Branford Remembers Ornette Coleman
I was 22 years old, maybe 23, when Stanley Crouch brought around a copy of Ornette’s record The Shape of Jazz to Come to Wynton’s house. He put it on, and I went, “Aw, man, turn that shit off. My ears are bleeding.” I hated it. He said, “You just can’t hear it yet. Just hold on to that record a while. I think there’s some shit in there that you could use.” I’m like, “Yeah, OK.” I listened every day, trying to figure out what was good about it. About four months in, I suddenly started hearing the music the way Ornette heard it—and then it was like my brain exploded.
He played the saxophone in a very unconventional way. I started to understand his relationship to all the music that came before him, and how he was able to use that to propel the music in a different direction. He couldn’t play that kind of vertical technique like Bird or Phil Woods or Sonny Stitt, so he developed a subset of the language out of necessity. From not having that vertical technique that we fall in love with, he came to express the music in a way that’s shockingly brilliant.
What he did that none of the other guys could figure out how to do was play bebop, or swing-based music, while avoiding four- and eight-bar phrases. Most of the greats could never do that, and today we are awash in four- and eight-bar phrase playing. But more than that, he played no patterns, played no scales; it was all blues and melody. And he played it in a very disjunctive way. He didn’t resolve in the conventional places, and because he didn’t adhere it sounded like the shit was radical and crazy—when, in fact, it was unbelievably logical.
Read the rest of Branford's tribute at JazzTimes.com.