Jazz Legend Ornette Coleman Dies At 85 [Video]

Ornette Coleman, a self-taught alto saxophone player who was regarded as a genius in jazz circles, died Thursday morning in his New York City home at the age of 85. Friends of Coleman confirmed the death to reporters, but stated they wouldn’t provide any further information. According to reports, the cause of death was cardiac arrest.

Born in a poor neighborhood and growing up fatherless, according to NPR, in Fort Worth, Texas, Ornette Coleman often said in interviews that he grew up “so po’ we couldn’t afford the ‘o’ and the ‘r.’ ” At age 14, he picked up an alto saxophone and started repeating radio melodies. He soon landed in Los Angeles, working on his free-form style.

Ornette went on to become an award winning musician who won not just a Grammy, but a Pulitzer Prize, the Japanese Praemium Imperiale, two Guggenheims, a MacArthur, honorary doctorates, and a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master honor.

Coleman’s motto for his music was “I’d like to go out in space tonight.” Ornette believed in the power of music, telling NPR in a 1997 interview, “As a music, it allows every musician to participate in any form of musical environment without them changing their own personality, their own tone or their way of phrasing.” His fans believed he was the greatest jazz innovator since Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker.

“I listened to Coleman high and I listened to him cold sober,” legendary trumpet player Roy Eldridge once said of Ornette. “I even played with him. I think he’s jiving, baby.”

About learning to play his sax, Coleman said “I didn’t know I was improvising,” Ornette Coleman said. “I just thought that was the way you played music… I didn’t think of a structure and what you could and couldn’t do.”

Yahoo News writes, “Coleman’s outlaw approach involved what he called ‘harmolodics’ – breaking away from traditional harmonic structure and ‘removing the caste system from music.’ ”

His innovating melodies polarized the jazz community, but Coleman found audiences liked his music, reports the New York Times. In 2007, Ornette was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and was an award presenter at the ceremony. He was nominated for a Grammy, once in 2007 for his album Sound Grammar. In 2014, he released his final album, New Vocabulary.

“I wasn’t so interested in being paid. I wanted to be heard,” Ornette Coleman said in 2009 in an interview with Esquire magazine. “That’s why I’m broke.”

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