Re-posted For Ornette: Top-Down #2: Phrase Length, Strength, and the Third Dimension

To commemorate the passing of the great Ornette Coleman I’m re-posting below an overly academic article from 2012. Slog through it, then at the end is a link to Ornette’s famous “Harmolodic Manifesto”. No words, prose, or geeky analysis of free jazz can begin to explain the power of the multi-dimensional approach to jazz that Ornette inspired, and which still sounds fresh and interesting some 50+ years later. Just skip right to the Ornette link. But don’t just read about it, listen to his music which spans five decades. Unfortunately they took down my bootleg soundcloud posting of “Lonely Women”, but that’s easy enough to find. That is, if for some reason, it’s not in your record collection.


There’s nothing wrong with strict song form, standards, blues, etc., and I have no objection to chord progressions – some of my best friends have strong resolutions. But, jazz music’s two big building blocks, song form (4-8-12-16 bar structure) and chord progression, your two most important resources, can also inhibit you.

Please see my earlier post about writing for the players and playing like a writer, where I talk about group improvisation – a musical gesture from one player influences another player, and the resulting interplay is composed improvisation, written from the top down (as opposed to being from the ground up, like blowing over a tune or a groove).

Miles Davis and Bill Evans gave us modal and non-harmonic playing, Ornette Coleman was among the first to fully liberate jazz from set phrases lengths, structures and chord changes.

So, for a moment, let’s say that we want to write…

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About Scott Healy

LA composer and performer.
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