you, puts them back into his trumpet and then injects them into your soul. In his day, he did this while telling you to kiss his ass. Some hate that fact. I, for one, love that. There’s a reason why the two jazz artists you know best is Miles and Trane…a very good reason. I chose the Birth of the Cool(1957) for your intro because dammit I’m just tired of everyone talking about Kind of Blue…enough.

Clifford Brown is a name you should know for two reasons: First, because he’s a jazz musicians’ jazz musician. Artists who were shootin’ up and gettin’ high knew better to come to Brown with that because he wasn’t having it. I’ve read so many articles about Brown that speak to how he influenced a generation of trumpet players. The other reason you know is because he could play his ass off. The Clfford Brown-Max Roach (1954) album features a quintet that many consider the best of all time…all I know is "Jordu”, “Joy Spring” and “Delilah” are songs I play religiously. I want to say this as well…Clifford Brown died in a car accident at the age of 25. One of the things I glean from him is that you can have in impact on this world if you decide you want to. Age has very little to do with that. I consider Brown a revolutionary in every sense of the word.

So…where’s Duke Ellington? Where’s Dizzy? Where’s Mingus? Exactly.

Happy Listening.


This is the freedom that played colors off the canvas, as Coleman began not just a new shape of jazz, but the new shape of music to come.

– Lars Gotrich on “Lonely Woman,” via Ornette Coleman In 5 Songs

1959 was the seismic year jazz broke away from complex bebop music to new forms, allowing soloists unprecedented freedom to explore and express. It was also a pivotal year for America: the nation was finding its groove, enjoying undreamt-of freedom and wealth; social, racial and upheavals were just around the corner; and jazz was ahead of the curve.  

Four major jazz albums were made, each a high watermark for the artists and a powerful reflection of the times. Each opened up dramatic new possibilities for jazz which continue to be felt: Miles Davis, Kind of Blue; Dave Brubeck, Time Out; Charles Mingus, Mingus Ah Um; and Ornette Coleman, The Shape of Jazz to Come.

Rarely seen archive performances help vibrantly bring the era to life and explore what made these albums vital both in 1959 and the 50 years since. The programme contains interviews with Lou Reed, Dave Brubeck, Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden, Herbie Hancock, Joe Morello (Brubeck’s drummer) and Jimmy Cobb (the only surviving member of Miles’ band), along with a host of jazz movers and shakers from the 50s and beyond.


It’s quite possible there has never been an album more aptly titled than Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come. Widely accepted as the first free jazz album, Coleman and righthand man Don Cherry trade solos unrestricted by rules of modality or chord changes. Instead of their solos being statements of purpose or pissing contest egotism, the two players can be heard searching and experimenting with melody, activating the listener to pay close attention to each new note and run. Normally this could come off as scattered and jumbled but Coleman’s quartet is reductive and skeletal. The rhythm section is composed of only drums and upright bass, keeping the focus upon each revolutionary improvisation. Every note played is the sound of progress for one of jazz’s most ingenious vanguards.

Ornette Coleman [1930-2015]

NY Times Published: JUNE 11, 2015

Ornette Coleman, the alto saxophonist and composer who was one of the most powerful and contentious innovators in the history of jazz, died on Thursday morning in Manhattan. He was 85.

The cause was cardiac arrest, a representative of the family said.

Mr. Coleman widened the options in jazz and helped change its course. Partly through his example in the late 1950s and early ’60s, jazz became less beholden to the rules of harmony and rhythm, and gained more distance from the American songbook repertoire. His own music, then and later, became a new form of highly informed folk song: deceptively simple melodies for small groups with an intuitive, collective language, and a strategy for playing without preconceived chord sequences. In 2007, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his album “Sound Grammar.”

His early work — a kind of personal answer to his fellow alto saxophonist and innovator Charlie Parker — lay right within the jazz tradition and generated a handful of standards among jazz musicians of the last half-century. But he later challenged assumptions about jazz from top to bottom, bringing in his own ideas about instrumentation, process and technical expertise.

Challenges to the traditions of jazz were the hallmarks of Ornette Coleman’s long career. By Erica Berenstein on Publish Date June 11, 2015. Photo by Martial Trezzini/European Pressphoto Agency.
He was also more voluble and theoretical than John Coltrane, the other great pathbreaker of that era in jazz, and became known as a kind of musician-philosopher, with interests much wider than jazz alone; he was seen as a native avant-gardist and symbolized the American independent will as effectively as any artist of the last century.

Slight, Southern and soft-spoken, Mr. Coleman eventually became a visible part of New York cultural life, attending parties in bright satin suits; even when frail, he attracted attention. He could talk in nonspecific and sometimes baffling language about harmony and ontology; he became famous for utterances that were sometimes disarming in their freshness and clarity or that began to make sense about the 10th time you read them.

Yet his music was usually not so oblique. At best, it could be for everybody. Very few listeners today would need prompting to understand the appeal of his early songs like “Una Muy Bonita” (bright, bouncy) and “Lonely Woman” (tragic, flamencoesque). His run of records for Atlantic near the beginning of his career — especially “The Shape of Jazz to Come,” “Change of the Century” and “This Is Our Music” — pushed through skepticism, ridicule and condescension, as well as advocacy, to become recognized as some of the greatest albums in jazz history.

His composing voice, and his sense of band interplay, was intact by 1959, and this was the moment when he caught the ear of almost every important jazz musician in the world. He wrote short melody sketches, nearly always in a major key, which could sound like old children’s songs, and, in pieces like “Turnaround” and “When Will the Blues Leave?,” brilliant blues lines. With the crucial help of the trumpeter Don Cherry, he organized his band to act like separate hearts within a single organism.

Randolph Denard Ornette Coleman was born in Fort Worth on March 9, 1930, and lived in a house very near one of the many railroad tracks crisscrossing the area. According to various sources, his father, Randolph, who died when he was 7, was a construction worker and a cook, and his mother, Rosa, was a clerk in a funeral home; both, he liked to say, were born on Christmas Day. He attended I.M. Terrell High School — the same school that three of his future bandmates, the saxophonist Dewey Redman and the drummers Charles Moffett and Ronald Shannon Jackson, would later graduate from. Other graduates from the same school included the saxophonists King Curtis, Prince Lasha and Julius Hemphill; the clarinetist John Carter; and Red Connor, a bebop tenor saxophonist with no discographical trail who, Mr. Coleman often said, influenced him by playing jazz as “an idea,” rather than as a series of patterns.

Mr. Coleman’s melodies may be easy to appreciate, but his sense of harmony has been a complicated issue from the start. He has said that when he first learned to play the saxophone — his mother gave him an alto saxophone when he was around 14 — he didn’t understand that because of transposition between instruments, a C in the piano’s “concert key” was an A on his instrument. (He also seems to have believed that when he was reading CDEFGAB, a C-major scale, he was playing the notes ABCDEFG.) When he found out the truth, a lifelong suspicion of the rules of Western harmony and musical notation began.

In essence, Mr. Coleman believed that all people had their own tonal centers, and that “unison” — a word he often used, though not always in its normal musical-theory sense — was a group of people playing together harmoniously, even if in different keys.

“I’ve learned that everyone has their own moveable C,” he said to the writer Michael Jarrett in an interview published in 1995; he identified it as “Do,” the nontempered start of anyone singing or playing a “do-re-mi” major-scale sequence. During the same conversation, he remarked that he always wanted musicians to play with him “on a multiple level.”

“I don’t want them to follow me,” he explained. “I want them to follow themselves, but to be with me.”

Learning by ear, he played alto and then tenor saxophone in rhythm-and-blues and society bands around Texas, backing up vocalists and practicing the honking, gutbucket style that made stars out of Illinois Jacquet and Arnett Cobb. But he had already become entranced by the new kind of jazz known as bebop, and by Parker’s heady, imaginative phrasing.

In 1949, he joined Silas Green From New Orleans, a popular traveling minstrel-show troupe on its last legs. He was fired in Natchez, Miss., he said, for trying to teach bebop to one of the other saxophonists.

In Natchez, he joined the band of the blind blues singer Clarence Samuels. While on tour with the group, he said, he was beaten by a gang of musicians outside a dance hall in Baton Rouge, La., for playing strangely; as the climax of a story he would repeat ever after in variations, they threw his saxophone down the street, or down a hill, or off a cliff.

Soon after the Baton Rouge experience, he moved to Los Angeles in 1953 to play with the R&B bandleader Pee Wee Crayton. In 1954, he married the poet Jayne Cortez, with whom he had a son, Denardo. They divorced in 1964. Mr. Coleman’s survivors include his son, who played drums with him on and off since the late 1960s, and a grandson.

Also in 1954, he bought a white plastic alto saxophone, which became a visual emblem of his early years. He stayed in Los Angeles for six years, finding a core group of musicians who were not only interested in playing his music but also helped define it, including the trumpeters Mr. Cherry and Bobby Bradford, the drummers Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins, and the bassist Charlie Haden.

These musicians were the exceptions; during his Los Angeles period, many wanted nothing to do with Mr. Coleman, a long-haired Jehovah’s Witness dressed in clothes made by his wife. In Mr. Cherry’s description, he “looked like some kind of black Christ figure, but no Christ anybody had ever seen before.”

In early 1958, Mr. Coleman made his first album, “Something Else!!!! The Music of Ornette Coleman,” for the Contemporary Records label. In a six-week run at the Hillcrest Club in late 1958 with a quintet — Mr. Coleman’s group now included Mr. Higgins on drums, as well as the pianist Paul Bley, and some of the music exists on tape — Mr. Haden’s style quickly reoriented itself around the bandleader, and there is no recording of Mr. Coleman that holds closer to the model of Charlie Parker. But he adhered less to a strict rhythmic grid than Parker did: Operating on his own sense of time, he raced and flagged and played his own proud blues lines, diatonic runs, and plump, raw, crying notes.

Mr. Coleman made one more record for Contemporary, “Tomorrow Is the Question!,” with Percy Heath and Red Mitchell on bass and Shelly Manne on drums — and, significantly, nobody on piano; the lack of a pianist to root the music in chords would characterize the sound of Mr. Coleman’s music for a long time thereafter. Then the Ornette Coleman Quartet — with Mr. Cherry, Mr. Haden, and Mr. Higgins — recorded six numbers for Atlantic in May 1959. (John Lewis, the pianist for the Modern Jazz Quartet, had championed Mr. Coleman to Nesuhi Ertegun of Atlantic Records.)

This session was released as “The Shape of Jazz to Come.” This was the first great Coleman band, built entirely of musicians empathetic with him; the record’s great swing and harmonic freedom, its intuitive communication between Mr. Coleman and Mr. Cherry, and its remarkable ease with nonstandard ways of playing jazz made it a classic. But it was not released before a few other events made Mr. Coleman notorious.

Later that year, Mr. Coleman was invited to the School of Jazz in Lenox, Mass., a summer institution run by John Lewis. He played in an array of concerts and workshops, fascinating some of the teaching musicians there and alienating others. He had an impact. “I believe that what Ornette Coleman is playing will affect the whole character of jazz music profoundly and pervasively,” the critic Martin Williams wrote upon hearing him at Lenox.

Then, with his quartet, he hit the Five Spot Café in Manhattan in November 1959 for his first New York gig, a two-week engagement that stretched to two and a half months. (In an unusual move, critics were invited for an early preview on the first night.)

It suddenly became fashionable that winter for journalists to ask established jazz musicians what they thought of Mr. Coleman’s jolting music. Many said, essentially, that he was unformed but promising. John S. Wilson of The New York Times heard him at the Five Spot and wrote a few months later that he had found his playing “shrill, meandering, and pointlessly repetitious” — although by that time Mr. Wilson had already begun revising his opinion. The trumpeter Roy Eldridge did his due diligence on Mr. Coleman before forming an opinion. “I listened to him high and I listened to him cold sober,” he said. “I even played with him. I think he’s jiving, baby.”

In the quartet, Mr. Coleman and Mr. Cherry could be soloing together harmoniously, yet very loosely, sometimes clashing and sometimes flying together; Mr. Cherry described it as playing as if every note were the tonic note, the home note of a song’s key. Mr. Haden helped the music cohere by creating a strong tonal center, and the front-line musicians were only loosely tied to the pulse of the drummer. (Later, Mr. Coleman would coin a term for the music’s guiding principles: “harmolodics,” a contraction of harmony, movement and melody. He claimed to have been working on a book about harmolodic theory, but it was never completed or published.)

In a little under two years, the group made enough music for nine records with Atlantic, including “Free Jazz,” made with a “double quartet” of four musicians in each audio channel. It was not quite “free jazz,” though. Despite the great harmonic mobility among all the musicians, Mr. Coleman relied on polished written melodies to cut the piece into episodes; rhythmically, Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins swung hard, and not in free rhythm.

Mr. Coleman’s music had such a force that even John Coltrane said, in 1961, that 12 minutes he had spent on stage with Coleman amounted to “the most intense moment of my life.”

Around this point Mr. Coleman’s group began to rupture. Disaffected with the normal business practices of jazz, Mr. Coleman started seeking more control for his music and better pay; raising his price brought his bookings down to a dribble in 1961. Mr. Haden was hospitalized for heroin addiction; Mr. Cherry, needing work, joined Sonny Rollins. In 1962 Mr. Coleman rented the Town Hall, the New York performance space, to play with his new trio, which featured David Izenzon on bass and Charles Moffett on drums, and on one piece, with a string quartet.

It was the beginning of Mr. Coleman’s public career in classical music, a much more dissonant and self-consciously European-modernist body of work. He retreated from performance and did not return until 1965, thereby separating himself from the emergence of New York’s free-jazz scene.

When he reappeared, at the Village Vanguard jazz club, he was playing trumpet and violin as well as alto saxophone. He wrote music on a well-paid commission for “Chappaqua,” a movie about drug addiction by the Avon cosmetics scion Conrad Rooks. Mr. Coleman’s work was rejected by that filmmaker, even though the music, for jazz quartet and orchestra, was eventually released by Columbia Records.

In 1966 he made the album “The Empty Foxhole,” with Mr. Haden on bass and his son on drums. Denardo Coleman was 10, and it sounded as if his influences might have been free jazz and his own prepubescent limbic system.

In the late ’60s, Mr. Coleman bought an industrial building in prefashionable SoHo, on Prince Street, and began his do-it-yourself life in earnest, calling his building Artists House and producing concerts. He formed a new band that included Dewey Redman on tenor saxophone; among its albums, for Blue Note and Columbia, were “New York Is Now!” and “Science Fiction.”

In the early ’70s, Mr. Coleman began writing a concerto grosso called “Skies of America,” eventually recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1972. It was the purest demonstration of his harmolodic principle, with parallel lines for orchestra members to play as written, rather than transposing to fit their instruments’ home keys.

In 1973, he traveled to the Rif mountains of Morocco to collaborate with the famed musicians of Jajouka; a short recording of these encounters, with the Jajouka reed players’ untempered approach, confirmed his belief that the “concert key” system of Western tonality was misguided, appeared on his album “Dancing in Your Head,” released in 1977.

It was that album that marked the beginning of Prime Time, Mr. Coleman’s first electric band (it included two guitarists), and a new chapter in his music. Loud, jagged and densely woven, it took few cues from rock; nonetheless, it had an influence not only on the outer circles of jazz but on what would later be called post-punk, the sound of late-’70s bands like the Pop Group and the Minutemen.

Meanwhile, Mr. Coleman was releasing records with Prime Time on his own Artists House label, founded in 1977 with the record producer and lawyer John Snyder, and on A&M Records at the same time. He appeared on “Saturday Night Live” in 1979, one of the few jazz artists to do so. He moved his base of operations to a building on Rivington Street on the Lower East Side, made his son his manager, and worked with Caravan of Dreams, a new performance center and record label based in his hometown, Fort Worth. For his performances there to open the club in 1983, he was given the key to the city.

In 1985, he collaborated with the guitarist Pat Metheny on the album “Song X”; in 1987, he released “In All Languages,” a double album with Prime Time on one disc and his original acoustic quartet on the other. And in 1988 he released “Virgin Beauty,” a Prime Time album with the Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead on board at times as a third guitarist. In 1991, he played on Howard Shore’s soundtrack to the film “Naked Lunch,” based on the novel by William Burroughs.

By this time Mr. Coleman was the avant-garde establishment. He was awarded a National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master fellowship in 1984, and was made a MacArthur Foundation fellow in 1994; he had reached old-master status on the jazz-performance circuit, and gave regular concerts — again with a white saxophone, but metal, not plastic — that were well publicized and well attended, if sometimes curious or outrageous.

He played for four nights at Lincoln Center in the summer of 1997, presenting “Skies of America,” conducted by Kurt Masur; his old quartet music; and a strange show called “Tone Dialing” (after his 1995 album of the same name), with dancers, video, circus performers walking on nails and broken glass, and Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson.

Mr. Coleman formed a new quartet in 2004, with two bassists and Denardo Coleman on drums, and started a new record label, Sound Grammar. In 2007, the same year he won the Pulitzer Prize, he received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award and performed at the Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee. To the alarm of the audience, he passed out from heat stroke, recovering at a nearby hospital.

His performing schedule became more sparse in his last five years; his final public performance was at Prospect Park in Brooklyn in June 2014, as part of a tribute to him organized by his son.

“One of the things I am experiencing is very important,” he said in his Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award acceptance speech. “And that is: You don’t have to die to kill and you don’t have to kill to die. And above all, nothing exists that is not in the form of life because life is eternal with or without people, so we are grateful for life to be here at this very moment.”