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Ornette Coleman, Saxophonist and Free Jazz Icon, Dead at Age 85

by Ryan Book   Jun 11, 2015 11:56 AM EDT

Ornette Coleman, one of the most influential figures in jazz history, has died at the age of 85 from cardiac arrest, according to The New York Times. The saxophonist would make jazz history at the end of the '50s and during the early '60s with his audio experiments, which would form the foundation of what many now call "free jazz."

The Shape of Jazz to Come was released during 1959, and was originally supposed to be titled Focus on Sanity. Producer Neshuti Ertegun suggested the eventual title to the star however, suggesting that it was the onset of a revolution in jazz music. Ertegun was 100 percent correct: Critics and fellow jazz musicians went into an uproar over the album, with some praising its style while others lambasted Coleman's wild approach. One of the biggest critics was Miles Davis, who had just released his classic and relatively conservative Kind of Blue that year. Nonetheless, Davis' second quintet (featuring later legends Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter among others) would come to reflect the sound on albums such as E.S.P. and The Sorcerer.

Coleman's Free Jazz would continue his screwing with convention during 1960, featuring two quartets—one on each side of the stereo channel. Coleman led the horns and a single drummer on the left channel of the record, and then a separate second channel—featuring a totally different lineup, which had recorded entirely apart from the first—was mixed in. Once again, opinions were violently mixed, however most jazz critics have come to accept both albums as "musts" in the history of the genre.

His iconic status as an experimental musician made him magnetic for a variety of avant garde-leaning performers over the years. Yoko Ono and Lou Reed both reached out for collaborations. He would finally receive a trophy of some sort for his efforts during 2007 when he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his 2007 album Sound Grammar.

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