In 1959, when Ornette Coleman arrived in New York and opened on the Bowery with the quartet that included Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins, there was no talk of a harmolodic system. He spoke of playing with natural raw feeling instead of technical obsession, yet Coleman proved to have the most comprehensive grasp of improvised order outside of preconceived form that we have heard in the jazz avant-garde. Coleman brought a conception to the music that Wallace Roney explains perfectly: “Ornette wanted to get the same kind of freedom he heard in Charlie Parker but discovered that the only way he could do that was to move away from chords and count on his melodic imagination to get him where he wanted to go.”
Most of Coleman’s greatest recordings are either on Atlantic or Blue Note and were made by 1965. With Cherry, Freddie Hubbard, Eric Dolphy, Haden, Jimmy Garrison, Scott LaFaro, David Izenzon, Higgins, Ed Blackwell and Charles Moffett, he laid down what remains the heaviest body of purely avant-garde jazz. Just a few years ago, when the saxophonist performed with Haden and Higgins at Lincoln Center, it was obvious that Coleman is still the boss and that when he has actual jazz musicians up to the task of playing his concept with absolute authority, his vision of group improvising is far, far beyond that of those who claim to have extended upon what he brought to the Five Spot in 1959.