Ornette Coleman, the celebrated saxophonist who was born in Fort Worth, died Thursday morning. He was 85.
He died of cardiac arrest in Manhattan.
Coleman was an American icon and iconoclast — a self-taught musician born poor and fatherless in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1930, who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, the Japanese Praemium Imperiale, two Guggenheims, a MacArthur, honorary doctorates and a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master honor.
Ornette Coleman played his alto saxophone the way someone whistles to themselves walking down the street, unconcerned with rules about how a song is supposed to go. In 1997, Coleman told NPR that he believed in the unfettered, imaginative, original, expressive powers of melody.
"As a music, it allows every musician to participate in any form of musical environment without them changing their own personality, their own tone or their way of phrasing," Coleman said.
Fort Worth roots
The Fort Worth Independent School District released a note about Coleman:
“The Fort Worth ISD was saddened to learn of the passing of legendary saxophonist and Pulitzer Prize winner Ornette Coleman. ... Coleman was born in Fort Worth in 1930 and began playing saxophone while attending I.M. Terrell High School. He played in various clubs around town, getting to know other Fort Worth musical greats, such as Dewey Redman and King Curtis Ousley. Mr. Coleman moved to New Orleans and later to Los Angeles where he honed the style he called free jazz. In the 1950s he moved to New York where he signed with Atlantic Records. Under the Atlantic label, Mr. Coleman released his breakthrough albums 'The Shape of Jazz to Come' and 'Free Jazz.' The Ken Burns Jazz documentary called 'Free Jazz,' released in 1960, 'undoubtedly the single most important influence on avant-garde jazz in the ensuing decade.'"
Coleman is honored on the Fort Worth ISD Wall of Fame.