“Ornette’s Permanent Revolution” — a 1985 essay by Francis Davis

June 17th, 2015

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Ornette Coleman in 1985

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      While hunting around the Internet for tributes of Ornette Coleman (a collection of which I will attempt to point readers toward tomorrow), I was reminded of the critic Francis Davis’s essay titled “Ornette’s Permanent Revolution.”  Originally published in the September, 1985 edition of The Atlantic, Davis, now the jazz critic for the Village Voice, writes eloquently about the complexities of the great saxophonist’s “clean break from convention.”  It is a worthy and timely read…

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      All hell broke loose when the alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman made his East Coast nightclub debut, at the Five Spot Cafe, in Greenwich Village on November 17, 1959—twenty-five years ago last fall.

     The twenty-nine-year-old Coleman arrived in New York having already won the approval of some of the most influential jazz opinion makers of the period. “Ornette Coleman is doing the only really new thing in jazz since the innovations in the mid-forties of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and those of Thelonious Monk,” John Lewis, the pianist and musical director of the Modern Jazz Quartet, is reported to have said after hearing Coleman in Los Angeles. (Lewis later helped Coleman secure a contract with Atlantic Records.) Coleman’s other champions included the critics Nat Hentoff and Martin Williams and the composer Gunther Schuller, all of whom wrote for the magazine Jazz Review. “I honestly believe . . . that what Ornette Coleman is doing on alto will affect the whole character of jazz music profoundly and pervasively,” Williams wrote, a month before Coleman opened at the Five Spot.

You can read the entire piece by clicking here.

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Ornette Coleman in Berlin, 1978

Read my interview with Francis Davis

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