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Ornette Coleman Square
Ornette Coleman Square

Questlove, Vernon Reid + Others Remember Free Jazz Innovator Ornette Coleman

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

While his name and visage may not be as immediately recognizable as those of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, jazz composer and saxophonist Ornette Coleman did as much (or perhaps even more) to push the improvisatory genre forward. Now, The New York Times reports that Coleman has passed away at the age of 85, succumbing to cardiac arrest in Manhattan Thursday morning, according to a family representative.

Coleman's name has been for decades tethered to "Free Jazz," an idiom of the genre that defied almost every convention when it came to meter, tempo, chord structures, melody and, at time, instrumentation. With his alto saxophone wailing, Coleman's performances on classic albums including his debut Something Else!!!, The Shape of Jazz To Come, its follow-up Free Jazz and the avant-garde masterpiece Free Jazz, which had such a seismic impact on the music world that its title and tone became a genre unto itself. Coleman "became known as a kind of musician-philosopher," the Times asserts. "He was seen as a native avant-gardist, and symbolized the American independent will as effectively as any artist of the last century."

In the wake of such tragic news, such a monumental voice lost to the world of music, many artists have shared tributes, memories and condolences. A loose patchwork of sentiments that could never hope to stand in for Coleman himself, they still bring comfort to fans like us who will always have him to thank for pushing music so far forward. Okayplayer's CEO and founder Questlove shared the following story (along with video of him performing with the saxophonist):

Love for #OrnetteColeman. 1st month at #LateNightJimmy in '09 & our manager hits us w/ a challenge: soon as we hit the last note of theme, haul arse to van downstairs so we can Delorean/ToThe Future it to airport (in our show suits!) hop a flight to London to do a show w/ #DavidMurray #VernonReid #YokoOno & the immortal innovator & musical provocateur Ornette Coleman. This is the one of the last greats (The Pharoah is still with us!). We must now take the lessons taught and carry the torch to the future.

Others, including Vernon Reid, jazz musicians Nate Smith and Mark Guiliana and funk ensemble The Soul Rebels all sent up messages of loss and condolences for Ornette Coleman. Read them below, and as you're doing so, listen to his timeless studio recording of "Free Jazz."