The Music Blog: Ornette Coleman and The Shape of Jazz to Come


I have heard it said that riding roller coasters is something you either love or you don’t. You can learn to like it but to love it there is some gene you have to have something along the flight or fight response. I don’t know if I believe it. Growing up in the metroplex between Dallas and Fort Worth I got to visit 6 Flags Over Texas with some regularity. Up until I was 10 or so, that meant that we might make a trip if someone visited us with kids from somewhere else. When I got older I would go with friends, usually 4 of us if we could make it work and in the summertime it was like a trip to Mecca once or twice a year. The Last time I went with parental chaperone I was about 9 years old and I went with my dad, Uncle and older cousin. When I was a kid the park was still divided into the 6 areas representing the 6 flags that ruled over Texas which was cool. The big attraction was a roller coaster called Big Ben. Compared to today’s roller coasters it was pretty tame but there was always an element of danger to Big Ben as in its history it had fallen from the track a couple of times injuring and I think even killing someone. I wanted no part of that roller coaster and neither did my older cousin but my dad and uncle rode it and then insisted that we were riding it. Just being in line had me in a near panic, but my father’s voice that it would be fine was reassuring. Then the ride was over in what seemed seconds of heart pounding rushing joy.


I was hooked on roller coasters.

Twenty Five years later or so I found myself on the opposite end of things with my own son. My son is very different from me. He is a tremendous athlete, has this wonderful hand eye coordination, blond haired blue eyed super cute. When I see him the first thought that hits my brain is damn I did one thing right, the only thing and I sure tried hard to mess it up. My kid has always been really fearless. He was a wonderful youth baseball player and when we moved to kid pitch he was worried about getting hit with the ball and since he was pitching hitting someone else with the ball. He got hit the first game, spent one more at bat being nervous and then you could see the shift in his eyes and he stepped in there and knocked it through. He hit his first kid the next game, his first that he pitched looked at me and shrugged his shoulders and smiled which admittedly wasn’t the best response with a kid writhing in pain on the ground but it was sort of funny. When he decided to ride roller coasters it was just something he said. Here are the roller coasters I want to ride and here is the order that I want to ride them in. It was a logical list starting with something not too high and building up to what he thought was the most challenging. He loved every one of them including the big wooden coaster at 6 Flags the Texas Giant. A year later 6 flags opened up Titan. Even I was a little worried about it although I was sure it was safe. It was a new metal coaster really fast and had a huge drop, a huge steep drop. I was a tad worried but hell it was a roller coaster and I was going to ride it. My son saw it and said nope maybe later. Throughout the day he kept coming back to it looking at the line and finally without saying anything he got into line. I knew enough not to say anything so we talked baseball, girls and anything else. That line moved fast and I saw him getting worried but I give him credit he sure didn’t have a lot of back down in him. So he told me that he didn’t want to be up front my preferred car and he didn’t want to be in the back my second favorite car so we were towards the front, nice secure and safely in the car. I made one mistake but nothing we could do about it. As we started to climb I got excited and I pointed to the Giant which was nearby and he saw that we were already higher than the Giant which was a tall coaster. He said he wanted to get off. I chuckled and said dude just hang on cause there ain’t anything we can do about it now. That drop was breathtaking.


My son would call me as he got older and went to the park with friends just to tell me which roller coasters he rode and how the ride was. I always thought that was pretty cool.

Here we go again right? What if Mike wrote a blog about music that didn’t actually have anything to do with music? Okay fair point. Touche!

I used to think jazz was like roller coasters, you either loved it or you didn’t but it wasn’t something you could somehow learn to like or tolerate. Truth to tell I don’t really know the answer. I have listened to all sorts of jazz, from that quiet storm junk that littered the 80’s beginning with Kenny G’s Songbird and moving out slowly and discovering bands that were both smooth and those that played a more traditional sound; bands like the Yellow Jackets, and the Crusaders and even the Rippingtons. I also listened to artists that were older who were making a more softer easier to digest jazz to sell records, guys like Grover Washington Jr. and Ramsey Lewis. Don’t get me wrong I am not diminishing the work or value of that music. I once had a friend who had a different girlfriend on every street in Fort Worth it seemed and no girl seemed impossible. He would talk to me and I seriously just hoped that well one of them might fall to me. He used to tell me that jazz drew the honeys, seriously his words not mine.

Over time though, I began to be a lot more serious about learning about jazz. It wasn’t easy like the blues. With the blues you can put on a Muddy Waters record and you are there. It’s just easier to navigate easier to access, more digestable. Jazz is complex, from its rhythms and beats to the bands. People get lost in the bands, well not only is it Miles Davis but its Miles Davis with John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley. That seems to be as important as the music itself and in that regard it’s like classical. Who is conducting, what orchestra is playing? These things matter. Jazz breaks my cardinal rule that music should be easily digestable, meaning that it should not be a challenge to get through it. Take all the conductors and orchestra crap out of classical music and there is still the music, the beautiful music. Dvorak is still Dvorak, Mozart is still Mozart. Of course jazz lovers will disagree with me.

My first real experience in diving into the deeper world of more serious Jazz came with Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 500 albums of all time. I think I have told the story although I saw an updated version which included a few that I don’t have the list I started with is complete for me. I have all 500 and among these are some of the real great jazz albums. You could probably name a few or at least the artists, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker. There may be some others in there not thought of off the top of your head and of course there was at least one I knew nothing about nor had I even heard of the artist despite the fact that he was from my own hometown of Fort Worth, Texas.

My knowledge of Jazz was poor or limited but I knew a little. If you got me into a room with a bunch of jazz lovers I might survive a few minutes before they found out I didn’t know much at all. Most music for me falls into pretty simple categories; music I love, music I like, music I dislike and music I despise, also known as anything done by Frank Zappa. I was dutiful and when it was time to buy Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come I did so. That’s what a collector does. Now just for your edification I don’t buy music and rush home and pop it into the cd player or on the turn table. Nope, not at all. Think about it. Come on you have the answer. Yep I put it into my stacks where it belongs alphabetically. What does that mean? Well it means that if I am listening to Badfinger and buy a Ornette Coleman cd then I am going to listen to it about 6 weeks later, maybe sooner, maybe a little later. If I am listening to Def Leppard and buy an Ornette Coleman cd it’s going to be 11 to 14 months later, which is about the current length of time it takes me to go around. If you think I might actually forget I bought it when it comes around you would be right. Many times I don’t have a clue what it is, or why I bought it.

I remember the day I listened to it for the first time. I was living in Atlanta. It was a fall weekend day and I was sitting on my back porch watching my dogs play. I had the grill lit, meat was ready to put on and the cd changed to Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come. Those opening notes hit me like the drop of a roller coaster.


When it was over I sat there breathless. The coals in my grill had burned down. I rushed to put the meat on. And I restarted that cd. I listened to it again. And again.


And again.


There are albums that I love, albums that I think are breathtaking, that I think strike right to the heart of who I am. There are albums that I feel connected to my soul as if they were written just for me. There are albums for almost every occasion, from playing video games to sitting outside around a fire, or hanging out in the pool. There are albums that are perfect for a few beers, for a cigar and glass of great bourbon, or a good glass of Pinot Noir. There are albums that are great for yard work, albums to pump you up for a good workout. I have never had an album that was like a roller coaster, that gave me that rush, that made my heart pound and left me breathless left me feeling like I was eleven years old again running with my friends to get back into line to do it all over again.

I don’t think the album is for everyone. I think you better like jazz a bit meaning that jazz ought to be more of a hit and less of a miss for you. You should have a fair background of listening to good jazz a variety of good jazz which means that you should have listened to way more than the complete collection of Kenny G. But if you have listened to jazz, given it a whirl around the dance floor a couple of times and like some of it then you should definitely give Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come a really good listen. You better hold onto something. Now I always seem to go in a different direction than all the experts. Most of them have Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue as the greatest jazz album ever. It’s a great album. I really enjoy listening to it, although truth to tell Sketches of Spain has always been the better album for me, but neither are as all encompassing as The Shape of Jazz to Come. I also don’t think anything Coltrane has done comes close either. I do love me some Coltrane. Whenever I see Ornette Coleman moving up on my playlist I get a little excited. It’s like standing in line for a great roller coaster and you know it’s not going to disappoint you. It’s coming. And then……..


Mike out

4 thoughts on “The Music Blog: Ornette Coleman and The Shape of Jazz to Come

  1. Listened to Kind Of Blue at lunch today. I like Coleman’s Portrait cd, and I’ll listen to The Shape of Jazz to Come this week. Thanks for the suggestion! LOL “anything done by Frank Zappa.”
    I love, love, love those coasters at Six Flags, and took my daughter every Sunday afternoon, when the crowds were always dying down. Unfortunately my optician put a stop to roller coasters due to weak retina attachment. Of course you understand that!


    • Thank you and yes I sure know about roller coasters. I used to think how nice it my kid to have kids and we all go ride them together but riding roller coasters is something I will.never be able to do again. But they were sure fun while it lasted. I think it’s really cool to listen to 4 or 5 really good jazz albums right in a row. I love listening to kind of blue and giant steps back to back same year same Coltrane. You will truly love the shape of jazz to.come though. Good stuff. Art blakey is really w ok wonderful, not many drummers leading bands


  2. You know me and my ideas of jazz. I’m a love and hate kind of guy. There are the albums that I get lost in and yes, will hit the replay button. There are also albums that I can’t get passed a single piece. No, I’m not a Kenny G guy and I think Dave Brubeck hung the moon. Vince Guraldi helps guide it. There is a ton that dwells between and lurks on the edges. Oh, I gotta go, there’s a Benny Goodman album cued up. This one of your best man. See you in the wax.


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