Ornette Coleman instilled a spirit of exploration rooted in tradition that continues to drive the evolution of the music today. With Mars Williams and Fred Jackson on saxophone, Jim Baker on piano, Josh Abrams on bass, Ben LaMar on trumpet and Avreeayl Ra on drums.
An Expansive Tribute to an Artist who Expanded Jazz!
When Ornette Coleman died two years ago, modern music lost not only one of its greatest artists and genius innovators, it also lost a role model for the ages. As witness the Bad Plus’ thrilling performance of his neglected masterwork, Science Fiction, at this year’s Chicago Jazz Festival, there is no end to the ways Ornette inspired and excited anyone who heard or saw him.
It almost goes without saying that without his influence, all of the participants in tonight’s tribute would be very different artists – and not only because they were exposed to such Coleman masterpieces such as “Lonely Woman,” “Turnaround” and “When Will the Blues Leave?,” but also because they were touched by his spirit. By his refusal to be anyone but himself as an artist, and by the generosity he extended to those around him in encouraging their visions.
“He influenced me in so many ways,” said saxophonist Mars Williams, leader of tonight’s tribute, who as a young man on an errand in New York in the late ’70s was invited by Coleman to stay and watch his Prime Time band rehearse in his home. “He was always there to share knowledge.”
In representing the different phases of Coleman’s career, including his legendary quartet with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins and the electro-acoustic Prime Time, Williams and company – including saxophonist Fred Jackson, trumpeter Ben Lamar Gay, keyboardist Jim Baker, bassist Josh Abrams and drummer Avreeayl Ra – will steer clear of the cover band approach.
“We’re going to strive to put our own voice on the songs and make them our own,” said Williams, whose long-running acid jazz band Liquid Soul has done exactly that with Coleman’s “Rambling” and who dabbled in Colemania as a member of Hal Russell’s NRG Ensemble. “In some cases we’ll use the melodies as springboards to free improvising, just as Ornette would.”
“He was so open-minded. His genius spanned seven decades, and during that time he was always searching, always taking on new ideas, always moving forward.”
The band will draw from a treasure chest of Coleman classics including “Lonely Woman,” “Love Call,” “Feet Music” and “Happy House.” We can expect the band to honor Coleman’s Golden Circle trio, the duets he recorded with Haden and other greats and his infrequent efforts with a pianist.
“It’s gonna be fun,” said Williams, who knows that like all of Ornette’s music it will be “challenging but fun.”
JazzCity is a free concert series initiated in 1997 by the Jazz Institute in collaboration with the Chicago Park District, now in its 19th season of bringing people together from across the city to listen to Chicago’s top jazz musicians. JazzCity is sponsored by WDCB 90.9 FM and WHPK 88.5 FM Radio and supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. For more information visit www. Jazzinchicago.org or call 312.427.1676.