The alto saxophonist is one of the select few individuals to change the face of jazz forever. His fittingly titled third album The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959) set the course of improvisational jazz for decades to come. Just one year later, his Free Jazz album gave a name and further direction to the burgeoning experimental jazz scene. Controversial at the time, Coleman’s album — made with fellow soon-to-be-jazz-legends Don Cherry, Freddie Hubbard and Eric Dolphy, among others — remains challenging even to this day.
Free Jazz was a landmark musically as well as conceptually. The album featured two separate quartets on each stereo channel of the LP — which, for the listener, meant hearing two different rhythm sections playing improvisational jazz at the same time for 37 minutes.
Coleman also worked with a number of rock legends over the years. He contributed to Yoko Ono’s version of the 1970 LP Plastic Ono Band, and collaborated with Lou Reed on 2003’s The Raven.
In 2007, Coleman won the Pulitzer Prize for his album Sound Grammar, which peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart.
In late May 2015, a lawsuit was filed on Ornette Coleman’s behalf by his son and legal guardian, Denardo Coleman. The lawsuit accuses Antibalas’ Jordan McLean of releasing an album partially under Coleman’s name without the musician’s express permission. McLean denied any wrongdoing when reached for comment, but the attorney operating on Coleman’s behalf told Billboard the album “was a jam session among a legend where he was permitting individuals to play with him — not under the auspices of creating a record.”
Listen to the entire immortal Free Jazz album below.