Remembering Ornette Coleman’s Final Performance

Ornette Coleman, via Wikimedia Commons
Ornette Coleman, via Wikimedia Commons

Ornette Coleman, the visionary saxophonist, composer, and godfather of free jazz, died today at age 85.

Coleman’s final performance took place on June 12th, 2014, at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Bandshell, as part of Celebrate Ornette!, a free tribute concert organized by Celebrate Brooklyn, the Blue Note Jazz Festival, and the musician’s son, drummer Denardo Coleman.

A formidable group of artists gathered to pay tribute: First, jazz percussion legend Sonny Rollins introduced Coleman, saying, “I’m going to say something that Ornette already said to me: It’s all good. Don’t worry about anything. We might not see it right now, but it’s all good.” Brooklyn Borough President read an official proclamation. Flea, of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, joined on bass with a band made up of regulars Coleman had played with since the ’70s–Charles Ellerbee on guitar, Al MacDowell on an electric piccolo bass, and Tony Falanga on acoustic bass, and his son Denardo on drums. Dancer Savion Glover tapped to “Ramblin;” Patti Smith read poems inspired by Coleman’s work. Also there to honor him were Nels Cline, Thurston Moore, Ravi Coltrane, John Zorn, and Laurie Anderson, who played violin drones in memory of her late husband Lou Reed, an avid Coleman fan. It was a group of musicians that just hinted at the scope of Coleman’s influence in the jazz world and beyond.

All the while, an 84-year-old Ornette, in a purple pinstripe suit, “sat in a chair onstage for most of the concert’s first half, either with an alto saxophone in his lap, or taking part as if he were playing along with nature, joining when he wanted to and how he wanted to,” as the New York Times wrote in a review of the show. And Coleman also read his own proclamation, saying, “There’s nothing else but life. We can’t be against each other. We have to help each other. It’ll turn out like you will never forget it.”

Here are some (blurry and shaky but still worth watching) videos of Coleman’s last performance, followed by the setlist.


1. Blues Connotation – Flea, Henry Threadgill

2. Broadway Blues – Flea, Threadgill

3. Law Years – Flea, David Murray

4. The Sphinx – David Murray, Geri Allen, Joe Lovano

5. Sleep Talk – Geri Allen, Joe Lovano

6. Congeniality – Geri Allen, Joe Lovano,

7. Turnaround – Savion Glover

8. Patti Smith – Jesse (daughter) piano, Tony Shanahan guitar, Bass?


9. Laurie Anderson – Lou Reed Drones with Bill Laswell & John Zorn, Master Ren Tai Chi demonstration, Hal Wilner comments

10. Bruce Hornsby – Branford Marsalis – duo

11. Thurston Moore, Nels Cline – duo

12. 911 – Band, Ravi Coltrane

13. Peace – Ravi Coltrane, James Blood,

14. Ramblin’ – James Blood, Bruce Hornsby, Branford Marsalis

15. Dancing In Your Head – James Blood, Bruce Hornsby, Branford Marsalis, Bill Laswell

16. Song X – Laswell, Hornsby, multi horn players, Jajouka

17. Lonely Woman – Everyone




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