Coleman, Ornette, 1930–, African-American saxophonist and composer, b. Fort Worth, Tex. Largely self-taught, he began playing the alto saxophone in rhythm-and-blues bands. He later developed an unorthodox and impassioned style of free jazz characterized by broken rhythms, atonal harmonies, and improvised melody, which made him an enduringly controversial figure in the jazz avant-garde. Coleman made his first real impact in the commercial jazz world after he moved from Los Angeles to New York City in 1959. He has since played in a number of small groups with various musicians. Beginning in the 1960s, his work with electric bands led to his creation of a jazz-rock fusion he called "harmolodic." In the mid-1970s he formed his own electric band, Prime Time. Coleman has written several modernist concert pieces, notably the orchestral Skies of America (1972). In 2007 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his recording Sound Grammar (2006).
See biographies by B. McRae (1988), J. Litweiler (1992), and P. N. Wilson (1999); study by D. Lee (2006); S. Clarke, dir., Ornette: Made in America (documentary, 1986).
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