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BOOKS & THE CULTURE A Harmolodic Life BY DAVE OLIPHANT ORNETTE COLEMAN A HARMOLODIC LIFE. By John Litweiler. 258 pp. New York: William Morrow. $23. 7 , OCAS JAZZ Myth or Reality?” was the title of an.August sympo sium in Houston, where the Houston Chronicle’ s Rick Mitchell observed that a Texan is listed on almost every page of Leonard Feather’s 1960 Encyclopedia of Jazz. The jury still seems to be out on the question posed by the symposium title, but the photographs projected by Dallas archivist Allison C. Tucker left no doubt that countless native Texas jazzmen have played a part in many of the major developments in America’s most original music. And Fort Worth-born jazzman Ornette Coleman, according to John Litweiler’s new biography of the multi-instrumentalist, composer and band leader, is one of “four artists whose music and presence” have marked “turning points in the course of jazz history.” The other three are legendary Buddy Bolden, Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, and Charlie “Bird” Parker. After jazz eras denominated Hot, Swing, and Bebop, Ornette Coleman heralded a new age with his 1959 albums The Shape of Jazz to Come and Change of the Century, which were comparable to Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings of 1926-27 and the first Gillespie-Parker masterpieces of 1945. The Free Jazz era ushered in by Coleman derives its name in part from his 1960 album of the same title; earlier, in 1959, on his tune entitled Free, Coleman played his famous white-plastic alto saxophone in a solo that Litweiler describes as “shattering in its power.” He adds that this solo “was a particularly remarkable achievement clearly, ‘free form’ meant, not `free from form,’ but ‘free to create form’ and that remains true of the best post-Coleman musicians right up to the present.” John Litweiler’ s biography is an excellent and sympathetic study of the founder of the Free Jazz movement, who was commissioned by the French government to compose a work entitled The Country That Gave the Freedom Symbol to America, which was performed in 1989 at the bicentennial of the French Dave Oliphant is a freelance writer in Austin. Revolution. But even before he received the official recognition of Europe, Coleman’s place in the jazz world was well established. Since 1969 he has had a place in the Down Beat Hall of Fame and in 1987 the magazine’s readers voted him “Jazz Musician of the Year.” Though at 63 Coleman is still active, and apparently full of ambitious, revolutionary projects, it is fitting that Litweiler has paid high tribute to one of the geniuses of jazz during his lifetime, providing for the public the story of in pianist Herbie Hancock’s words “a man of great conviction, a pioneer always moving forward down the path he has chosen, a can opener who opens all of us up as musicians. .I could not play what I play had it not been for Ornette Coleman.” Making extensive use of interviews with relatives, fellow musicians, and jazz fans and critics, along with insightful analyses of Coleman’s performances both by Litweiler himself and by other astute jazz authorities such as T.E. Martin, Max Harrison, Whitney Balliett, Martin Williams and Dan Morgenstern, the biographer has woven together a thoroughly readable account of the man and his music, focusing on the highlights of Coleman’s struggles and triumphs, revealing in the process why he has been alternately vilified as a fraud and lauded as a generous living saint, and relating how his music is a mixture of “thwarted cadences and crushed emotions,” of an “optimistic playing” and “creative flow” of ideas “truly beautiful to hear.” Ornette Coleman’s career began while he was a student in the segregated schools of Fort Worth in the middle 1940s, when he took up the saxophone on his own at age 14 and became a self-taught musician. In the view of jazz historian Gtmther Schuller, it was “precisely because Mr. Coleman was not ‘handicapped’ by conventional music education that he has been able to make his unique contribution to contemporary music.” There were early portents of musical genius; as when Ornette “misinterpreted” a standard scale while playing in a church band and was told he had been “playing the instrument wrong for two years” and that he would “never be a saxophone player.” At the city’s black high school Ornette was kicked out of the band “for indulging in some improvising in the midst of John Philip Sousa’s ‘Washington Post March.'” But Coleman persisted and would encounter even more difficult critics, like the patrons of a Baton Rouge dance hall, where he was kicked in the stomach and almost beaten to death because he “interjected some of his modern ideas” into the blues tenor solo he played while touring with a minstrel show. I.M. Terrell High School was a safer venue, where Coleman could share his vision with talented young musicians, and two of them would later figure prominently in his internationally acclaimed groups. Trumpeter Charles Moffett switched to drums and toured Europe in 1965 with the Coleman Trio, and tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman appeared with the Coleman Quartet at the historically important Paris concert of 1969. Another schoolmate at Terrell was woodwind player Prince Lasha, who imitated a Fort Worth tenorist named Red Connors, considered by Lasha to be “the greatest inspiration in the South-West.” Connors, who Ornette said was better than legendary swing tenor man Lester Young, encouraged these young musicians and impressed on Ornette “the importance of reading music fluently.” In Fort Worth, fellow musicians congregated at the Coleman house to practice “because their own families objected to their playing in their own homes.” What began in Fort Worth continued, as throughout Coleman’s career his home like his Artists House in New York provided a gathering place for his musicians, who often lived with him. In Fort Worth, the young musicians might have practiced at Coleman’s house but they got their education playing with local bands in the clubs. By the mid ’40s, clarinetist John Carter, another of Ornette’s schoolmates, recalled that, with older men in the armed services, “High school-age boys could go out and get work at what would ordinarily be a man’s job.” Like many of his fellows, Ornette played in rhythm-and-blues bands and the experience would show up later in his blues entitled “Tears Inside,” where Ornette plays in a style Litweiler refers to as his “strained sound, bent or splintered notes, and sometimes brutal attack.” Ornette said of himself at this time that he was a “honker,” like Texas tenorist Illinois Jacquet. The result of Ornette’s early on-the-job training was not only his own “harmolodics,” but what T.E. Martin calls “a rhythmic intuition unrivalled in the new wave and 20 NOVEMBER 26, 1993