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Arts & Entertainment

Peter Stenshoel's album of the week: This is Our Music by The Ornette Coleman Quartet

Kevin Ferguson

I'm really glad I knew nothing of the controversy surrounding Ornette Coleman when radio host Lars Hoel played his Quartet records on the WCAL Afternoon Jazz program. All I knew was the warmth and joy which this music engendered in me. The lilting, gentle, loping swing was like internal dancing to accompany those angst-filled junior high years. 

I had no idea that for some, this music was junk, madness, and threatened the end of "jazz-as-we-know-it." I had no idea that Ornette had unintentionally split the arts world down the middle with his life-affirming melodies and non-dictatorial band leadership. I had no idea that in 1959, at an extended gig at New York's storied Five Spot, Leonard Bernstein, composer and charismatic Music Director of the New York Philarmonic, spontaneously walked on stage and hugged Ornette, publicly effusive about his love for what the jazz saxophonist was doing.

I was innocent of all that, and I believe the better for it. My first copy of This Is Our Music was happily purchased on the strength of the radio airplay. It was destroyed--along with the extremely rare first take version of John Coltrane's Ascension--in a car crash which fortunately did not hurt the St. Olaf college chum to which my brother had lent the albums.

I have read that as a young man playing in rhythm and blues bands, Coleman felt the music caused violence amongst the bar patrons. He wanted to play a music more reflective of what was inside his soul. The album's opening cut is Blues Connotation. It's a good example of how Coleman uses blues but bends it to something beyond itself.

Read more on Ornette Coleman from a 1985 Atlantic article.