The Unheard Ornette

Welcome to LOST TONES, a series featuring tracks from hyper-rare recordings that aren’t available anywhere else on the web. These treasures are courtesy of George Scala, who runs the invaluable Free Jazz Research site. He’s generously shared them from his amazing archive so they can be enjoyed by more than just collectors. Scroll down for the music!

What can we say about legendary saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman? He’s among the most important living musicians of any genre. His contributions to jazz are incalculable and the titles of early albums such as Change of the Century and The Shape of Jazz to Come now seem less like marketing hyperbole and more pedestrian statements of fact. His harmolodic concepts have altered the very way we hear music.

In the almost five years that we’ve been doing this site, many jazz greats have shuffled off this mortal coil. Thankfully Ornette Coleman, who just turned 81 years old on Friday Wednesday, is still with us and continuing to make remarkably vital music. It’s important to celebrate the greats while they’re alive and here’s our humble effort to pay tribute to his essential music.

Since many readers will already be familiar with much of Ornette’s work, George Scala has shared some genuine rarities that you’ve probably missed. These tracks illuminate several fascinating corners of his vast discography – including pieces with electronics and symphony orchestra, a stirring graveside tribute to John Coltrane, plus rare appearances as a sideman for two very different vocalists. So without further ado…

Ornette Coleman
Man on the Moon single
Impulse : 1969

OC, alto sax; Don Cherry, trumpet; Dewey Redman, tenor sax; Charlie Haden, bass; Denardo Coleman Ed Blackwell, drums; Emmanuel Ghent, electronic devices on “Man on the Moon.”

There simply aren’t enough avant jazz singles. What better way to serve the music to the people than on a seven inch platter? Ornette was hip to this fact. In 1969, he issued a special single to commemorate America’s moon landing. Oddly enough, it was released only in France.

Both sides feature one of Ornette’s finest quintets. “Man on the Moon” adds the splattering electronics of Dr. Emmanuel Ghent, a pioneering composer of computer-generated music. This galloping electro-jazz tune may be a novelty in Ornette’s discography, but the sounds blend together surprisingly well. Ghent later performed a variation of this music at The Kitchen in NYC in 1972 and you can check out the program online.

“Growing Up” is a very unusual, let’s say, ballad. Ornette doles out a keening melody and Haden bows a sighing line on the bass. But then there’s the surge and swagger of the song’s rhythm and flow which never lets it sit comfortably in any one mode. Both these tunes are distinguished by a sense of whimsy and wonder, maybe appropriate since Ghent also recorded an album of children’s music.

Bob Thiele Emergency
Head Start
Flying Dutchman: 1969

OC, alto sax; Charlie Haden, bass; David Izenon, bass; Charles Moffett, drums.

This stirring track was recorded live at John Coltrane’s funeral at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in New York City in 1967. The sound quality isn’t pristine and the drums tend to reverberate against the church walls, but the the spirit of the performance comes through clear. You can hear echoes of both Coltrane and Albert Ayler in Ornette’s emotional playing, underpinned by his two finest bassists.

This historic recording wasn’t initially released by Ornette but instead was included on an ambitious double album by Bob Thiele Emergency. Thiele, former head of Impulse Records and producer of many of Coltrane’s most important sides, dedicated an album side to Trane’s memory and included this piece as the capper.

Ornette Coleman & Prime Time
with the Orchestra Sinfonica dell’Arena di Verona
Verona Jazz
Nettle : 1996

OC, alto sax; Bern Nix, guitar; Charles Ellerbee, guitar; Al McDowell, electric bass; Chris Walker, electric bass; Calvin Weston, drums; Denardo Coleman, drums. Plus Orchestra.

Recorded live in 1987, this is an excerpt from a rare live presentation of Ornette’s orchestral magnum opus Skies of America. Due to time and budget constraints, the original 1972 album was only able to include Ornette and a symphony. The Milano version features a more fleshed-out conception of the piece, with Ornette’s electric Prime Time ensemble playing alongside a full orchestra. This 11-minute selection gives a taste of the composition’s rich complexities, catchy folk melodies, and stirring stylistic syntheses. The performance was made commercially available only to subscribers of the June 1996 issue of the Italian magazine Musica Jazz.

Claude Nougaro
Femmes et famines
Barclay : 1975

OC, alto sax; Claude Nougaro, vocals; Maurice Vander, piano; Luigi Trussardi, bass; Charles Bellonzi, drums.

This is a real anomaly: Ornette backing up French crooner Claude Nougaro on the jazzy ballad “Gloria.” Although his sax is back in the mix, Ornette is given plenty of room to solo throughout the tune and deftly dances his way throughout the piece. It’s an interesting conception of how to accompany a singer. Nougaro, who was famous in France for blending the chanson with jazz, also collaborated with Sonny Rollins, Cannonball Adderley, and Brazilian great Baden Powell.

Jayne Cortez and the Firespitters
Maintain Control
Bola Press : 1986

OC, alto sax; Jayne Cortez, vocals; Bern Nix, guitar; Charles Moffet Jr, tenor sax; Al McDowell, electric bass; Denardo Coleman, electro/acoustical percussion.

We admit it: We’re not fans of jazz poetry. The stuff generally deserves the bad rap it gets. However, this moody and hypnotic Jayne Cortez track is an exception. Cortez smartly put together a backing band that includes members of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time. That’s no surprise since she’s Ornette’s ex-wife and Denardo’s mother.

The wonderfully slow-burning hoodoo groove of “No Simple Explanations” is given extra emotional heft by Ornette’s snaking solo. Against a subtly complex backdrop, Cortez holds the stage with forceful declamations and urgent imagery. “Conjuration and syntax,” indeed.

This piece is dedicated to poet Larry Neal and “the idea of change and unpredictability.” Along with LeRoi Jones and AB Spellman, Neal was editor of the crucial 1960s free jazz magazine The Cricket. More on that another time.

Our favorite line: “The altar will not fit another skull.” Or put it another way, when the great ones are gone, baby, they’re gone.

For those who might somehow be new to his music, Ornette Coleman’s career has gone through various phases and is littered with masterpieces. Some good places to start include The Shape of Jazz to Come, Science Fiction, Dancing in Your Head, and In All Languages.

Other suggestions for crucial Ornette albums? Thoughts on these tracks? Tell us in the comments!

Discussion36 Comments Category Lost Tones, Ornette Coleman Tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

36 Responses to LOST TONES:
The Unheard Ornette

  1. Unless I’m mistaken, it was Wednesday (9 March) that Ornette turned 81.

    Great stuff here – that Stateside “Man on the Moon” single has always eluded me!

  2. Ack. Thanks for the fix on OC’s bday, Clifford. You are of course correct.

  3. Yes, Wednesday was the 9th was the date. I tuned in to WKCR all day at work. My Birthday is the 8th of March and I’m always way more excited about 9th each year because of the Birthday Broadcast on WKCR.

    The first Ornette Album I had ever heard was Love Call. Shortly after I heavily sought out the Atlantic recordings and then moved onto Science Fiction. One really can’t go wrong no matter where they start to listen to Ornette. Nearly anything he touches turns to gold. Which is hard to say for most who have discographies as massive as him.

    Thank you D:O for these gifts. I say that a lot on here, but following this blog truly pays off. I enjoy listening each week. You’re a National Treasure.

  4. Excellent. Love the ‘Man On The Moon’ single – maybe my favorite Impulse Ornette. Definitely not, however, Denardo on drums. Billy Higgins, maybe?

  5. It is great to witness how OC keeps inspiring both the jazz crowd and the part of the improvmovement that borders up to contemporary art music. In many ways of course because he alwasy has been much more than jazz. I love it. Thank you for those rare pointers!

  6. The drummer is almost certainly Charles Moffett.

    My first Ornette was Free Jazz. I didn’t get it, but I liked it. My second was Change of the Century. I got it.

  7. Per http://www.jazzdisco.org/ornette-coleman/catalog/ (see 1969), looks like Blackwell on the Moon single.

  8. Thanks a lot… amazing stuff!

  9. The drummer conundrum continues: According to Lord’s Jazz Discography, it’s Denardo on drums. This doesn’t seem that far off from his playing on Crisis which was released the same year, though it’s a bit more than technical. Anyhow – we welcome some definitive info…!

  10. thanks for the moon single!

  11. Treasures! I love Ornette’s playing on that Coltrane tribute track, and the booming drums kind of work somehow. Wish I could hear the basses a little better. The Man on the Moon single is pretty amazing too. I’ve been on a Song X kick lately after finally getting the reissue. Truly one of the great Ornette albums, especially with those bonus tracks added in.

  12. Just a quick question: The mp3 tags for the Man on the Moon/Growing Up single have the tracks listed as 2 of 6 and 3 of 6. Are there four more songs associated with this release, or is it a straight A Side and B Side release?

  13. @ B Michael – Damn MP3 tags. Thought I’d scrubbed those better. There aren’t more songs on the single, just a straight A and B. Those numbers accidentally refer to the cd George burned us for this post.

  14. Wow, amazing bunch of esoteric tracks. I’ve only heard of about half, and never had the chance to hear them before this. The one thing I’d really like to hear is a performance of Skies Of America with acoustic quartet, the way it was originally conceived. I think there was at least one performance like that: any tapes out there?

  15. Thank you for also sharing the single (and other cuts). Been looking for the single for a long time. As for the drummer issue, while the sonics are rather dense on MOTM and tend to mask clarity (plus the surface noise), I am absolutely certain that is Blackwell. The tom-snare transitions heard here are a hallmark of his style, which is made even more obvious on “Growing.” Keep up the fine work, gents.

  16. Great work, J’s. I just listened to all these tracks with delight. The Verona, Nougaro, and Cortez tracks are truly RARE. I like to think I know all of Coleman, but I was schooled!

  17. I have to rep here for Crisis, recorded around the same time as the Moon single. Fantastic LP, my favorite by Ornette, and I have no idea why it’s out of print (rights issue with Ornette I think).

    Thanks so much for these, they’re really appreciated!

  18. Second thoughts – jazzdisco.org is right about ”Man On The Moon’ – definitely Ed Blackwell on drums. A quick listen to ‘Friends & Neighbors’ from 7 months later provides sonic confirmation…

  19. Lovely. I heard Nougaro’s Gloria years ago in someone’s car and, at the time, thought it one of the seven sonic wonders of the world (possibly I was inebriated).
    As I recall, Ornette was paid $15,000 for that one track!

  20. Claude Nougaro (definitely in turbo-crooner mode here) made some really memorable records in his heyday. I remember going to France in 1969 with a shopping list that included a rousing single called ‘O Toulouse’. Nice to know that Ornette recorded with more up-market male vocalists than the gentleman who contributed ‘Good Girl Blues’ to the Science Fiction sessions.

    I am used to D:O coming up with genuine rarities that I have missed, but the Bob Thiele Emergency’s Head Start album was missed by the compilers of the definitive Coltrane discography (‘The John Coltrane Reference’), which lists ‘Holiday for a Graveyard’ without any issue information. It would be a bit surprising if there weren’t a few echoes of Ayler in Ornette’s closing funeral music, because the opening medley at the funeral service (‘Love Cry’/’Truth is Marching In’/’Our Prayer’) was performed by Albert’s own quartet. (A recording of this medley was issued on disc 6 of Revenant’s Holy Ghost box set).

  21. Thank you for posting this. Amazing stuff! For what it’s worth, that does sound like Ed Blackwell to my (guitar players) ears on “Man on the Moon”

  22. I agree with the original recommendations. But I’d point out that if you want the Atlantics–and who doesn’t?–the Beauty Is A Rare Thing box set is the way to go. It’s cheaper than buying the individual albums, and I think there are some previously unissued tracks that are only in the box. It’s in session order, so you do give up the original running order. This Is Our Music is spread out over three discs!

  23. Great stuff, thanks a lot

  24. Thanks for these rarities. Who else would have made a free-jazz single to celebrate the moon landing? Fascinating. There’s an album-length tribute to OC by Jamaladeen Tacuma just out recently on which OC plays that folks might like to look into to.


  25. Thank you for a wonderful, wonderful post. Just wanted to say I’m also pleased that you’d recommend In All Languages as a starting point for new listeners – IAL is all too often ignored, but it would be in my top 3 of favourite Ornette albums because it’s so compact, varied, playful, downright hummable and futuristic.

  26. A very nice smattering of lesser-known but worthy Ornette tracks. Here’s another one – Joe Henry’s “Richard Pryor Addresses a Tearful Nation” from his 2001 album Scar.

    It can be heard here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vii5ydVSNec

  27. plz repost! thanks!

  28. Sorry if I’m being dense, but how do I listen to these tracks? Have they been taken down or is there some link I seem to be missing? Thanks!

  29. I had the pleasure to be in Verona on 1987 at 17 – I still wish a full record will be released ( it exist: I heard it on italian Radio a couple of years after the performance).
    It’s difficult to evalutate it only by memory (and by a teenager’s point of view) but I think it was one of his best performance in the 80s and one of Prime Time’s top performance ever

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