This composition was on Ornette Coleman’s 1959 album The Shape Of Jazz To Come. Dig it or not, Ornette totally reshaped an approach to jazz. I have said before, in jazz, all the best vocalists want to sound like horns, and all the best horn players want to sound like singers. That kind of lyricism regardless of what they are playing. But with Ornette there was another element, his alto horn had a deep blues under flow. Whether his sound appeals to you is another matter, but there is no denying the blues inflections. And perhaps never more so then on one of his signature compositions.
I dug the song so much—and that’s what this composition was, a song—that I wrote a poem to it. Years later, I recorded the poem with Courtney Bryan on piano. I suggested she play off the melody and the feel of the tune. Only toward the end do we hear the distinctive melody, which I deeply love.
Here, let me step back a second. Up until 1959, most critics were praising the Modern Jazz Quartet as the most original jazz ensemble of the fifties era, and perhaps they were given the proclivity toward the so-called “cool” jazz stylings with their ornate, even at times baroque stylings. The MJQ, especially with Milt Jackson on vibes, was steeped in the blues, even though the majority of their Atlantic albums often were tinged, or sometimes even outright purveyors of classical music. But even then, Bags (as Jackson was affectionately known), although playing an instrument not associated with the blues, had a way of bringing the noise. There was jazz before Ornette, and certainly after Ornette, but the turn toward the classical was an MJQ forte, and that is what was being upended at the end of jazz’s fifth decade. Bags made it clear it was back to the blues.
But what was also clear is that the fixed notes of the piano, or the vibes, for that matter, made it difficult to master the blues, especially those flattened tones, all that whooping and hollering. Sounding like a black baptist preacher on communion Sunday, or better yet, somewhat like Reverend Gary Davis (and if you don’t know who he is, you best get yourself together and check him out), or even more better, Ornette be like a raucous Son House. And as if to make the blues references clear, even to those with tampered scales in their ears, check out Ornette in a trio format, actually mostly a duet with bassist Charlie Haden, who had been a member of Ornette’s trend setting quartet.
Ok, that’s enough for one session.