Sunday, October 02, 2011

Mo' OC

The Ornettemania continues at mi casa. Like Radio Raheem with his Public Enemy, it's all I want to hear. Just re-read John Litweiler's Ornette Coleman: A Harmolodic Life and the relevant portions of Valerie Wilmer's As Serious As Your Life and A.B. Spellman's Black Music: Four Lives to get '90s, '70s, and '60s perspectives on the man and his art. I'm realizing that in the same way as Hendrix was the water I grew up swimming in, Ornette is the artist who, for me, most defines the years from '75 (when I stopped being able to listen to Jimi's music because so many people I knew had harmed themselves with drugs in the name of "being like him") to '89 (when my future ex-wife donated all my records to Goodwill in Shreveport).

There were a lot of changes in my life over those years. In '75, I'd dropped out of college and was living at home, working at the record store where I'd worked during high school, and starting to check out some of the jazz and 20th century classical musicians mentioned in the list on the inner sleeve of Frank Zappa's Freak Out! or read about in Creem. Nat Hentoff's Jazz Is was another signpost. I'd started buying the Village Voice to read him, Gary Giddins, Greg Tate, Robert Christgau, and later, St. Lester.

Ornette's Science Fiction really resonated for me, and I started checking out his classic Atlantics and the 1962 Town Hall Concert on ESP-Disk. I bought Dancing In Your Head when it was new and suspected Ornette might have been losing his mind, but kept being drawn back to the record. In a weird way, it reminded me of Beefheart's Magic Band, which I was shocked to discover (when I saw 'em live twice in '77) was playing through-composed pieces, for the most part.

I discovered a radio station in Connecticut, near the left side of the crowded Tri-State Area FM dial, that played four hours of music by Ornette and his sidemen every Sunday afternoon. I collected all the Don Cherry and Charlie Haden records on Horizon, and later, the ones Ornette, Haden, and Blood Ulmer released on Artists House, too. I wrote away to get a New Music Distribution Service catalog so I could hear Cherry's Relativity Suite and the first Old and New Dreams album after reading about them in the New York Times. That was also how, later on, I got to hear Shannon Jackson's first Decoding Society album and his work with Cecil Taylor and Blood.

I had a ticket to see Prime Time at, if my shaky memory serves, Avery Fisher Hall, but the concert was canceled. (The closest I've ever come to seeing Ornette was seeing Old and New Dreams open for Arthur Blythe at Town Hall in '79, on my first visit back home after moving to Texas.) By the time I moved to Texas, Creem and rockaroll in general had started to suck, so I switched my allegiance to Trouser Press (which had evolved from a xeroxed Who-Yardbirds fanzine to a slick-paper journal dedicated to punk and New Wave stuff) and Musician (where Rafi Zabor, Chip Stern, and Bob Blumenthal provided good jazz scrawl).

I was living in Fort Worth during the heyday of Caravan of Dreams, when Ornette, Shannon, and Blood were all regular visitors, but I was too involved with being in the Air Force and starting a family to pay it any mind. This was the time when I put down the guitar (except for singing to my kids) for seven years, after playing with an R&B showband in Korea. I did, however, manage to lay hands on a copy of In All Languages, and I actually bought my first copy of Shirley Clarke's doco Ornette: Made In America from the venue's store when I was working for RadioShack downtown in the early '90s.

I haven't bought a new Ornette record since Virgin Beauty, but now I'm motivated to hear Sound Grammar. I like the way he, Cecil Taylor, and Sonny Rollins are showing how you can stay creative into your 80s. I also think it's interesting that although there have been plenty of other people whose work I dug, there really hasn't been another performer who had the same impact on my thinking about music as Ornette and Jimi.


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