Ornette at 80 (Bix at 107)

On the West Coast, I’m still not too late to wish Ornette Coleman a happy 80th birthday.

I was out of town in November when he played at Davies Symphony Hall, possibly the only time I’ll realistically have a chance to see him. (I keep crossing my fingers for some kismet on my annual business trips to NYC, but it’s like hunting fireflies with a frisbee.) And now, I’ve nearly missed the all-day tribute to Ornette on radio WKCR.  I redeemed myself by catching the last 15 minutes.

Kudos to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for not forgetting one of that city’s musical sons. Reporter Preston Jones went to NYC for an interview that ran about 10 days ago.  Sample Ornette quote:  “I think every human being has a moment of something no one understands but themselves.”

The New York Times was less on top of things; Corey Kilgannon’s blog entry refers to realizing it was Coleman’s birthday and requesting an impromptu visit. Coleman, busy writing music, grants the interview (more like a casual chat), oblivious to birthday-party preparations around him.

On the east coast, the day has ended, and WKCR is now into its all-day Bix Beiderbecke tribute, honoring the short-lived trumpeter’s birthday. (They do this for a lot of jazz greats; WKCR is a treasure for any stripe of jazz fan.)

Not knowing much about Bix, I just now looked up his bio in Len Lyons’ The 101 Best Jazz Albums, an excellent resource, published in 1980, that covers jazz from the earliest days up to the then-modern free jazz.

I’m glad for the education, but … good gravy, it’s depressing. Bix died young, and “while he was alive, his name appeared in print only three times,” Lyons writes. A jazz legend who battled alcohol, died young, and was underappreciated by the general public in his time… guess I should have seen that one coming.

All the more reason to appreciate that Ornette is feted and still an audience draw. His 2006 album, Sound Grammar, was a real ear-opener; you could argue it sticks to the crowd-pleasing fast stuff, but it’s so amazingly fast, so bursting with energy. Ornette is 80 and still creating, and still around to hear the applause. That’s something we should all be grateful for.