As of today it has been over 177.6 million seconds since the passing of my teacher Ornette Coleman (click here to learn more about him), the legendary Pulitzer Prize winning jazz saxophonist who created the genre of Free Jazz. His kindness and creativity were matchless, and I have yet to meet anyone even remotely and unendingly interesting as he was. I describe the space between then and now in millions of seconds (rather than days or years), because it is a decidedly unusual way of seeing time, very likely a perspective you would not have thought of seeing things from. But that was “Uncle” Ornette’s gift: he saw things that were obvious but unexpected, until they were consciously considered a viable option. Even the very theories and techniques he built up over the years began with a single core mistake at their foundation: a youthful misunderstanding of how key signatures relate to the saxophone (which led him to explore unconventional groupings of notes freed from standard ideas on how music is “supposed” to work).
What I admired most about him was his seeming courage, how he moved through Life faced with fierce critical resistance even while being hailed as a genius. But he moved, oh how he moved! Always beatific, always enigmatic, he demonstrated what seemed like courage, but what was in actual fact a will of such force that he did not need courage at all. He was of such a mind that his desire to find a path of self-expression was so immense as to direct his every step, his every breath. He lived and breathed music, music , music: seeking, seeking, seeking, even into old age, long after other artists of his age usually give up such a drive. It takes youth and the physical vitality of an athlete to put in the hours of practice he did throughout his entire life, and when his body became old it was his existential drive that seemed to power him like an invisible generator. At our final lesson he was showing clear signs of age and slowing down, but his drive was undeterred; he spoke cheerfully about the new possibilities and directions in music he wished to explore, like a young saxophonist who had finally discovered the path toward their true identity in sound.
So with each passing year as the millions of seconds go by, I celebrate the purity of his intent, how he needed exactly zero courage or motivation to be eternally seeking. He was the very embodiment of the artist’s endless search, so filled with excitement about what lay around the creative bend that the work and study was impossible to tire of.
It is right and fitting to say of the passed “Rest In Peace”. But I know Uncle Ornette must be somewhere out in the Universe, freed from space and time, with a perfect smile on his face, pondering how to express gravity and light in music. So may you “rest” in the Eternal Motion, the beauty of the Search Beyond Searching…