The Unlikely Influence of Ornette Coleman

It could be argued that Coleman’s greatest influence was beyond the borders of jazz. Generations of rock and experimental musicians have internalized the lessons of Coleman, understanding that oftentimes some of the most beautiful music first sounds ugly and random. You can hear Ornette’s jagged, screeching stabs in everyone from the Grateful Dead to Television, but more than just a style or type of playing, Coleman taught musicians a new way to approach music — an improvisational and at times confrontational method that was akin to a primal scream. Of course, Ornette could pull that off because he had chops, and the head-first style would later generate a lot of really bad noise, but we’ve tried to collect some of the better examples here. Some of these artist are explicitly indebted to Ornette. Thurston Moore has sited him as an influence; Nation of Ulysses named their song after him; and both the Grateful Dead and Lou Reed played with the man.