An Analysis and Transcription of “Peace” by Ornette Coleman
Redondo Beach, California
If you open up any jazz history book the likelihood of finding the name Ornette Coleman is highly probable. His place in music history is unmistakable and it’s important to understand why. Ornette Coleman started his musical endeavors in 1947 and by 1959 he had shaped his talents and skill enough to arouse the ears of Atlantic records. The second of many albums for this label was titled The Shape of Jazz to Come. By then, the jazz community was divided into two groups that considered him genius and otherwise a fool. Even today there is still controversy surrounding the legitimacy of his music. In order to know his music and understand its place in history, it is essential to understand this man’s approach and the inner workings of his compositional and improvisational style. “Peace” along with the rest of the numbers for this session was recorded in 1959.
Part of the problem leading to the gravest of misunderstandings is that anyone can claim to be playing free. No structure, no changes, no problem! If a person is free from organization how hard could it be right? Heed warning jazzers, as for those of you devoted to your craft, consider this: if you think free jazz isn’t legit, what about a musician claiming “it’s a jazz thing,” where the “jazz thing” has nothing to do with tradition, melody, harmony, rhythm or any of those other elements and has more to do with wrong notes. Anyone can claim to be playing “jazzy.” Whereas devotees understand that legitimacy has to do with listening, practice, and at least one of your two feet planted in the past. The same can be said for free jazz. There is much more going on in underlying structures and melody. Indeed the personnel on “Peace” were all playing “free jazz”, but in the analysis to follow you can find a few examples of structure.
The prominent features of the melody are set in the following table
In the first few bars, the horns coupled with the introduction of the rhythm section create a bold statement in measure 2 (example 1). The deceptive cadence and the unfolding phrase define one of the key elements used for interplay throughout the solos. The rhythm section embraces the essence of the statement to later provide a sense of form and continuity throughout the evolution of the song. This excursion was repeatedly drawn upon to lead the listener to something vaguely reminiscent of the familiar.
Implied form through repetition of cadential figures
The setting of little harmonic restraint lends itself to a sound of complexity or even disarray, but if you strip away the layers or counterpoint from the bass, it’s easy to understand that something very diatonic in essence makes up at least part of the whole picture. One of the most compelling and tangible elements found in the score are Ornette Coleman’s great melodies. Listening to one line often presents a very basic, tangible progression that is sensible to the ear. Coleman was a descendent of the bop period and some extensions are unarguable, but the majority of melodies come from his horn in very wholesome, linear fashion, even entertaining the phrasing of popular sounds and great lines that often imply the simplest of chord patterns and cadences.
Although brief, there are examples of a rhythmic motive throughout the sax solo. Ornette Coleman is mindful of variety, sparingly using motivic development as a contrast to the typical melody/compliment structures. Forget not, the same motives and sequences were used to provide unity even with a free tonality. The following table shows some of the motivic examples found in his solo.
Throughout the sax solo there are many examples of large structures interwoven into the musical fabric. Guide tone lines are subtly linked to Ornette Coleman’s melodies, making them an underlying force that creates a sense of tension and release over periods of multiple phrases. This is an example of Ornette Coleman revealing his control of the harmonic and rhythmic logic throughout the unfolding of his solo.
Peace and free jazz have found their place in history, giving the chords and form a push in a new direction. From the above analysis I hope listeners and readers can develop a further understanding of the structures found in Ornette Coleman’s improvisation on “Peace.” While listening to his work keep these findings in mind and if you get the chance, see him for yourself.
The Shape of Jazz to Come. Perf. Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Billy
Higgins. Atlantic Records, 1959
Wilson, Peter N. Ornette Coleman His life and Music. Berkeley Hills Books Berkeley,
Yanow, Scott. Ornette Coleman Biography. AEC One Stop Group Inc. 5 October 2004.
Goldman, Vivian. Ornette Coleman Biography. Harmolodic Inc. 5 October 2004.
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