An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 listeners of all ages, genders, races, religions — Americans and visitors from abroad, too — enjoyed the directly expressive, highly personalized music of Pulitzer Prize-winner Ornette Coleman as the finale of the outdoor Chicago Jazz Festival last Sunday night. The attentive, mellow and celebratory audience response, including a standing ovation throughout the 5000 seats nearest the bandshell in Grant Park, suggested that improvisation created without a priori conventions or artificial constraints, which Coleman throughout his remarkable career has alluded to as “free jazz,” “harmolodics” and “sound grammar,” upon easy access and unpressured exposure, is as natural as breathing, feeling and talking. As Coleman declared on one of his recordings almost 50 years ago, This is our music.
Coleman played alto saxophone, trumpet and violin, accompanied by upright and electric bassists and his son Denardo Coleman on drums — instrumentation similar to that of his latest record (among numerous international awards, last year he received a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement). This quartet’s expansively unfettered, emotion-rich sounds capped an afternoon (and indeed, six full days) of colorful, original presentions derived from blues, jazz and Hispanic music traditions, popular songs, soundtrack music and advanced compositional techniques, performed by virtuoso innovators and interpreters. Players and attendees alike seemed quite at home.
t president of the Jazz Institute should be better known for having encouraged and mentored several generations of musicians including Muhal Richard Abrams and others of the AACM, and keeping the art of Ellington alive in Chi.