Ornette Coleman was here.
Such a simple sentence to write. But really my feeling while writing that sentence is more like the feeling you get when you see a name etched into a tree bark, a random piece of concrete or an ancient stone in a faraway country…an evocative feeling, tickling at your brain, making you stop and take notice of that name, that etching, even if it’s not a name you recognize, not a person you know.
Someone was there. Someone was here. Wherever “here” or “there” or “someone” might be….
Well last night, that someone was Ornette Coleman. And that somewhere was here. And, perhaps unsurprisingly to music lovers who know him well—to put it simply, watching and hearing his performance made me think. About a lot of things. I confess, prior to this UCLA Live season and all the promotion around last night’s event, I was not well-versed in Coleman’s style or repertoire, or really free jazz in general. How sad for all the music-loving years behind me, how fortunate for those ahead of me and how gloriously present that moment in time was last night.
For me, watching Ornette Coleman and his amazing fellow musicians, Tony Falanga on standup bass, his son Denardo on the drums, Al Macdowell on electric bass—was incredibly mentally freeing.
Perhaps that presentness is the intent of the genre itself. I found the unfettered instrumental voices so inspiring and surprisingly non-frenetic even in such a playground of improvisational experimentation, perhaps that’s due to the remarkable presence of the man leading the charge.
It made me think: “Wow this is exactly what’s happening right now.” The highlight for me was a lengthy riff on Bach’s flowing Cello Suite during which it was like each instrument on stage was speaking words from the same poem, but in entirely different languages and in an entirely different stanza order.
And, when Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea hopped onstage for the final few songs, he added not only another ridiculous bass line to try and wrap our heads around, but his own infectious energy, green hair bouncing in time to the cacophony.
Flea’s admiration for Ornette Coleman is well and widely known and after the show backstage, he let a little endearing nervousness slip. “Were you guys out there in the audience? Did it sound OK? Man, I wish I’d gotten to practice with those guys first.” (Flea showed up well before the performance, but after sound check, clearly in a rush, but also clearly thrilled to get on stage with a man who’s a personal icon of his.)
Yeah Flea, it sounded OK.
It sounded way more than OK. It sounded like freedom of thought, of hope and of purpose.
I was already convinced after reading this interview with Ornette Coleman, that the man’s mind just doesn’t vibrate on the same level as most humans, mine included. But during and after the show, his skill set my mind reeling, thinking about music, about human nature, about art and love and hope and left me grasping for a way to describe that feeling.
“I seek to play pure emotion,” Coleman’s quote in the program notes reads. Mission accomplished.
Another quote popped in my head as I was thinking about the show just now…I think it will serve to encapsulate how this show made me feel. It’s something that resonated with me when I first read it and has stuck in my head since, a comment made by Entertainment Weekly blogger Jeff “Doc” Jensen in his recap of the final episode of “Lost.” (random connection, I know! What happened to my brain?!)
”The best we can do is live our lives with enlightened improvisation — to be so self-aware and fearless that we can live fully in the present and redeem our every moment and every human connection.”
Thanks to Ornette Coleman for reminding me of the beauty, emotion and magic in enlightened improvisation.
And thanks to any and all of you who shared in that with us last night.