Thursday, June 11, 2020

Art Farmer on Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman

A level-headed if largely unfavorable reaction to Ornette Coleman's Something Else!!!! LP, penned by fellow musician Art Farmer. Originally appeared in The Jazz Review (Vol. 2, No. 6, July 1959).

Ornette Coleman writes some very nice tunes, but after he plays the tune, I can't find too much of a link between his solo and the tune itself. From what I've heard though that's the way he looks at it. He apparently feels there shouldn't be too much concern about the tune and chord structure—they're prisons to him. He just goes on and plays what he feels from the tune.

There's Bird in spots in the timbre of his tone. Bird, however, wouldn't throw that particular timbre at you all night long. It's a real cry, a real shriek, a squawk. It doesn't seem valid to me somehow — to get back to what he does after he states the line — for a man to disregard his own tunes. It's a lack of respect. Maybe he'll eventually get to have more respect for his tunes.

Coleman doesn't know his instrument in the ordinary sense, but then, most of the alto players I know don't know their instruments in the way he does. He certainly plays in a different way and he makes combinations of notes I haven't heard.

He does sound like he's out of tune. But I've heard guys play out of tune on purpose. Maybe that's what he's doing. It's going to take me a while though to get a valid sense of what he's doing, whether it has anything to it or not.

You know, for the sake of sound, you can deliberately play notes that are out of tune in relation to the background notes which are in tune. That way you get things you wouldn't get from being in tune. Sort of like quarter-tones. This is not new in jazz, but Coleman does it more than anyone else I've heard. I'd guess, all in all that he may be deliberately out of tune when he is.

His whole attitude is different from what I'm used to. It's going to take time for me to evaluate him. He does have an immense amount of feeling in his playing. The tunes are very nice ones. They have quality. In some I felt Monk and George Russell. The rest of the players seem to be sympathetic to what he was trying to do — especially Don Cherry — and they were pretty successful in playing with him, and that seems to be quite a challenge!

I can't help going back to why he doesn't stay with the chords of his original lines. They seem to be good chords, and I see no reason to just throw them away. I'd like to hear him play a solo constituted around the chords of the tune and then I'd like to hear him play another melody on those same chords. When he goes into his chorus, in short, he should continue to construct melodies based on those original chords.

He's different than the others on the scene, and when people come along like that, you have to be able to evaluate them as being different. If you can't, it's hard to say whether they're good or bad. Like when I first started to listen to Monk, I couldn't appreciate him until I could separate him from someone like [Bud] Powell or [Art] Tatum . Maybe that's what we have to do with Coleman.
Art Farmer

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