next up previous contents
Next: Original Composition Up: Ornette Coleman Previous: Historical Perspective

Order in the New Music of Chaos

Listening to the result of this new found sense of free will, there was a definite order that can be plainly heard. The sessions didn't collapse into complete disorder, in fact, they produced music of incredible creativity. As it turns out, Ornette Coleman's group employed a number of different techniques aimed at holding a common focus, including a `swinging' rhythm section, motivic development and a tonal center.

Perhaps the most important decision on Coleman's part was to keep within the style of jazz music through the use of a `swinging' rhythm section. Standard jazz swing rhythms, albeit with Higgins's personal touches, form the backbone of the music. By utilizing swing, Coleman places the musicians in a familiar context where they might employ the tools they have already worked so hard to develop.

The technique of motivic or thematic development is frequently enlisted by every member of the group. Historically, the concept has played an important role in composed classical music where the terminology, `variations on a theme,' is put to widespread use. The basic idea consists of development of a musical idea, and statement of variations on that idea through application of a number of subtechniques, including:

side slipping
Restating the theme with all of the notes raised or lowered by some interval
inversion and retrograde
Consist of, for the former, taking the pitches as they appear on the staff, and flipping the staff upside down. Retrograde is a statement of the melodic fragment backwards, that is, flipping the staff left to right.
melodic contours
Viewing a melodic fragment not from the standpoint of specific pitches, but from a general contour. Development occurs through geometric manipulation of this contour, or by applying musical techniques such as inversion or retrograde.

In addition to the above, some fundamental harmonic constraint was applied to the solo form, that of a tonal center. Quite often, the musicians would choose to think of soloing with respect to a single chord, key or even a single note. This would serve to give the soloist (as well as the listener) a point of reference.

As an example of Coleman's work, In Appendix A I have analyzed a transcription of his solo on Congeniality, from 1959.

Born out of Ornette Coleman's compositions and improvisations was a new way of thinking about jazz music. No longer were musicians governed by rapidly progressing chord changes - they were free.

next up previous contents
Next: Original Composition Up: Ornette Coleman Previous: Historical Perspective

Mike Andrews
Wed Oct 23 01:18:29 EDT 1996