Ornette Coleman, 85

     (CN) – Ornette Coleman, one of the most influential saxophonists and composers in jazz history, died Thursday morning at 85.
     Coleman changed the direction of jazz in the 1960s when he abandoned the complex, diatonically structured chord changes mastered by innovators such as Charlie Parker and John Coltrane in favor of group improvisation with a sometimes tenuous relationship to classic tonality.
     His 1961 album “Free Jazz,” with a double quartet featuring reed man Eric Dolphy, bassist Scott LaFaro, drummer Billy Higgins, trumpeter Don Cherry and others shook up the jazz world and made Coleman a contentious part of it. As often happens, many established artists and critics put down the new art as unintelligible, ugly and worse.
     His tune “Lonely Woman,” on the 1959 album “The Shape of Jazz to Come,” however, already had revealed Coleman as a composer-instrumentalist with a startling ear for a melody.
     He gained respect and became difficult to ignore when John Coltrane, revered as the most advanced soloist of the 1960s, praised his work and performed with him.
     Coleman was a master of his instrument, and could play traditional numbers and blues with the best, though for decades he went his own way.
     He was known in his early years for playing a white plastic saxophone, an instrument to which Charlie Parker occasionally had resorted, for reasons of his own.
     A musical philosopher, Coleman said his music was based upon “harmolodics,” or harmony, movement and melody, which he never quite explained, though it appeared to be based upon instruments weaving their own, parallel lines, not necessarily with regard to classical harmony.
     He died of in Manhattan of natural causes, his family said.

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