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Ornette Coleman and Humanity: Parts 1 and 2

Matt Lavelle By

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Part One

When we sleep, we're often in commune with our soul. As you wake, you may receive some gentle messages for you to try and remember or use. A few years back as I was waking up I felt that everything in my life was about to change in a way I could never expect. A massive shift was imminent. Shortly after that photographer John Rogers introduced me to Ornette Coleman. I'll always be very grateful to him for that.

I was in such awe of meeting Ornette that I could barely speak, but a gentle message from within told me to press on, that this was perhaps one of the key moments of my life. I was on my way to play at the Downtown Music Gallery with my big brother Daniel Carter. I told Ornette that one of my favorite things about his music was the rhythm and that it inspired me to write a calypso melody. He asked me to play it for him. I played it on Bass Clarinet, nervous as hell but inspired. Ornette was into it and told me to come back anytime. What I didn't know, was that in only thirty seconds, he had completely figured me out. He knew what I did, and what I didn't do. He knew what I had to work on. He knew what my relationship with music was all about. I had been sized up for the process of harmolodics. As I left, Ornette said that I didn't need to call. If I came by and he was home, then it was meant to happen. If he wasn't there, then it wasn't supposed to happen. Such was evidence of his intrinsic relationship with nature.

After some soul searching I knew I had to return, and many of these times, John made it happen. The first time I went by myself. I became consumed with finding out why I had crossed paths with Ornette in this way. I was in a state of shock, awe, and disbelief. When I arrived, he said, "You got me!" I sat down in his kitchen area, and he poured me a glass of root beer with lemon juice and we got into some of the deepest conversation I have ever had in my entire life. His extremely personal way of talking forced me out of my head. I had to listen on a whole other level. He brought up super heavy subjects. I was determined above all to keep up. I decided I could just listen and try and learn, but I needed to keep up. I brought up astrology and musical metaphysics. We found common ground most often when we discussed problems that the human race has always had but has never been able to overcome. We also got real on the subject of male vs. female, and what was really going on. I offered to do his astrology chart, his numerology, and his Native American totem, animal spirit guides. We didn't get to music yet for some time. He laid out the groundwork for this giving me a few core concepts. Words were the notes of the human being. The idea is sacred, and lastly, that the greatest thing any two human beings can have is a unison.

The next time I entered what I called Harmolodics university, we went full blown meta-psychics. After we had gone through his astrology, numerology, and the totem, I asked him about John Coltrane. He told me that after Trane had passed, he received an envelope filled with money and a note that said thank you for teaching him. Ornette said that he cried for days after this happened. I asked him to talk about what they worked on together. What he told me was too personal, and not for online consumption. Some things are still sacred. I pressed on and asked him about Albert Ayler, which made him visibly upset. Ornette said with a great deal of emotion and seeming regret that if Albert had just come to him as they had discussed, that he would still be alive. Ornette said he would have straightened out everything. Pressing on further I asked if Ornette knew Giuseppi Logan.

"The saxophonist? You should bring him by."

Giuseppi was ready to do it, but sadly this was one meeting I just could not facilitate. I tried once, and it didn't work. Finding and getting G to OC when he may or may not be there proved daunting.

During this period, Greg Osby came by to do a pre-interview with Ornette as they were going to have a public interview at a big conference. I said I should leave, but Ornette told me to stay. There were a few folks there, and we sat down for a discussion with Ornette holding court. Right off that the bat, he said to Greg:

"The major is white, and the minor is black, don't you agree?"

I was flabbergasted by this question, and never forgot it.

Finally, it was music time. The rest of my encounters became 100% music. I've written about it extensively in other places, and other spaces. One of the first things he said shocked me to no end, but I got it.

"I can see you have a sexual relationship with your horn."

The absolute apex came soon afterwards in a session we were having with the great bassist Charnett Moffett. Determined to hang, I was playing all over the place. Ornette stopped the music.

"I know what you play like, and how you sound. Why would you play like it wasn't you?"

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