During his many years in the restaurant business, one of my father’s closest friends was a rather prominent disc jockey whose daily radio program was featured on KMPC-710, a very powerful Hollywood AM radio channel that advertised itself as – “The Station of the Stars.”
For awhile, it seemed that we were very frequent visitors to this DJ’s house and one of the benefits for me was time to leisurely browse through stack upon stack of LP’s that he had accumulated along the living room wall while the adults drank wine and consumed large quantities of Italian food.
Since the DJ’s radio show featured the likes of the popular artists of the day such as Perry Como, Eydie Gormé and Frank Sinatra [arranger Nelson Riddle was a frequent guest at these Epicurean feasts], the Jazz LPs included in these casually arrayed stacks of gratis albums would receive very little AM radio airplay and were therefore fair game for yours truly.
I usually walked out of the place with armfuls of the stuff [remember how heavy LP’s were – ah, the strength of youth!].
Around the time of these visits, after a long association with Pacific Jazz Records, drummer Chico Hamilton had formed a new quintet and moved to Warner Brothers records. ‘Lo and behold' - here in the stash of albums on the DJ’s living room floor was a demonstration-only-copy of
’s initial album for that label – The Chico Hamilton Quintet with Strings Attached [WB 1245]. Chico
Although I was never a great fan of the sound of the cello in
’s earlier quintets, I had always been very fond of the woodwind players and guitarists in these groups: Buddy Collette and Paul Horn along with Jim Hall and John Pisano, respectively. Chico
And while I was familiar with Dennis Budimir,
’s new guitarist on the Warners’ album from the magnificent New Groove Pacific Jazz recording that he had recently made with alto and baritone saxophonist Bud Shank and trumpeter Carmel Jones, I had no idea who Eric Dolphy was, he being the latest addition to Chico ’s woodwind chair. Chico
Boy, was I in for a big surprise!
While with Chico Hamilton’s quintet, Eric was in the process of developing a distinctive sound and style of improvising on both the alto saxophone and flute. He would soon add the bass clarinet to create a formidable woodwind arsenal which he would use to pave the way into some new, Jazz frontiers in the 1960s.
THE LOS ANGELES UNDERGROUND
© -Robert Gordon, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
In the autumn of 1959, the jazz world was set on its ear by a new group which appeared in
's famed Five Spot bar. The Ornette Coleman Quartet - Don Cherry, trumpet; Coleman, alto sax; Charlie Haden, bass; Billy Higgins, drums - had launched a revolution as sweeping as that of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and the beboppers a decade earlier. But whereas bop had been incubated in New York 's New York Harlem itself, in clubs like Minton's Playhouse, the new jazz of Ornette and company had first been formulated in . Los Angeles
It would hardly be fair, of course, to credit
as the birthplace of free jazz. In the first place, pianist Cecil Taylor and her New Yorkers had been stretching the boundaries of Modern jazz to the breaking-point since the mid-fifties. More importantly, the Los Angeles musicians and jazz audience gave Ornette and his fellows little nurture during their stay in the west: Ornette's small circle formed, in effect, an underground within an underground. Nevertheless, many important steps leading to the jazz revolution of the 1960s took place on the Coast during the fifties. In fact some of the roots of that revolution may be traced back to the years before Ornette's arrival on the Los Angeles scene. Los Angeles
Some time in 1946, on one of many similar casual gigs, Charles Mingus played for a dance. The alto saxophonist that evening was a youngster from
on his first paying job, Eric Dolphy. In later years, of course, Eric would figure prominently in some of Mingus's finest groups, but this early meeting apparently left little impression on either musician. Dorsey High School
Nevertheless, the two had much in common. Both were extremely dedicated musicians with insatiable appetites for practicing, and both remained steadfastly opposed to the status! quo in music throughout their careers.
Eric Dolphy was born in
on Los Angeles 20 June 1928. He was! an only child and was brought up in a loving, middle-class home Eric demonstrated a love for music at an early age and began playing clarinet in grammar school; by the time he was a student at Foshay junior High he was playing in the Los Angeles City School Orchestra. His parents, recognizing Eric's dedication had a studio built in the back yard so that he could practice undisturbed; the room would later serve as a favorite jamming spot for like-minded musicians. He was also one of the many distinguished musicians who studied with Lloyd Reese.
After graduating from Dorsey High, Eric attended Lo Angeles City College as a music major. One of his section-mate in the LACC band was altoist Vi Redd, who had also played alongside Eric throughout grammar and high school. Vi would later remember Eric not only as an extremely dedicated and hard-working musician, but also as a thoughtful and considerate friend. As an example, she recalls the time she ran into trouble during a gig. ' ... I was playing a job in
[a suburb of LA] and I broke my own mouthpiece while taking my horn out of the case. I hurriedly called Eric and he came all the way out from town to bring me one I could use.’ [Quoted by Vladimir Simosko and Barry Tepperman, Eric Dolphy, A Musical Biography and Discography, New Yor: DaCapo, 1979] Everyone agrees that the incident was typical of the man. El Monte
During this same period Eric joined the Roy Porter big band, legendary proving-ground for budding jazz musicians. Among the youthful musicians who spent time in the band during it short life (1948 to 1950) were Art and Addison Farmer, Chet Baker, Jimmy Knepper, Joe Maini, Herb Geller, Teddy Edwards, Hadley Caliman,
Bob Gordon and Russ Freeman. Eric, who played lead alto during his tenure, cut his first record with the band. Although most of the sides were not issued at the time, eight numbers recorded by in 1949 have bee unearthed and issued on the anthology Black Savoy . California
The tunes were recorded at two sessions early in 1949, just after the recording ban was lifted. (It's possible the earlier session - listed in Savoy's archives as being held in January - actually took place in late 1948, when the ban was still in effect.) The cuts are fascinating for the glimpse they afford into the early work of future jazz stars. Art Farmer takes all of the trumpet solos (his twin brother Addison is the bassist on the second session) and Jimmy Knepper handles the trombone solos. Most interesting of all, of course, are Eric Dolphy's alto solos.
There has been some disagreement over which solos may be attributed to Dolphy. Everyone connected with the band remembers that the bulk of the jazz alto solos were assigned to the second altoist, Leroy 'Sweetpea' Robinson. Roy Porter himself, according to Dolphy's biographer Vladimir Simosko, has stated that Eric was featured on only one piece (not recorded by
), 'Moods at Dusk'. However, the eight Savoy titles issued since the publication of the biography - belle that claim. To begin with, there is a chase sequence featuring both altoists on the tune 'Sippin' with Cisco'. The cha ' se reveals two good but not quite mature soloists; both are heavily influenced by Charlie Parker (naturally), but one is a bit more adventurous. Moreover, the adventurous youngster exhibits certain stylistic traits that were typical of the mature Eric Dolphy's work. It is of course possible that Dolphy was the more conservative soloist on the Savoys, and that he would later incorporate portions of Leroy Robinson's style into his own work, but it's certainly much easier to assume that the altoist who sounds like Eric Dolphy was Eric. Savoy
Only two of the titles recorded by
were released at the time, and it is easy to understand why when one listens to the entire set. The youthful crew is brash and exuberant, full of fire and spirit, but the ensembles are frequently sloppy and the intonation terrible. The trombones are painfully out of tune on ,Pete's Beat', and every performance has moments when the listener winces at the pitch. The vocals by Paul Sparks on 'This is You' and 'Love is Laughing at Me' are undistinguished and the lyrics trite. Still, the band is exciting and some of the solos are well worth hearing. Art Farmer shows promise of things to come in his solos on 'Pete's Beat', 'Sippin' with Cisco' and 'Howard's Idea', and Jimmy Knepper has a very exciting half chorus on 'Little Wig'. Clifford Solomon and Joe Howard engage in a tenor-sax chase on 'Sippin", and one of the men - probably Solomon - contributes journeyman solos on 'Pete's Beat', 'Howard's Idea' and 'Little Wig'. The best solo by far is that of Eric Dolphy on 'Gassin' the Wig', one of the two tunes originally issued. The restless lines and wide-interval leaps that would become hallmarks of Dolphy's mature style are already very evident. The alto solo on 'Little Wig', the other original release, is briefer and more conservative; the liner notes to Black California credit this one to Eric also, but it may well have Leroy Robinson's. Robinson's solos on 'Pete's Beat', 'Phantom Moon' and 'Love is Laughing at Me' are very Parkeresque, an is easy to understand that he would have been the favored soloist in 1949. At the time, most listeners probably would have agreed the assessment of Dolphy's playing given many years after by the band's leader and drummer, Roy Porter. Porter was asked by an interviewer if he had any idea of Eric's future potential. His answer: Savoy
Well, frankly speaking, no. But don't get me wrong. Everybody were youngsters - a lot of them had just come out of high school. Eric was studying music at LA
. He was very young. Because he could read so well, Eric playing first alto, and was good, but he was really a section man at the time. The heavy solos would fall on Leroy 'Sweetpea' Robinson. Eric soloed too, but he wasn't the heavy in the band. So I had no idea he would go to City College and become a legend. I'm glad he did. [Interview with David Keller, Jazz Heritage Foundation, Vol. IV, No. 5, September/October, 1983]. New York
But even if he wasn't considered a major soloist at the time, Eric's musical and extra-musical influence on the band was considerable. One friend has written that:
Clifford Solomon ... probably one of the few survivors of band, relates how giving Eric was with the other musicians. Eric was no doubt the best reader in the band and the one the best technique, but he was never too busy to help anyone. If any musician needed help, it was Eric who patiently played the passage and explained. The band was riddled with young junkies, and wine was consumed in large quantities but Eric never participated in any of this. Yet he was respected - not considered an oddball. Usually, if you don't partake with cats, then you're almost an outcast. But somehow Eric gained respect even though he had no habit of any kind. [Simosko & Tepperman, op cit., pp. 32-34].
A second recording session for Knockout records is known to have been held shortly following the
sessions, but records were distributed only locally and none is available today. The personnel given for the Knockout recordings is certainly intriguing, including - besides Dolphy - Joe Maini, Savoy Bob Gordon Jimmy Knepper and Russ Freeman. Despite all this talent, Roy Porter found it difficult to keep the band going. 'The only places we could play would be once a week gigs at the Elks, or the Avalon Ballroom downtown or maybe some club dance. The reason the band stayed together so long was pure love. On a lot of nights we wouldn't make more than $3.00 each.’ [Keller, op. cit.]
From 1950 to 1953 Eric served in the army, in the company of tenor saxophonist Walter Benton, who had enlisted at the same time. He was stationed for a while at
(where he played with the Tacoma Symphony Orchestra) and later at the US Naval School of Music in Fort Lewis, Washington . His tour completed, he returned to Washington, DC and once again launched on an intense round of practicing and musical studies. Buddy Collette introduced him to Marle Young, a clarinet and woodwinds instructor, and Marle in turn introduced Eric to the bass clarinet. He also played around town with various groups led by Buddy Collette, Gerald Wilson, George Brown and Eddie Beal. And of course there were always the daily wood-shedding sessions in his practice room that Harold Land has mentioned. Clifford Brown, Max Roach and Richie Powell would become frequent guests at the sessions. In 1954 Eric also met two musicians who would play important parts in his subsequent career: John Coltrane (in town with the Johnny Hodges band) and Ornette Coleman. Los Angeles
By 1956 Eric was leading his own quintet at the Club Oasis. The personnel included Norman Faye, trumpet; Wilfred Middlebrooks, bass; Earl Palmer, drums and Ernest Crawford or Fran Gaddison on piano. He also formed a ten-piece rehearsal band to serve as a vehicle for his arranging abilities. One of the musicians in this band was his close friend trombonist Lester Robinson. All of this preparation finally paid off in 1958 when Chico Hamilton needed a replacement for reedman Paul Horn, who had just left the quintet. Buddy Collette recommended Eric, and Eric thus achieved his first national recognition.
Eric's first recording with the quintet came in April 1958, shortly after he had joined the group. Two numbers were cut for Pacific jazz, 'In a Sentimental Mood' and 'I'm Beginning to See the Light', but they were not to be issued until years later. Eric does have a brief (and apparently edited) alto solo on 'Beginning to See the Light', but there is little hint of his strongly individual style. In the summer of 1958 the Chico Hamilton Quintet was one of the groups filmed at the Newport Jazz Festival for the documentary Jazz on a Summer's Day. Eric can be seen an heard playing flute on a performance of 'Blue Sands'.
Late in the year the group - now made up of Eric, guitarist Dennis Budimir, cellist Nat Gershman, bassist Wyatt Ruther and
- recorded for Warner Brothers records. There were two sessions in October, one of which found the quintet burdened with a string section, but Eric does get in a couple of nice alto solos on the quintet date on Fred Katz's 'Modes' an 'Under Paris Skies'. A third session in December produce several superior cuts and a fine representative album. The album, Gongs East, is by far the best recording by the Chico Hamilton Quintet from this period and the first recording adequately to display Eric's developing style. Chico
There are, to be sure, some rather ornate arrangements in typically Hamiltonian style. 'I Gave My Love a Cherry' an 'Long Ago and Far Away', both arranged by Hale Smith, allowing no room for blowing whatever; Eric plays rather legit flute an clarinet on the two tunes. By contrast, two arrangements by Fred Katz - the quintet's former cellist - allow plenty of blowing room. Eric's flute solo on 'Beyond the Blue Horizon' is far from conservative, and his alto work on the ballad 'Nature, b Emerson' is impressive. Two of the album's numbers are originals by Eric's friend and former employer, Gerald Wilson 'Where I Live' is a mood piece with a somewhat melancholy air while 'Tuesday at Two' is a straight-ahead swinger. And although the title of Nat Pierce's 'Far East' suggests another mood piece, it is really a Latin number, while 'Gongs East' - although introduced by a gong - turns out to be an excursion through the blues. Of the two remaining tunes, 'Good Grief Dennis' is an up-tempo feature for Dennis Budimir's fleet guitar and Billy Strayhorn's 'Passion Flower' spotlights Eric's alto.
When Eric later emerged as one of the leaders of the new jazz of the 1960s, it was customary to suggest that the saxophonist' individualism was somehow stifled during his tenure with Chico Hamilton. To the contrary, Eric fitted in well with the quintet's disciplined approach. His solos, while conservative compared to his later recordings, suggest more that his style was not yet full formed than that he was being held back in any way. Eric's alto solos on 'Tuesday at Two' and the ballad 'Nature, by Emerson', and particularly his bass clarinet work on 'Gongs East' an completely untrammeled. All feature imaginative lines and the sort of vocal 'cry' that Eric would employ so successfully later on.
At the same time, Eric could also effectively show his awareness of the jazz tradition in his tribute to Johnny Hodges on 'Passion Flower'.
There was one more album for Warner Brothers, but unfortunately only three of the cuts were by the quintet. One of these, 'Miss Movement', was the first composition of Dolphy's to be recorded, and Eric responded with a smoking alto solo. On he ballad 'More than You Know' Eric once again acknowledges his debt to Johnny Hodges on the head, but the solo is pure Dolphy. Eric also has a fine alto solo on
Kenny Dorham's ' '. The remaining tracks on the album feature either unaccompanied drum solos by Newport News or vocals by the drummer. On the vocals Chico is backed by an expanded group which includes his former reedmen Paul Horn and Buddy Collette. None of the vocals or druum solos is particularly memorable. Chico
The quintet spent most of the following year on the road, traveling as far as
. There were some recordings for the Sesac label, but most of these seem to be extensively edited; none of the soloists is given much room to stretch out. While playing Birdland in New York the group alternated sets with the Miles Davis Sextet, and Eric was able to renew his acquaintance with John Coltrane, by now one of the leading tenor saxophonists in jazz. When the quintet did play New York , its popularity assured there would be standing-room-only crowds. By the end of the year, however, Eric felt he had gained enough experience with Los Angeles and was ready to strike out on his own. He moved to Chico where, in December of 1959, he joined the group of another former Angeleno, Charles Mingus, at the Showplace in New York Greenwich Village. From then until his tragically early death in 1964 while on a European tour, Eric would play and record often with Mingus. He also would appear on seminal recordings with Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane. At the time of his death, Eric would be recognized as one of the leading voices in jazz.
In the early 1960s, as jazz turned a new corner, four men Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy were acknowledged as leaders of the New Jazz. Of the four, Ornette Coleman gained the most notoriety. In part, this was a result of his sudden dramatic appearance on the national jazz scene late in 1959. The others were well-known quantities to the jazz audiences by 1959.
John Coltrane was the best-known; he had played with Dizzy Gillespie's big band in the late 1940s, and had been a sideman with two of the biggest names in jazz in the 1950s - Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. Eric Dolphy, as w have seen, was well-known through his tenure in the Chic Hamilton Quintet. And Cecil Taylor, a native New Yorker, had made a name for himself as a leader of consistently avant-garde groups from the mid-fifties on.
Moreover, as these three began to push beyond the boundaries of 'accepted' jazz practices, they did so through a firm understanding of musical theory. Cecil Taylor had studied at the New York College of Music and had spent an additional four years at the New England Conservatory; John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy both had extensive formal training, and both had served apprenticeships with established jazz stars. Ornette Coleman, or the other hand, was almost exclusively self-taught. Where the other three eventually progressed beyond the strictures that they felt too binding, Ornette simply ignored any 'rules' that got 'in the way of his intuitive soloing. Certainly all four musicians paid a heavy price for their stubborn insistence on going their own way, but three of the four had at least been accepted initially by the jazz community during the early years of their careers. Ornette Coleman was an outcast from the start.
Ornette Coleman was born in
, on Fort Worth, Texas 19 March 1930. As a child he was, he would later tell an interviewer. 'poorer than poor'; his father died when he was seven and his mother, a seamstress, raised Ornette and a sister with no outside help. When at the age of fourteen Ornette asked his mother for a saxophone, she replied they couldn't afford it unless he got a job. He immediately found some part-time work and soon after was given his first alto. There was of course no money for professional lessons; Ornette got some help from a cousin who played sax but mainly taught himself by listening to the radio and the occasional record that came his way. His house soon became known as a good spot for jamming by the local aspiring musicians, who included such future stars as drummer Charles Moffett, trumpeter Bobby Bradford, and reedmen Prince Lasha, Dewey Redman and John Carter.
The music Ornette listened to in those years was an eclectic hodge-podge of rhythm and blues, swing, bebop and popular songs, and he would later stress that stylistic categories meant little to him. He was heavily impressed - as were most of his contemporaries - by saxophonist Red Connors, a local and reportedly advanced musician who never recorded. Most of Ornette’s early jobs were of the rhythm-and-blues variety at ices and local bars. Soon after he graduated from high school, Ornette hit the road with a minstrel-show band that played the backwaters of the
Deep South. He was fired from that job while , joined a traveling rhythm-and-blues band, was beaten up outside a dancehall in Natchez, Mississippi by some disgruntled customers, and left that band at Baton Rouge . New Orleans
In New Orleans Ornette played with some of the underground modern jazz musicians - definitely a minority in that city - and found that his unorthodox solos were too far-out even for those jazzmen. After being stranded six months in
, he left town with the Pee Wee Crayton band, which was headed for the Coast. By the time the band reached LA, Crayton was paying Ornette not to play, and once again the saxophonist found himself stranded in a strange city. The year was 1949. New Orleans
Ornette's first stay in LA was brief; he moved into a downtown hotel on the fringes of skid row and - supported at least in part by money sent from home - played when and where could. Unable to land a steady job, he soon had his mother wire him some money and returned to
. But the situation there had not improved either, and most of his friends had left town. After a few desultory years he returned in 1952 to Fort Worth , which would be his home for the remainder of the decade. Los Angeles
Ornette moved to
Watts, where he stayed with a friend and ‘ate and slept whenever I could'. Musical jobs were few and far between, so he took whatever menial day jobs were available; for a time he ran an elevator, studying books on theory and harmony between rides. At nights he would walk into LA and try to sit in the any bands that would let him. There were few takers. During his first stay in LA, when he was playing what writer A. B. Spellman would term 'a cross between his own brand of rhythm and blues and bebop', he had sat in with musicians like Teddy Edwards, Hampton Hawes and Sonny Criss. He had been least half-heartedly accepted then, but by now his playing was simply too far removed from the accepted norm. One of the few sympathetic musicians was drummer Ed Blackwell, whom Coleman had met earlier in . Blackwell remembered: New Orleans
Ornette sounded a lot like Charlie Parker back then, and he was still hung up with one-two-three-four time. I had been experimenting with different kinds of time and cadences, an since Ornette and I used to share together, we had reached some new grooves. Ornette's sound was changing too, and lot of the musicians used to think he played out of tune. He never used to play the same thing twice, which made a lot the guys think that he didn't know how to play. [Quoted in A.B. Spellman, Black Music: Four Lives,
: Schocken Books, 1970, pp. 107-108.] New York
The mounting rejections would surely have discouraged a man with less indomitable will. A. B. Spellman cites a typical experience of the period:
He went down to sit in with tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon one night and found that Dexter had, characteristically, not shown up in time for the first set. Ornette went up to play with Dexter's rhythm section only to have Gordon come in and order him off the bandstand. 'He said, "Immediately, right now. Take the tune out and get off the bandstand." And Ornette made the long walk back to
Watts in the rain. [Ibid, p. 110]
Ornette also tried to sit in with Max Roach and Clifford Brown when they were in town. He wasn't let on the stand until aft Max and Brownie had already left, and when Ornette did get on the stand the rhythm section packed up their instruments and walked off. He would later tell trumpeter - Don Cherry, 'no matter how much you get rejected, you put that much more study and work into it so that you can produce more'. [Ibid, p. 111]
Nevertheless, he did manage to find a group of musicians willing to accept new ideas, and they began to practice together. Three of the musicians initially in the group were Ed Blackwell trumpeter Bobby Bradford and tenor saxophonist James Clay. When Clay was drafted, followed soon thereafter by
Bradford their replacements were George Newman and Don Cherry. Cherry, who would become Ornette's musical partner, was originally from , but had been raised in Oklahoma City . When he met Ornette he played very much in a Clifford Brown bag, and unlike Ornette he was accepted by the LA jazz establishment, having gigged with musicians like Red Mitchell, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray and Herb Geller. Cherry had introduced a teenaged drummer named Billy Higgins to the group. Finally two additional musicians, bassist Don Payne and pianist Walter Norris, were welcomed into the fold. There were now enough instruments for a self-contained unit; Ornette would not have to depend on hostile sidemen when looking for a job. Los Angeles
Everyone concerned stresses that the practice sessions were a co-operative affair, and that ideas were freely exchanged by all the participants, although Ornette was obviously the keystone of the group. Despite the excitement of these sessions, however, Ornette still found it next to impossible to land a club date. Finally he decided his only hope was to get a recording, session. George Newman had worked with Red Mitchell and introduced Ornette to the bassist, hoping that Mitchell in turn would introduce Coleman to Les Koenig. A meeting was set up at Don Payne's house so that Mitchell could hear Ornette and offer a professional opinion on Coleman's work. The upshot was the Mitchell liked Ornette's compositions but not his playing, and would only let his name be used in that context.
Ornette, accompanied by Don Cherry, dropped by the Contemporary studios and introduced himself to Koenig using Mitchell's name. Koenig, always ready to buy new tunes that might be recorded by his artists, agreed to listen, but things didn't go too well at first. Ornette tried to pick out some of his tunes on the piano, but he wasn't a pianist and was doing a poor job of it. Finally, in desperation, he and Cherry got out their horns and ran down some of the tunes. Koenig was impressed enough to offer Coleman a recording on the strength of their playing.
The resulting album, Something Else!, was recorded in three sessions held 10 and 22 February and
24 March 1958. The band consisted of Don Cherry, Ornette, Walter Norris, Don Payne and Billy Higgins. The record was far from a popular success, but it did introduce Ornette and his music to the jazz world at large, albeit in a slightly watered-down version. The use of the piano dictated that chord changes had to be adhered to (Ornette would never again use a piano on any of his own recordings) and the drumming of Billy Higgins was quite conservative compared to his later work. Nevertheless the essence of Ornette's music does manage to come through.
It's not surprising, however, that the album failed to attract a very large audience. Much of the music undoubtedly sounded like a slightly quirky brand of bebop to the listeners of the day. All of the album's numbers were Coleman originals, and all had been written some years before in
; most were - by Ornette's later standards - rather conservative. There are two blues, 'Alpha' and 'When Will the Blues Leave?' and two variations on the 'I Got Rhythm' format, 'Chippie' and 'Angel Voice'. Don Cherry actually quotes from a well-known Horace Silver solo from the 'Rhythm' clone 'Oleo' during his solo on 'Chippie', and the boppish theme on that tune carries strong hints of 'Anthropology'. 'Jayne', named for Ornette's wife, is based on 'Out of Nowhere'. On the other hand, 'Invisible' has a deliberately vague tonal centre (it's in D flat, one of Ornette's favorite keys); 'The Disguise', in D, has a thirteen-bar theme; and 'The Sphinx' has the sort of restless melody line and abrupt tempo changes that would soon become closely identified with Coleman. 'The Blessing', a slightly up-tempo mood piece, stands somewhere between these two extremes. On this tune, by the way, Don Cherry takes a very hard-boppish solo in Harmon mute. Nat Hentoff, in the liner notes to the album, selected some pertinent quotes by Ornette and Don Cherry that serve as a good introduction to the goals of the musicians. The most prophetic is by Ornette himself: Fort Worth
I think one day music will be a lot freer. Then the pattern for a tune, for instance, will be forgotten and the tune itself will be the pattern, and won't have to be forced into conventional patterns. The creation of music is just as natural as the air we breathe. I believe music is really a free thing, and any way you can enjoy it, you should. [Notes to Contemporary 7551]
If sales of the first album were disappointing, they failed to discourage Les Koenig, who arranged for a second recording a year later. The instrumentation for this second album would be that of most Coleman groups of the next several years: a piano-less quartet. Don Cherry was the other horn, of course, but the bass and drums were - no doubt at Koenig's insistence - Red Mitchell and Shelly Manne. Shelly remembers:
Les knew I was adaptable; he'd done so many albums with me in so many contexts, and he felt that I would be the right choice. And so did Ornette. Ornette came out to my house and we went over some of his melody lines, and I found them very intriguing, very interesting. And Red was there, Red Mitchell. Then we did the date, and Red and Ornette got into a little scuffle. ..'cause Red had some changes dictated to play and Ornette wasn't following the changes. And Red said, 'I have to play the changes,' and Ornette says 'No you DON'T have to play the changes,' and it went back and forth like that, and it got so that Percy Heath finished up the album. I remember playing the date, and it was a very free feeling, but I was almost trying to force the free feeling... to not play in the tradition, the way things had always been done. I think today I would do a better job of it; I understand a lot more about it.
This album also was done in three sessions. The first two, 16 January and 23 February, were done with Red Mitchell and produced three tunes: '
', 'Turnaround' and 'Endless'. ' Lorraine ', written for Lorraine Geller, is the first in a line of particularly moving dirges that Ornette would record. ('Lonely Woman' is the most famous.) The tune is infinitely sad yet never maudlin; at one point the alto races free for a short joyous passage, only to be brought up short by the return of the despairing theme. 'Turnaround' is a basic blues and best exemplifies the clashing musical philosophies of Coleman and Red Mitchell. Mitchell leads off with an extended bass solo that shows his mastery of modern jazz... to that point. But soon after Ornette begins his solo, it becomes evident that he is chaffing at the confinement of the unyielding chord changes. He almost breaks free once or twice, but is held in check by Mitchell's bass. The remaining tune, 'Endless', is an up-tempo AABA number that never quite resolves to a tonic. Lorraine
These three tunes were the only ones recorded at the January and February sessions, and it became evident that Red Mitchell just wasn't fitting in with Ornette's concepts. With the money from the first dates, Ornette and Don Cherry flew to
, where the Modern Jazz Quartet was appearing. They sat in with the MJQ, strongly impressing the group's musical director John Lewis, and were able to talk Percy Heath, the unit's bassist, into flying to LA for the third Contemporary session. This was held the night of 9-10 March 1959 and produced six additional tunes. San Francisco
'Tomorrow is the Question', a bright 'rejoicing-type tune', supplied the album with a title. 'Tears Inside', the tune Art Pepper would record the following year, is a much more earthy blues in Ornette's version. It's in ' D flat and is a precursor to 'Ramblin", another D flat blues that would elicit one of Ornette's finest performances on a later recording; like 'Ramblin", 'Tears Inside' is rooted firmly in the south-western blues
tradition. The remaining four tunes - 'Mind and Time,’ 'Compassion', 'Giggin" and 'Rejoicing' - have in common an elastic quality that allows each performer a great amount of latitude in shaping his own lines.
Tomorrow is the Question certainly gives a truer idea of Ornette's music than does the earlier Something Else!, but lack of an empathetic bass player was still hurting the group. Actually, Ornette had already played with his future bassist before the second album was cut, but Les Koenig had wanted ‘name' musicians on the album to help boost sales. The one job Ornette had landed in the year between the Contemporary recordings was as a sideman for pianist Paul Bley at the Hillcrest club in
west LA. The musicians for the date were Cherry, Coleman, Bley, Billy Higgins and bassist Charlie Haden. Haden born 6 August 1937 in , came from a far steeped in folk and country music. He had played around Shenandoah, Iowa with Art Pepper and Paul Bley; more importantly, he had tremendous ear and was quite willing to adopt the methods that would fit him for working with Ornette. Coleman told the bass player: Los Angeles
'Forget about the changes in key and just play within range of the idea. If I'm in the high register just play within that range that fits that register and just play the bass, that's all, all you've got to do is play the bass.' So he tried and he would have a difficult problem of knowing which range I was playing in and just what I meant by the whole range of playing anyway. I told him, 'Well, just learn.' So after a while of playing with me it just became the natural thing for him to do. All that matters in the function of the bass is either the top or the bottom or the middle, that's all the bass player has to play for me. It doesn't mean because you put an F7 down for the bass player he's going to choose the best notes in the F7 to express what you're doing. But if he's allowed to use any note that he hears to express that F7, then that note's going to be right because he hears it, not because he read it off the page.[Spellman, op cit, 123-124]
A recording issued many years after the fact captured the Paul Bley group at the Hillcrest and gives a better picture than either of the Contemporary albums of Ornette's development to that point. The addition of the piano, which does hold Ornette back a little, is more than made up for by the supremely empathetic bass work of young Charlie Haden. Moreover, Paul Bley's playing is quite advanced in its own right; he does not constantly feed the established chord changes as would a bebop pianist. The recording was obviously done on somebody's home equipment both the piano and bass are drastically under-recorded - although in this case it may have been a blessing in disguise, since potential clashes between the notes played by Bley and Haden are softened.
There are only four performances on the album (Live at the Hillcrest Club, 1958): two jazz standards - Charlie Parker's 'Klactoveesedstene' and Roy Eldridge's 'I Remember Harlem' and two originals by Ornette - 'The Blessing' and 'Free'. Both 'Klactoveesedstene' and 'The Blessing' run well over ten minutes, so there is plenty of room for stretching out. The addition of 'Klactoveesedstene' may well have been an attempt to answer those who complained that Ornette and company couldn't play an orthodox brand of jazz. Ornette's solo begins in a very Parkerish vein and moves only slowly to the outside. The first several minutes of the performance could have been spliced into one of the many amateur recordings of Parker's club dates of the early fifties without raising most listeners' suspicions. Paul Bley's solo on this number is actually freer than Ornette's, especially when the bass and drums lay out for an extended period. 'I Remember
Harlem' is a vehicle for Paul Bley, with Coleman and Cherry limited to background figures.
On his own two numbers Ornette evidently feels less stricture; his solo on 'The Blessing' achieves a freedom only hinted at on the Contemporary recording of the tune. 'Free' is exactly what the name implies - tempo, meters and tonal centers shift rapidly throughout the piece. On both these numbers Bley, wisely lays out during much of Ornette's and Don Cherry's solos. Cherry's playing, by the way, is the real revelation on this album; he completely sheds the hard-bop elements of his style and shows why his trumpet is the perfect complement for Ornette's sax.
Finally, in May 1959, the recording towards which all of the previous sessions had been pointing came about. Largely through the promptings of John Lewis (the MJQ recorded for the label) Ornette landed a contract with Atlantic records. The first Atlantic recording session was held in
, although the album would not be released until the autumn, after Ornette and the group had moved to Los Angeles . The Ornette Coleman Quartet was now set: Don Cherry, Ornette, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins. Eight tunes were recorded at the initial session, but only six were issued on the first Atlantic album, The Shape of Jazz to Come. New York
'Lonely Woman' serves as an admirable introduction to Ornette's music. The drone bass and slashing drums set up a fast tempo that almost mocks the stately dirge played by the horns. The effect is to keep any trace of sentimentality from what could have been a maudlin piece. 'Eventually' is Ornette's homage to bop, complete with a unison theme and extremely rapid tempo. 'Peace', almost the antithesis of the previous number, once again shows the genius Coleman has for composing tunes that both state a mood and inspire the soloists to original improvisations within that mood. 'Focus on Sanity' allows each soloist to choose his own tempo and meter; the others follow the soloist's lead. Both 'Congeniality' and 'Chronology' are taken at a medium-up tempo, and both inspire burning performances by all the musicians. Listening to these latter numbers from the perspective of the 1980s, it is difficult to imagine the fuss originally made over Ornette's music. They sound so close to the mainstream of jazz, especially when compared to the performances of the second- and third-generation free-jazz musicians of the later 1960s. Nevertheless the initial breakthrough had been accomplished by Ornette and company.
Things moved rapidly from this point on. Neshui Ertegun, president of Atlantic records, paid for a trip by Coleman and Cherry to the Lenox School of Jazz in
that summer. There they edited the tapes from the session in May and, more importantly, were heard by critic Martin Williams. Williams liked what he heard and paved the way for an engagement at the Five Spot in Lenox, Massachusetts that autumn. With the advances from the Atlantic recordings, the group flew to New York City where they cut some additional sides for New York Atlantic in October (most would be released on the album Change of the Century) and opened at the Five Spot in November. The two-week gig eventually stretched into several months as crowds packed the club, attracted by the controversy that surrounded the group. Musicians as well as jazz fans chose sides, and if Ornette had more supporters in than he had gained in LA, he still had a large number of vehement detractors in the Apple. Ultimately, of course, Ornette was vindicated; even those who prefer a more conservative brand of jazz are forced to recognize Ornette's position as one of the major innovators in the history of jazz. And if it is true that he had to move to New York to receive his due, it is just as true that the foundations for his revolutionary work had been laid during his tenure in New York . Los Angeles