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Night Lights Classic Jazz

The Ornette Coleman Songbook

Ornette Coleman's music shook up a generation of jazz artists, but some of them almost immediately began to play it.

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Ornette Coleman Tomorrow

Photo: Album cover art

Early interpretations of a jazz pioneer.

Few musicians in the history of jazz have provoked the kind of excitement and controversy that Ornette Coleman generated when he arrived on the scene at the end of the 1950s. The soft-spoken saxophonist from Texas played and wrote radical music that was also suffused with blues feeling and melody. Despite his abandonment of conventional chord progressions and structures, which Coleman felt hindered improvisation and feeling, his music was and continues to be engaging and accessible to listeners who are willing to accept it on its own terms.

Musicians were right in the middle of the controversy surrounding Coleman. Miles Davis called him “all screwed up inside,” while Gunther Schuller championed his music. Charles Mingus questioned Coleman’s musical aptitude, but admitted “his notes and lines are so fresh… It’s like organized disorganization, or playing wrong right.” Some of his colleagues were frightened for their livelihood; others began to play and record music either inspired or directly written by Coleman himself.

This program features some of the earliest interpretations of Ornette Coleman by artists such as

  • Art Pepper
  • John Coltrane
  • the Modern Jazz Quartet
  • and Archie Shepp.

Music Heard On This Episode

Peace
Archie Shepp/Bill Dixon — Peace (BYG, 1962)
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Peace
Archie Shepp/Bill Dixon — Peace (BYG, 1962)
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Tears Inside
Art Pepper — Smack Up (Contemporary, 1960)
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The Blessing
John Coltrane/Don Cherry — The Avant-Garde (Atlantic, 1966)
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The Invisible
John Coltrane/Don Cherry — The Avant-Garde (Atlantic, 1966)
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Emotions
New York Contemporary Five — Archie Shepp and the New York Contemporary Five (Storyville, 1963)

Notes: Music midpoint bed.

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Lonely Woman
Modern Jazz Quartet — Lonely Woman (Atlantic, 1962)
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Turnaround
Pee Wee Russell — Ask Me Now (Impulse, 1965)
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When Will the Blues Leave
New York Contemporary Five — Archie Shepp and the New York Contemporary Five (Storyville, 1963)
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The Sphinx
Jack Wilson — Blue Note (Something Personal, 1966)
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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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