Ornette Coleman has left us. But we still have him. Listen to ‘The Shape of Jazz to Come’ this evening and keep him with you that much longer.
‘The Shape of Jazz to Come’ is one of my very favorite records, and of that record, the recording of ‘Lonely Woman’ has to go down as one of the greatest recordings in all music history.
Here’s a little story. About a year ago, during the FIFA world cup I drove to pick up a friend from the Richmond airport. I never listen to the radio, but after searching for what seemed like most of the drive there, I found a local station playing a commentary on the match. I turned it off after I picked up my friend, conversing as we were.
A few weeks later I was driving that direction again and listening to CDs on the drive. I was listening to Thelonious Monk’s record ‘Brilliant Corners’, easily my favorite of his. As the record started over I began to think of what I wanted to listen to next of the CDs I had in the car. I thought to myself, “Oh man, I would love to hear ‘Lonely Woman’ right now”. Seeing that I didn’t have ‘The Shape of Jazz to Come’ with me, I grabbed something else, but in ejecting the ‘Brilliant Corners’ while still playing the radio kicked on, and I immediately heard fluttering and wailing, soulful lines being played by an alto sax. Listening, I knew it was Coleman, but I didn’t know on what record. I thought to myself, “Whoa! What are the chances – I wanted to listen to Coleman, and when the radio happens to be on, by accident, on a station I only had tuned into once, weeks prior for a sports event commentary nonetheless, and not jazz, they are playing Coleman?” I was overjoyed and moved by the humor of the situation when the piece ended, and there was then an ominous vamping of bass and drums. I knew what it was and couldn’t believe it. But there is no mistaking the aching ‘Lonely Woman’, the very piece I’d wanted to hear a few minutes before.
This strikes me as a good metaphor for Coleman’s music – the unpredictability and sheer melodic improbability of his music, upon being played, perfectly fits the moment because it was so improbable that it would be played in that moment.