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JAZZ A Film By Ken Burns
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Jazz LoungeFree Jazz Style
Free Jazz Style, The styles explained Ornette Coleman
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Free Jazz Style

By Loren Schoenberg, Conductor and Saxophonist

Audio sample Law Years by Ornette Coleman
Recorded 1971
(Courtesy Columbia/Legacy)

Audio Feature Gary Giddins, critic
"What would happen if we get rid of the chords?"
(Audio Excerpt from JAZZ A Film by Ken Burns)

Ornette Coleman's music became known as "free jazz" because it didn't adhere to what had become the standard chord progressions that jazz had been based on up until that time. The lack of a piano in Coleman's band added to its open sound. Coleman's music may been free harmonically, but his concept was rooted firmly in the same classic rhythmic and melodic principles that defined jazz. This was heard early on by John Lewis, the musical director of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Lewis had played with Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Young, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, and his enthusiasm, along with that of the composer Gunther Schuller, helped Coleman break though a wall of indifference and later, hostility to his music.

Audio Feature Charlie Haden, musician
On the freedom of improvisation
(Audio Excerpt from JAZZ A Film by Ken Burns)

The classic quartet of Coleman, cornetist Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Ed Blackwell played some of the freshest music of the 1960's, and its influence still resonates. All of Coleman's recordings swing, and the solos are all based on ideas that stem directly from the melody of the piece at hand. Law Years comes from 1971, and finds the leader joined by two musicians in the front line who brought their own personalities to his music. Tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman was a fellow Texan, and after several years in the Coleman band, joined forces with Cherry, Haden and Blackwell in the quartet Old and New Dreams. Trumpeter Bobby Bradford had played with Coleman (and Eric Dolphy) in Los Angeles as early as 1953, and also worked with Charlie Parker's mentor, the legendary alto saxophonist Buster Smith.