Ornette Coleman passed away on Thursday, June 11 in Manhattan at the age of 85 as a result of cardiac arrest.
Coleman helped shape the jazz genre with his rich, mournful tone in the late 1950s. Coleman broke away from a traditional rhythmic jazz structure and showcased his talent through powerful solos fueled by improvisation. The New York Times praises him as “one of the most powerful and contentious innovators in the history of jazz.”
The Pulitzer-Prize winning jazz saxophonist exploded on the scene with the release of his debut album, Something Else!!!!, in 1958. His unorthodox approach to the music eventually helped shape an entire genre. By 1959 Coleman released his masterpiece, The Shape of Jazz to Come, which showcased a full on avant-gard approach and opened up any predetermined structure of the music to overflow with improvisation at any given moment.
Coleman continued to influence many different genres and had a profound impact on Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead. According to an interview with Rolling Stone, Garcia stated:
“His playing has a real purity about it, a real beauty. I think it’s very accessible. But the setting against which it occurs is real dense. Ornette’s music is strangely simple and difficult at the same time. The notes are not difficult. But the harmonic relationships that linger behind them are really deep.”
Garcia even contributed for three tracks on Coleman’s 1989 album Virgin Beauty. Coleman leaves behind a celebrated legacy as an essential architect to such a beloved genre.