Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Jacques Derrida Interviews Ornette Coleman

"Repetition [in music] is as natural as the fact that the earth rotates." -- Ornette Coleman

In 1997, Ornette Coleman was in Paris for a concert when French deconstructionist philosopher Jacques Derrida invited him to an interview. They met and tackled on subjects as diverse as language, improvisation, repetition, and Afro-American life. There were even some biographical anecdotes, shared by Coleman, for instance, the one about his ill-fated Town Hall concert whose spate of mishaps seems as extraordinary as the music:

"When I arrived in New York, I was more or less treated like someone from the South who didn't know music, who couldn't read or write, but I never tried to protest that. Then I decided that I was going to try to develop my own conception, without anybody's help. I rented the Town Hall on 21 December 1962, that cost me $600,I hired a rhythm and blues group, a classical group and a trio. The evening of the concert there was a snowstorm, a newspaper strike, a doctors' strike and a subway strike, and the only people who came were those who had to leave their hotel and come to the city hall. I had asked someone to record my concert and he committed suicide, but someone else recorded it, founded his record company with it, and I never saw him again."
Speaking to someone who's intensely into sign processes and making-meaning, Coleman has his semi-semiotic stories to tell:

"I had a niece who died in February of this year and I went to her funeral, and when I saw her in her coffin, someone had put a pair of glasses on her. I had wanted to call one of my pieces She was sleeping, dead, and wearing glasses in her coffin. And then I changed the idea and called it Blind Date."
In Coleman's world, the relation between images, words (written or spoken) and music (written or improvised) goes even deeper:

"Before becoming known as a musician, when I worked in a big department store, one day, during my lunch break, I came across a gallery where someone had painted a very rich white woman who had absolutely everything that you could desire in life, and she had the most solitary expression in the world. I had never been confronted with such solitude, and when I got back home, I wrote a piece that I called Lonely Woman."

The interview, translated from original French by Timothy S. Murphy, is available here on UBU. (Alternatively, right-click to save)


  1. mr. khoshbakht! we have missed "radio hawkins"
    let's start season 2 please.

    1. I would love to start the show again at some point. But now, considering the time and efforts it needs, the task seems impossible. Sorry about that.