James Jordan, a Texas-born musician who was the longtime director of music programs for the New York State Council on the Arts, died Dec. 4 of an undisclosed cause at age 87. Jordan was a cousin of Ornette Coleman and also served as the late saxophonist’s manager. Jordan’s death was confirmed by Denardo Coleman, Ornette’s son.
The location of Jordan’s death was not noted in the announcement circulated by Denardo Coleman; however, a service will take place Dec. 18 at 11 a.m. EST at Benta’s Funeral Home in Harlem.
According to the news release announcing Jordan’s passing, he and Ornette Coleman grew up together in Ft. Worth, Texas, and played in their church and high school bands as youths. A tenor saxophonist who later added baritone to his arsenal as well, Jordan played professionally with well-known headliners such as Big Joe Turner and B.B. King, before starting his career as an educator in Columbus, Texas. He continued to work as a musician in Austin while serving as a community activist and as Executive Director of the Human Opportunities Corporation in Travis County, Texas.
Jordan became Coleman’s manager in the late 1960s and secured a deal with Columbia Records for the release of the 1972 album Skies of America, which featured Coleman with the London Symphony Orchestra.
He subsequently took a position with the New York State Council on the Arts, ultimately becoming Director of the State Council’s Music Program. He remained with the organization for 29 years, retiring in 2005. According to the official announcement on Jordan’s death, “The NYS Council for the Arts serviced all of the state’s arts institutions from the Metropolitan Opera to the AACM NY Concert Series. With James as director countless small creative arts organizations knew they had a champion in the State House.”
The announcement further notes that Jordan also served as the founding secretary of the board for the creation of the National Jazz Service Organization, and as chairperson of the Policy Panel for Jazz as well as the Grants Panel for the National Endowment for the Arts.
After retiring, Jordan returned to managing his cousin’s business affairs.