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Farewell to Ornette Coleman, a jazz giant

Ornette Coleman wasn’t only on top of the my list; he was alone there.

The jazz giant who died today at the age of 85 was the last unquestioned titan of the past 50 years that I still hoped to experience in live concert for the first time. And sadly, I’ll never get that chance, nor will anyone else.

I have caught live performances by every other jazz giant that I might plausibly have seen live. (Many died young; many of those traveled very little.) In my column on Sunday, I’ll write about how very lucky I’ve been in the world of first-hand jazz witness – the magnificent giants and their music I’ve caught in live performance, including many I was even lucky enough to interview.

How dearly I wish Ornette Coleman had been among them.

Ornette was, until today, among those I still held out fond hopes to see. (Referring to jazz musicians by their first name is not a sign of disrespect or of condescending fandom but rather an indication for so many of us of how intimately and how long their art has been part of our lives.)

I’ll try to explain on Sunday how very many of the most committed jazz fans are probably in the same boat I am and why that boat never sailed past Ornette Coleman performing live, whether in Buffalo or anywhere else.

On a “Throwback Thursday” whose losses seem especially grim – Ornette died within hours of the great actors Christopher Lee and Ron Moody – one has to admit, about all three, how long and wonderful had been their lives and careers. Ornette was 85, Lee and Moody both were in their 90s.

It was only Ornette, though, in one art form – jazz – who changed almost everyone who came after him.

That is what I hope to celebrate adequately on Sunday.


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