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Special Report: Ornette Coleman’s Funeral in NYC

Generations of jazz greats pay tribute

Sonny Rollins attends Ornette Coleman's funeral at the Riverside Church in New York City; June 27, 2015
Pharoah Sanders performs at Ornette Coleman's funeral at the Riverside Church in NYC; June 27, 2015
Cecil Taylor reads poetry at Ornette Coleman's funeral at the Riverside Church in NYC; June 27, 2015
Henry Threadgill performs at Ornette Coleman's funeral at the Riverside Church in NYC; June 27, 2015
Yoko Ono speaks at Ornette Coleman's funeral at the Riverside Church in NYC; June 27, 2015
Denardo Coleman (left) and Jack DeJohnette at Ornette Coleman's funeral at the Riverside Church in NYC; June 27, 2015
The Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes Jr. delivers the eulogy at Ornette Coleman's funeral at the Riverside Church in NYC; June 27, 2015
Alumni of Ornette Coleman's Prime Time -- Dave Bryant, Chris Rosenberg, Ken Wessel, Bern Nix, Charles Ellerbe and Jamaaladeen Tacuma (from left) -- reunite at Coleman's funeral at the Riverside Church in NYC; June 27, 2015
Joe Lovano (left) and David Murray perform at Ornette Coleman's funeral at the Riverside Church in NYC; June 27, 2015

Public funeral services for musicians as revered and influential as Ornette Coleman, the alto saxophonist and composer who died on June 11 at age 85, can make for precarious planning. The natural temptation would be to turn the event into a hit parade featuring high-profile acolytes-at which point a day of mourning becomes a source of entertainment and the requisite respect is lost.

Coleman’s service, which stretched well beyond three hours at an impressively filled Riverside Church in New York City on Saturday, struck a reverent balance between a celebration of his art and the realization that a beloved man is gone. There was probably a surplus of speakers, but most of them tended to bring necessary perspectives. More important, they succeeded in humanizing an artist who was mythologized-both by himself and by the culture around him-throughout the majority of his life.

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