The Shape of Jazz To Come: 5 Ornette Coleman Albums You Need To Hear

News | Jun, 23rd 2015

Pulitzer Prize Winner and NEA Jazz Master Ornette Coleman left an incredible recorded legacy, many of them genre-changing masterpieces for jazz. Celebrate the Ornette with a list of five great albums spanning from 1959-2006.

The Shape of Jazz to Come

Release Year: 1959 | Label: Atlantic Records
Personnel: Ornette Coleman (alto saxophone), Don Cherry (trumpet), Charlie Haden (bass), Billy Higgins (drums)
Why You Need To Hear It: One of jazz’s watershed moments, The Shape of Jazz to Come did away with chord changes, traditional harmonies; indeed, it did away with many of our preconceptions of this music. It’s also hauntingly beautiful, sometimes exuberant, and one of the most bluesy masterpieces of this music.
Purchase: Amazon | iTunes

Free Jazz

Release Year: 1960 | Label: Atlantic Records
Personnel: Don Cherry (trumpet), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Ornette Coleman (saxophone), Eric Dolphy (bass clarinet), Scott LaFaro (bass), Charlie Haden (bass), Billy Higgins (drums), Ed Blackwell (drums)
Why You Need To Hear It: A profound artistic statement in the new music, Free Jazz showed a double quartet in a largely spontaneous, improvised session. Both novel and exhilarating while also beautiful and even familiar (collective improvisation dates back to jazz’s origins), Free Jazz was and is a far more accessible outing than many gave it credit for being.
Purchase: Amazon | iTunes

Dancing in Your Head

Release Year: 1976 | Label: Horizon Records
Personnel: Ornette Coleman (alto saxophone, trumpet, violin), Robert Palmer (clarinet), Master Musicians of Joujouka (reeds, strings, drums), Bern Nix (guitar), Charles Ellerbee (guitar), Jamaaladeen Tacuma (electric bass), Ronald Shannon Jackson (drums)
Why You Need To Hear It: In 1973, Ornette Coleman went to Morocco and made a field recording with the Master Musicians of Joujouka. These tapes were finally released in 1976 on this record, and were paired with tracks featuring the in-formation Prime Time. An infectiously danceable, amazingly melodic and innovative album, and one of Coleman’s most accessible.
Purchase: Amazon iTunes

Of Human Feelings

Release Year: 1979 | Label: Antilles Records
Personnel: Ornette Coleman (alto saxophone) Charles Ellerbee (guitar), Bern Nix (guitar), Jamaaladeen Tacuma (electric bass), Grant Calvin Weston (drums), Denardo Coleman (drums)
Why You Need To Hear It: Prime Time, Ornette’s fusion-style band, was famed for its doubled-up rhythm section and remarkable sense of dance, all within Coleman’s free vision. Of Human Feelings is one of the band’s finest outings, in particular the track Times Square.
Purchase: This title is out of print

Sound Grammar

Release Year: 2006 | Label: Sound Grammar
Personnel: Ornette Coleman – (alto saxophone, trumpet, violin), Gregory Cohen (bass), Anthony Falanga (bass), Denardo Coleman (drums)
Why You Need To Hear It: Pulitzer Prizes for jazz artists are rare; only two artists—Wynton Marsalis and Ornette Coleman - have won one. Coleman’s 2006 masterpiece Sound Grammar earned him the award in 2007, and it’s easy to hear why: a bluesy, sonorous, and even playful album that amply rewards multiple listens.
Purchase: Amazon 

To learn about more jazz greats, enroll in a Swing University course and check out Jazz at Lincoln Center's Jazz Academy Video Library for lessons in jazz history and performance. 

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New to jazz and don't know where to start? With many artists and extensive catalogues of music, a new jazz listener can feel intimidated. We're here to help! Check out our list of 10 albums to get you started on your jazz journey and introduce yourself to some of jazz's great artists.

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Jazz at Lincoln Center mourns the passing of a transformative legend in jazz, Mr. Ornette Coleman. Wynton Marsalis shares a story about Ornette that demonstrated his role as an educator and a leader for future generations of jazz musicians.


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