Randolph Denard Ornette Coleman (March 9, 1930 – June 11, 2015) was an American jazz saxophonist, trumpeter, violinist, and composer. He was best known as a principal founder of the free jazz genre, a term derived from his 1960 album Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation. His pioneering works often abandoned the harmony-based composition, tonality, chord changes, and fixed rhythm found in earlier jazz idioms. Instead, Coleman emphasized an experimental approach to improvisation, rooted in ensemble playing and blues phrasing. AllMusic called him “one of the most beloved and polarizing figures in jazz history,” noting that while “now celebrated as a fearless innovator and a genius, he was initially regarded by peers and critics as rebellious, disruptive, and even a fraud.

The Uniqueness of Ornette Coleman

Alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman is one of the most influential musicians of all time, influencing everyone from Sonic Youth to Henry Threadgill, John Zorn and The Grateful Dead. His piano-less quartet, which debuted in NYC in the late 50s, did away with the usual jazz improvisation based on song chords and progressions, but instead utilized melody as the jumping off point. He called this Harmolodics, which was also based on the tuning of instruments.