Thank You, Mr. Ornette Coleman

In the early/mid-nineties, when I was just beginning to play jazz, I was FAR more comfortable listening to “Moanin'” by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, “Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor” by the Louis Cottrell Creole Jazz Band (featuring my grandpa Clarence and Wendell Brunious) and the entire “Let Your Mind Be Free” album by the Soul Rebels Brass Band.

Two albums that scared the crap out of me were Coltrane’s “Stellar Regions” and Ornette’s “The Shape Of Jazz To Come”.

My best friend (L. Kasimu Harris) and I would ride around in his grey, ’84 Ford Tempo listening to a tape of Trane’s intergalactic manifesto. I hated it. Which made me believe that if I ever heard any of Ornette’s music, I might indeed feel sick to my stomach.

The first time I heard Ornette’s was shortly after that. Kasimu and I were eating red beans and rice in Delfeayo Marsalis’s kitchen, prepared by his lovely wife. We’d probably just got back from playing basketball or something. Delf had a great sound system in his home and the music cut through with great clarity.

5-10 minutes into it, I was REALLY digging it. I asked, “who is this!?!?”, thinking it to be some Charlie Parker disciples modern take on bebop. He said, “Man, that’s Ornette Coleman, Shape Of Jazz To Come!! You’ve never heard this??” I said “naw! I like it though! Sounds like a looser, freer, extension of bebop!!” Delf said, “yep.”

I was SO happy that I finally got it. And although it would take me YEARS to mentally and musically free myself of the rigid confounds that my peers and contemporaries unabashedly placed on me, at that moment in time, my ears, heart and mind were opened to the endless possibilities that this music had to offer.

In essence, on that day, I learned that it was ok to be yourself. I learned that learning, digesting tradition was not an end road but a means to discovering your own identity.

Thank you Mr. Coleman.
RIP.

-Thaddeus Ford


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