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In Writing

Ornette Coleman 1930–2015: Jamaaladeen Tacuma

June 2015

The bass virtuoso was still a teenager when he joined Prime Time and got a lesson in how ideas are more important than notes

“Ornette Coleman – Freedom Fighter"

Without question the total Ornette Coleman experience for me has been nothing short of mystical, mesmerizing, educational and sensitive. Everyone who has crossed his path has their own story, and here’s mine.

When I was 19 years old, two musicians from Philadelphia, Reggie Lucas (guitar) and James Mtume (percussion), who had been working in the Miles Davis Electric Band, gave me a call to ask if I wanted to audition for Ornette Coleman, he was looking for an electric bass player. I did not know much about Ornette, but had read an article on him in Down Beat magazine just a few weeks earlier. I immediately agreed and went to New York for the audition. Walking into the famous loft on Prince Street, my eyes first locked on the mask painting that would later become the cover of Dancing In Your Head – the place was covered with amazing art that rivalled any museum. I could not take it all in. When I took a seat and was handed some sheet music Ornette counted off in a very strange way (later I found he never counts off). I struggle to play this finger busting melody and we stop. In my mind I did not nail this melody but Ornette looked directly at me with that sly look he sometimes had and said to me, “I want you to come with me to Europe”. Right there on the spot at that famous Prince Street loft in SoHo, I, Jamaaladeen Tacuma (then Rudy McDaniel), had become part of a musical adventure that for me would change the way that the bass guitar was performed on and listened to. In that moment I became part of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time.

It's clear that Ornette’s legacy will be in preparing individuals to think outside of the box, to take a very natural way of doing something and bring it to the forefront. The term that was most endearing to him was COMPOSITIONAL IMPROVISING. The ideas in HARMOLODICS were unlike in Western music, where the melody, harmony, rhythm and arrangement are neatly tucked in their place. In HARMOLODICS all of those components are moving in the same direction simultaneously. The melody, or the composition, is the most important factor because from the melody you could extract your own MUSICAL IDEAS, that could and should bring about the emotion that the listener reacts to. In COMPOSITIONAL IMPROVISING the musical idea is more important than the notes. Sometimes the instrument and the notes could get in the way. We often talked about certain places in the world where people did not know anything about Western concepts of playing, the idea of playing notes E to A or C to B. They don't know anything about that in remote villages and they still create incredible music that brings about healing.

Ornette’s idea and concept was to also bring a certain emotion to the music and have that emotion felt by others. If it wanted to make you cry, if it wanted to make you dance, wanted to make you think or just sit down in silence, that was his idea. So I think his legacy will exemplify that not only was he a good human being and a kind and soft spoken gentleman, but musically he will continue to bring about a change in how folks think about music, how they will approach it and how they will perform it.

With the blessing of God, my thanks to Ornette Coleman for taking me in, allowing me to think as a human being, play music with the freedom of a bird in flight.


Great Bass player, really funky, melodic and creative

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