Michael Stephans, Experiencing Ornette Coleman (Rowman & Littlefield)
When Ornette Coleman (1930-2015) became prominent in the late 1950s, critics almost invariably described him as “iconoclastic.” In his invaluable history and appreciation of the alto saxophonist, Michael Stephans reminds us that Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie made departures as dramatic as Coleman’s and each was charged by the establishment of his time with violating tradition. It may be too early to judge whether Coleman’s evolutionary role will ultimately prove as important as those examples but sixty years on, his free jazz pioneering continues to propel innovation. Stephans approaches the Coleman story with the appreciation of a working drummer, the analytical skill of a university professor and clear writing about complex musical matters. Whatever deep academic analysis of Coleman may emerge in years to come, with this eminently readable volume Stephans lays the groundwork.