371 Days: Reflections On Ornette Coleman


vn tem flags

It has been 371 days since my saxophone teacher and beloved friend wandered off to Elysian fields, to God, to Paradise, to the place where thoroughly kind and wise people go when the body cannot contain such a soul any further. Ornette Coleman, Pulitzer Prize winning genius and man of peace, encouraged me to pursue my passion for free improvisation and Asian/Buddhist aesthetics, and was the spark that lit any/all greatness that I am able to muster. I loved him madly, and he was in my thoughts when I walked the streets of Ha Noi, Vietnam recently. So as I wandered words began to come to me in a particular form: part haibun: a 17th century Japanese literary form mixing autobiographical haiku and prose, also involving travelogue., and part zuihitsu: (literally “following the brush”) a scattered selection of essays and fragmented ideas inspired by one’s surroundings. The following haibun/zuihitsu hybrid is for you and Uncle Ornette.

Canto One

(I will be your today, and rejoice!)

“Wonderful, wonderful” said Ornette and the Buddha; Ha Noi is a genre

its passages scooters improvising counterpoint in composed roads

…having dreamed a thousand dreams… I dream him.

Ornette singing peace upon a flag, and the earth seeing war no more….

Every waking rhythm, every note = cars all fending for themselves

bio-industrial bebop, a love letter to such girls named Minh and Kanh.

I sit inches from Ha Noi’s street/songs; arteries swarming with drum solos

A traffic light; merely a fermata all ignore

the beautiful dust; the motorcycles screaming [everythingallatonce].

Traffic is theater: streams of circumstantial kabuki. Even the sun sweats after 7 am…

…I fell again on my morning bed, and returned to him with sleep.

He sang peace upon a flag,

and the earth saw war no more….


Canto Two


To know Ha Noi? To find a pocket of pause in vascular streets. I love Hanoi!

vascular roads, deciding moment by moment what phố comes next

in the minimal parade of #IAmHere… abandoned by trends.

Except only now do I drink good tea,

only now am I too old to gaze with fire,

to bend my talk into a casual tai ch’i of engaged action.

Poets marry experience and honeymoon within.

How small! That is when “I don’t know”

should be their poem, honestly? Be my poem!

What if I am merely bad fiction,

and I don’t see Ha Noi as her grandness.

Only seeing myself reflected back in t-shirts

and the hookah smoke that leaves me behind like Ornette did,

glorious and ethereal, remaining only me

and my efforts to not sound the silent gong

of my failures.

Astonishment is an addiction

and Ha Noi is too busy to know me…


Canto Three


A Ha Noi street is a zither and we navigate

the 10,000 motorized things pacing the

flat harp of 7 to 9:30 am… at least.

The melody is us plucking inward.


Sound the Ionian! the basis, the street.

Sound the Dorian! ignore me, I am just writing stuff.

Sound The Phrygian! sweat falls like notes from an old piano.

Sound The Lydian… or is it lunch yet?

Sound the Mixolydian… the salt panel when it fell into the lake.

Sound The Aeolian… keep clams and carry on.

Sound The Locrian… the rotting roofs only I notice.


the zither calls us, (Ornette called us) all to fret, to mahogany,

to make harmonics of us all,

to make harmonics of us all!


Canto Four


goodbye ornette!

Your holy city is gone, the gaze is gone.

walking backwards home the silent gong, me!

real here, real…her

i am like an empty table, somewhere, lacking a feast

Ha Noi comforts me, but I am inconsolable.

tourists eat copycat pudding, they wander feeling justified, “righteous” visions

my little blue cup offers up Ha Noi’s finest, coconut espresso

the best in the world: dark jazz, minor funk!

this town is still a drum solo, played with a million sticks and mallets a day!

But who will love the 80 year old with her baskets and shoulder pole

who will love the tired quang ganh ladies? The pole basket navigators?

Their onions wilting

are the onion lifters forgotten? Noone to hold them

after they wander up and down Hang Dieu street?

All that is left is to drink the water at Nội Bài Airport

And leave for Seoul.

Goodbye Ornette

I miss your cooking, the anthology of your flavors…

I want to be unsalted

gone beyond your gone beyond,

beyond the place you left here. But,

I will be your today and rejoice….



21 thoughts on “371 Days: Reflections On Ornette Coleman

  1. Beautiful! I’m so glad I responded to your comment on Robert’s post. Now I need to visit Hanoi. What wonderful longing-filled imagery, and a masterful tribute to you friend and mentor.

    1. Thank you VERY much! This is my first “poem” attempt, so any and all encouragement is deeply appreciated. I clearly have a LOONNNNNG way to go before I could ever write anything as subtle and true as Robert Okaji-sama, but his work is too inspiring to me to not to try anyways!

      Your my first poetic critic/reader ever, so thank you for your support!

        1. I want to speak what I feel, which, being feeling, does not guarantee any truth but that which we try to speak. Feelings aren’t facts, but when we “poem” we can tell the world what truly is in our world. So poetry is the permeable barrier between the Universe and our little visions of it. Then sometimes, a Robert Okaji or an e.e. cummings or a Laurie Anderson or an Anna Akmatova comes along and gives us the grand tour of their Reality, and we see the truths we can’t name otherwise.

  2. A beautiful poem! I have a great pleasure to read your lines, hear Ornette’ sax inside my head and to feel rhythm of free improvisation. I love poetry!

    1. Thank you VERY much! A compliment from you Tobto is so great, considering what a genius you are! To me Ornette’s greatest “poems” are his songs”Congeniality,” “Mothers Of The Veil,” “Turnaround,” and of course “Lonely Woman.”

    1. Thank you VERY much! I tried to capture the joy I felt at being in Ha Noi, one of my favorite cities, but also tell the truth… that I was thinking about my teacher and feeling a little lost, becuase I wished he could have travelled with me and we could laugh and play duets in street, and sip coffee at Cong Caphe.

      The world is lonely and we make it happy by loving others… especially after they ascend to where ever good people ascend to.

      1. Your piece is full of love and whole-heartedness… and a certain vulnerability of loss. It’s honest and genuine. It will be really interesting to read more of your work.

  3. Your rhythm is impeccable, Daniel. The words feel good in the mouth (always one of my chief concerns, but difficult to explain), and sound even better. And the images! I am there on the streets, perhaps in the steam rising from a pho the next table over, or in the sighs of the withering onions, certainly there, somewhere, riding one of the modes while sipping an espresso, listening to Ornette. Much joy in your cantos. Impressive.

    1. Thank you VERY much for your kind words. I DEEPLY appreciate them!

      A sunny afternoon in Ha Noi is perfectly summed up by Ornette’s song “Congeniality” from his album The Shape Of Jazz To Come. Joy and darting/weaving improvisation.

      1. Cooking and writing are two of my greatest pleasures. Both offering a “centering” – moments of concentration followed by exquisite bursts of calm. This tune gives me the same feeling. It also makes me want to get into the kitchen! I want to cook to this album.

        1. To me the perfect cooking album is Dave Brubeck’s Time Out. Nothing says “let’s make pastries” like “Three To Get Ready.” The way the song moves back and forth from 3/4 to 4/4 and hints at the blues: that’s the sound of Kouign Amann baking!

  4. I too followed from Robert’s blog, like Alce down the rabbit hole, Voila I am in Wonderland. I loved your work, I can see, smell and taste Hanoi. Over forty years ago someone played Ornette Coleman’s music for me and I was enchanted. With such a teach no wonder your rhythm is, as Robert says, impeccable.

    1. Thank you VERY much. I am honored that you like what I have written. ‘Uncle’ Ornette was kind, wise, peaceful, and generous. And when he played it was always from a place of wonder and joy. To be able to honour him with words and have those words liked is humbling and a major blessing!

      And Ha Noi… I love it!

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