Few artists in any medium can claim to have completely altered the trajectory of art. With music, we like to generously lob this distinction at way too many people; saying they changed the game or were responsible for X-amount of impostors. Outside of Bob Dylan or James Brown or fucking Bach, it's really not true: music is a cultural dialog that's on a path and, regardless of who does it, the developments are gonna get made.
Yeah, Sun Ra was 'out' before anyone even knew the Earth was round, and jazz players were getting more and more tired with the circle-jerk of chords in the wake of bop. By the end of the '50s everyone was ready to move on and, for sure, Coltrane and Davis existed amongst an insanely talented peer-group of other iconoclasts, all throwing their weight against the walls. But no one absolutely blew the shit wide open, showed that even when you thought you were thinking outside the rules you were still inside the box, like Ornette Coleman.
Abandoning chords and chordal instruments altogether, he emerged with a fully-formed and legitimately controversial sound: others started fights and ended friendships over whether his playing was even "valid." He blew out of tune, in the cracks, fluidly touching whatever scale he wanted, literally freeing his instrument and his band from the rigid structures of jazz at the time.
This wasn't so much a big-bang as a tangental hard-left, with Coltrane and plenty others taking the same turn right behind him. Coming in the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, many musicians like Archie Shepp saw this new "free jazz" as an expression of their community breaking its bondage and demanding freedom on all fronts. Did I mention that critics thought this dude couldn't even play his horn?
Coleman kept going down his singular path, creating his own musical theory called Harmolodics, pioneering fusion free-funk with his band Prime Time, soundtracking Cronenberg's Naked Lunch and jamming with Jerry Garcia—basically never slowing down to give a single fuck.
On Wednesday March 9, local saint-patrons Exploded View (197 E. Toole Ave.) will be showing experimental filmmaker Shirley Clarke's documentary Ornette: Made in America, which captures the evolution of his life and sound over three decades and features contributions ranging from William Burroughs to Buckminster Fuller to Yoko Ono. Doors are at 7:30 p.m. and admission is $6.