Remembering Ornette Coleman And Our 2010 Interview

“But what I really don’t understand, what is race? Does race have to have anything to do with what you don’t do and what you do do? It shouldn’t be that way. And if it is that way, what is it supposed to mean? What is it supposed to allow you to become? I don’t know but I’m not trying to find out neither.”

Ornette Coleman, the last great titan of jazz still walking the planet as of earlier this week, has passed away at 85. He will be missed.

When I first heard Ornette’s music after moving to LA in 1988 and hanging out listening to records with the other guys from Crawlspace, it felt immediately other-worldly, but after a while, like the most natural thing on earth. It was a similar reaction to the one I felt when they played to Captain Beefheart and Can records, or Pharaoh Sanders and John Coltrane. This was music that stood apart from every possible point of comparison, except the intuitive, emotional one – as weird as it gets, this is feel-good music at its heart. It’s not hard to imagine a room full of people bopping around to “Dancing In Your Head” or “Pachuco Cadaver”, in fact it’s something I like to think about, often.

Listening to it taught me a lot of things, the main one being that scales and chords are nothing but a roadmap, not the terrain itself. There are always places you can go that are not on the map. Maybe some you want to go to, and some you don’t, but if you never go there, you’ll never know. You can’t read about these places – they’re off the map. It’s up to the explorers to locate them, and Ornette was maybe the most fearless of them all.

I got to see him play twice, each an unforgettable experience. The first was supposed to be his first show with the groundbreaking 1959 lineup of Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins and Don Cherry in many a year. Sadly, Cherry was too ill to perform on the night, but the other three made the gig, and it was truly special. I still remember the sound of Haden’ s bass and Higgins’s brush solo on the snare drum reverberating through the Orpheum.

I also saw what I believe was his last trip to LA, at Royce Hall in 2010, a fantastic gig despite the guest appearance of Flea on bass, who seems like a real nice guy and all, but frankly couldn’t keep up. To be fair, that band was downright supernatural – not many people on earth could have hung with that. At the time, Ornette was 80, still vital, still fearless.

My interview with him, shortly before that 2010 show, is my favorite of all the interviews I’ve done, and twice, it almost didn’t happen. I had been chatting with the UCLA publicist, who mentioned the possibility, and I said “I’d be intimidated to interview Ornette, he’s a giant.” But her reply – “He is a VERY nice man” – convinced me to go forward with it.

I would usually talk to people for ten minutes or so to pre-write their gig, get a few good paragraphs worth of quotes to stick in there with “The legendary sax player is coming to UCLA on Friday…”. So I thought up as many relevant questions as I could and set aside a half hour on my lunch break to call him using my cell phone, from the parking lot at my job.

Although this method had worked without incident many times before, on this day, it wasn’t working at all. Between a wonky cell phone connection and background noise, neither of us could hear the other. My one chance in life to speak to a musical hero was crumbling in front of me. I told him I’d have to call back in half an hour, and sped home to get on a land line, not sure he’d answer after I’d wasted my allotted time.

We ended up talking for an hour. What strikes me as I read it now, he engaged me more than any other person I’ve interviewed. Most artists whose PR agents are setting up blocks of 15-minute phoners are very used to talking about themselves – they know the drill, have some stock things they want to say about this tour or album before moving on to the next call. With Ornette, I couldn’t even use my hard-thought list of questions. I had to give my full attention to follow any strand of what he was saying, and then answer his questions, which were often baffling. And at some point I went, holy shit, I think we’re jamming.

Finally, he said “My friend would like to speak to you for a moment,” and I was speaking to his assistant, who said that Ornette had to go, but that he had seemed to enjoy the experience and thanked me. I hung up and sat there for about five minutes staring at the phone.

Here’s the whole thing, as originally printed by LAist on November 1, 2010.



It is almost impossible to overstate the effect that Ornette Coleman had on the world of American music in the late 1950s. Coleman’s early records for Atlantic – using a band formed in LA, with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins, trading the drum seat with Ed Blackwell – declared complete freedom from jazz convention, including the restrictions of tonality itself, while remaining rooted in the blues at its deepest level. In doing so, he and a handful of like-minded revolutionaries wrenched the conceptual possibilities offered by the avant-garde out of the hands of white intellectuals and took it to the clubs, where its presence remains strongly felt.

Response to the New Thing that Coleman called “harmolodics” was swift and intense, and the greats attacked and praised him with equal vigor; no less a figure than John Coltrane hired Ornette’s band and covered three of his songs when he recorded The Avant-Garde in 1960. In short, it’s impossible to imagine that jazz in the sixties, or the entire trajectory of outsider musicians in a multitude of genres that have spawned since, could have happened the same way without him.Coleman is one the last of the jazz pioneers we have left, not only still living but still vital after eighty years on the planet, composing and performing at a remarkably high level. (Check out 2005’s Pulitzer-winning Sound Grammar for confirmation.)

He brings his current group, including his son Denardo Coleman on drums and bassists Tony Falanga and Al McDowell, to UCLA Live at Royce Hall. Having heard the radio broadcast of his appearance at this year’s North Sea Jazz Festival, I advise you to expect miracles.

Ornette Coleman spoke to us via phone from his home in New York City.

A word about the length and format of this piece: Most of my interviews over the phone tend to run about fifteen minutes, during which I ask and receive answers to anywhere from five to ten questions. Ornette and I spoke for nearly an hour, during which I managed to ask two of the questions on my list, and I’m not sure if he directly addressed either one of them. Instead, he started interviewing me at several points, and I’m horrified to say I ducked several of his questions. (Though to be fair, how would you respond in the moment to something like, ”I don’t have no idea of how much the human race controls the value of life. Do you?”) For the first fifteen minutes I kept waiting for him to say something that might naturally provide a segue into any of my other questions, written out on a sheet of paper, which I kept glancing at while trying to follow his stream of consciousness. But around the fifth time he started to make a point by talking about the mathematical distance from C to F sharp, I looked down at the list, thought, “this too is improvising, keep your eye on the ball”, and pushed it away. And after that, things improved noticeably.

Rather than edit his remarks to a more traditional interview length, I have transcribed our talk nearly completely, omitting a few brief sidebars. Like his music itself, you’re not always sure where he’s going, but you eventually find yourself at a place you’ve never seen before, grateful that someone on this earth was intrepid enough to discover the route.

When you began your career, what was it about Los Angeles that attracted you to this place and made you decide to relocate here?

I think I started with playing with other musicians that was much more active than I was. So I started to understand how to deal with, I guess, what was expected of me, and I started getting concerned about two things: the key and the movement. What then was the melody. And now I’m going back to the fact that it’s needle or nothing, but just the pleasure of how good your skills are in relationship to what you’re doing. Which is not so bad, as it is now, of today.

With the modes of music distribution having changed profoundly in the last ten years, there’s a situation now where the means of production are maybe more in the hands of artists, but the means of promotion through the label system are somewhat diminished, I was wondering if you feel that the current climate is more conducive to a person who’s trying to create music that’s unique or unusual, as compared to when you began recording.

The thing I’m much more aware of is that the concept of improvising is growing. Mostly, all the people I see, they’re interested in improvising, from not thinking about they key, as thinking about the quality of what they can do with the improvising in relationship to… When you say what key, or what else? There’s the key, there’s the modulation, and most of all it’s the melody. And those three things boil down to being one thing, and that is, basically, they key and the relationship to what the, how can I say it… The key represents the scale that you’re shooting but it doesn’t represent the quality of how long it takes to get rid of the notes of the key that you’re in. For some reason there’s at least, I would say, five notes that is always free of some key, and because of that it kind of slows down what we call improvising because, the improvising is the name of the key but the notes are different than the key. For instance what I’m trying to say about they key of the notes. When you’re shooting, when you’re playing within the rules, it’s not the same thing as when you’re playing the sound. Because the sound is mostly dominated by the name of the key that you’re in. But, if you’re in the key of C, you know, there’s not a C sharp and there’s not a B flat. So all of those things have something to do with how you transform, what I would say has something to do with the tonic. And transposing things from a dominant seventh to a fourth or a fifth or a sixth like that, that doesn’t have anything to do with nothing but your brain. Everything else has something to do with your eyes and your ears.

But still for some reason, how can I say it…. Written music is much easier to understand. The way in which it is put together to represent whether you’re losing or winning. For instance like, I think it’s the dominant seventh that had a lot to do with keys, and the fourth and the major seventh had to do with changes. But even so, shooting pool, I guess that’s what it’s called when you’re shooting the balls to go to a certain division of corners or whatever it is. But the structure of whether it’s a seventh or third is not so important as how many balls are there to shoot in relationship to what key you’re relating to with it. And what’s so amazing about that, I think, the key of C has all the seven notes that has to do with all the rest of the keys. There’s seven notes in every scale, isn’t it?

In a major scale, yeah.

Yeah that’s what I’m saying. A major scale has more changes in relationship, you have the same in C. You can be in A, you can be in G, you can be B flat, you can be in F and G, that’s all happening in a major scale and still be in the … how can I say it… I’m trying to explain two things. They key that you’re in and the note that you’re playing is not the same thing as how many times those same notes become in different keys. And I don’t know how it for works for you but for me I basically only see two things. And that is the domination of the space between the third and the twelfth note or whatever. It’s kind of strange to run the mathematics while you’re shooting, but knowing the mathematics doesn’t change the size or the duration of the note. And I don’t know how it works for everybody, but it’s very simple to do. Probably the only thing that’s I guess, that has any what we call culture is what we call the third, the seventh and the fourth. They’re the movement of what we call the tonics. For some reason, I don’t know why.

Do you play?

Yes I do, I’m a drummer.

Oh! Well, there’s nothing wrong with your job.

I have studied some theory but mainly seen the application through playing, playing a rhythmic instrument but trying to communicate in the communal thought, participate with the group thought that’s being expressed through those intervals.

Well that’s what’s so amazing. Every scale has seven notes, isn’t that right?


Well can you imagine, if every scale had seven notes, and I don’t know to explain the difference between a seven on the scale and I think there’s only, fifty different notes that turn into all the same distance as say a seventh or third, a flatted fifth and a fourth. Those are the most common names for shooting music especially when it’s you know, when you have a table and you’re shooting the balls, and one player’s shooting ‘em, then another and all that, but for some reason the keys have a different position than just, what can be done to the notes.

I don’t know how it works but I do know this, that the key of C, all the keys mostly have seven notes in them to represent the title of the key in relationship to what the notes represent. Like you have C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and if it’s a F sharp, A flat, B, C sharp and E flat. So really the quality of how the knowledge goes, keeping up with something that has to do with a number, has more to do with the distance between what you would call the tonic and what you would call the resolution of the note. Like for instance, C and F sharp, that’s a flatted fifth apart. But basically, the C is much more feared than that flatted fifth, I would.

The reason why I’m talking about this is, the major scale dominates all of the other scales. All the scales have only seven notes, right?


Can you imagine, if they all have seven notes, and seven keys… seven times seven is … sixty-two I think.

The reason why I’m saying this is because, see, the title of the notes is not the same thing as the programming of it in relationship to, you know, if it’s a third or fourth or something like that. That’s different from what it is when you’re modulating or when you’re in a key. But personally, I don’t know how to say this but… the C scale doesn’t have any flats or sharps. And all the other scales does. And that’s pretty heavy in itself. But imagine, though, aren’t all the scales built for the same distance of notes? I think so.

Sure, they’re a half step apart, but the relationship between two of them will have a different emotional quality, even if the math is the same, up and down the scale.

It’s like the fours and the major sevenths, in the key of C. And you get a B but that’s like a flatted fifth. It’s kind of weird, but it’s true.

Anyway I don’t want to run you crazy, talking like this.

No, this is interesting! I did want to get your opinion, though, from a business standpoint… From your observation of the way the music industry is running today, is it a conducive atmosphere for people who are trying to do something that doesn’t have an established audience?

Well what you’re describing to me is something that’s already been activated when it’s called the “style”. For instance, how can I say it?. Say when you have all notes in a sequence, like for instance when you have a key, the keys are considered having, how many notes in the key of C? Seven notes?


But that’s true for any key, isn’t it?


Well, then we’re right back where we started. But the sound of a note… the scale of C is not the same thing as the scale of F sharp. But it has the distance of the same notes.

What I’m really trying to say is that sound and knowledge only goes together physically and mentally. And the physically has nothing to do with anything but the ability to use your skills with your arms, more or less, I guess. I’m not a master at anything that has to do with the human body, no more than two arms, two legs, a head and some eyes, and some toes. Maybe that has nothing to do with anything. We’re all made the same way, I guess. If not, it’s not because something that you took made you grow different. The whole concept of life has something, lets it put like: Life itself is in everything that has anything to do with motion, meaning and sometimes what we call the knowledge of the skill that has something to do with why it affects different things for different reasons. And I don’t know how that works but it’s so… For instance look at flat and sharp. If you have C, you to F sharp, you call it a flatted fifth. In F, G to C is called a fourth. But that’s just in the form of just, calculating something to relate to your brain or emotion or just your knowledge or whatever. It doesn’t help you to play any better. It just defines what it is, what you’re supposed to be doing. And that’s kind of weird, but there’s nothing to replace it. To be more precise, the reason why I’m talking this way, and I’ve been playing music since I was twelve, and then growing up in the sixties. But I have never thought about myself having anything to do with the knowledge of something that makes a sound.

I’ve always been interested in knowing something that I could relate and get the knowledge out of what it represents. And you know what’s amazing about shooting pool, you have lots of numbers in pool, but the sound gets in the way of all the numbers a lot of the time.

What was I going to ask you… do you play a transposed instrument?

I don’t, I play drums and I sing some, though I’ve found it interesting talking to musicians about things like this, how on a piano, B flat and A sharp are in the same fixed position, the same pitch, but playing it on a horn or on a guitar, the way you come at those notes, they’re a little different.

They sure are. I agree with what you. But look, you can take C and F sharp, that’s a flatted fifth. But C and F sharp, G is the fourth and F sharp is the major seventh, of that same key. But yet C and F sharp is a flatted fifth. But if you have G to C is the fourth, and G to F sharp is the major seventh, and four and seven is eleven. There is no eleventh key. It’s pretty weird.

Do you have these mathematical relationships in your head while you’re improvising, or is that just an expression of what happened in the moment of emotion?

No, what you’re explaining to me… I’ve been playing since I was at least twelve, and I have always been sensitive to knowledge for some reason. And knowledge, is seems to me, is a fixed way to, how can I say this, it’s a fixed way for everyone to have an equal relationship to the results of what they’re trying to do. But it doesn’t have anything to do, to raise the quality of your value. I don’t know… But it’s there.

What instrument do you play again?

I play drums.

Well you’re freer than most everyone, you’re freer than anyone that’s playing, using a specific tool to bring something different from that tool and how you use it. I mean, imagine … Look what we call the keys, look what we call modulation, look at what we call the melody and look at what we call the harmony. It still ain’t changing nothing to do with changing the notes. Isn’t that true?


Well now we’re right back where we started. I mean that is so amazing.

I’m saying that because, I’m left handed and I’ve been playing left handed ever since I became a young man. But basically, I don’t know how to say this…. The structure of the emotional feeling in human… it’s more based on the relationship to how we relate to our relatives and our friends in an emotional way, that has something to do with the quality of what those emotions represent in relationship to two things: distance/ time and ideas. You can’t do without it. But you can do something with it. And personally, I don’t know how anyone really gets from the quality of what they learn, more than what they know. I mean, learning is fine but knowing is better. At least that’s what I believe.

Will you tell me your name again?

Bob Lee.

And you play drums, well you got the best freedom to yourself, and you have the most advanced form of activities, aw man, that’s good.

(I take a moment to tell Ornette a story about the time Joe Baiza taught me how to play “Lonely Woman,” on stage in front of an audience, by simply instructing me to play a fast pulse and listen to what he was doing.)

I think that’s true that the idea is all that it is for everybody. The notes are not in any way going to change because their numbers just gives them their positions. The sound, when you take your cue and shoot, that’s your eyes and your nervous system that you’re dealing with. And basically … I suppose in some way it’s just about how clear you’re executing and controlling your nervous system. At least that’s how I feel about things, that I can’t make it something that it isn’t.

Like look at C and F sharp, that’s a flatted fifth apart. But in the key of G, C is the fourth, but in the key of F sharp, it would be a G. There’s an F sharp in the key of G. But then there’s a C in the key of G natural too, isn’t there? Yeah, it is. The fourth and the flatted fifth is the major seventh…. Fourth in the key of C is F, and in the key of G is F sharp. But C and F sharp is a flatted fifth apart. That’s pretty heavy.

The reason why I’m saying that is, I think there’s only seven of the naturals, and the other five notes of the twelve notes are the notes that are sharp or flat, but it’s not true. From C to B all the notes are natural aren’t they?

In a major scale yeah.

Well see what you just said… in a major scale. But in the other scales, it’s coming up because of keys don’t it? Something like that.


Well that’s the point I’m making.

And now, I‘ve said something that I just realized, the key itself. Like the key of C, you have, C, D, E, F, G, A and B. That’s the key of C. But it’s only… isn’t there only twelve notes regardless of what…

Right, the chromatic scale is twelve tones.

C to B sharp, E to E flat, like that? I hadn’t even thought about that! Oooh!

But wait a minute, even so, within the twelve tones are there more of the same notes just because of the range? I don’t know if it’s true, I’m just asking.

I think so, as we were talking about before, the difference in the tonality between a G flat and an F sharp…

Yeah, you said something there, ooh that’s fantastic. Right.

But then how you do you deal with that playing in 12-tones?

But what about E to F sharp and what about B to F? That’s the same game. And it’s only a half step apart, F to F sharp and B to C.



Anyway what we’re talking about is the human race. The members of the human race have advanced in lots of things, emotionally and socially, based on what we call the ability of enjoying how your nervous system is responding to your knowledge. And I’m not talking this way because I’m a professor or I know something about the quality of life and knowledge but I do know this. Look at your fingers and you’ll see you only have five. But those five fingers are doing much more than you can imagine. Well what I’m trying to express in one word, there’s a word called Life and it is the master of everything that we humans do. And if you think there’s something different, if it wasn’t like that, ooooh. That’s heavy. But nobody invented it that, right? It’s natural. I guess. I mean, knowledge is something that you’ve been told, that … you’ve been learned because you’ve been told. Is that right?

Been told or something you figured out.

Well what I mean by told is, some person that is educated is showing you where that knowledge came from, how it got to be what it is, and you can do with it. Well that’s… phew! I don’t know how to say this but… the quality of need and want is not based upon the security of your brain.

What I’m trying to say now is that, for instance …F sharp and G. B natural is, the fifth of B is F sharp. But the fourth of G is C. So now, G and C is a fourth, and F sharp and B is a fourth, but do you realize that F sharp and C is a flatted fifth, and G and B is a major third? And you would never think of it that way, but it is.

That’s… to be more precise, being alive and being human, human has and is affected by many, many things that changes your emotion, but no one knows but you. And you can’t prove to anybody why it happened that way to you and not them. I don’t know, ooh, I’m getting more and more concerned about two things and it’s because I’m very worried. One of them is called Life, and the other is called Ability. Now is it the ability that makes what makes your life is, or is it your life that makes what your ability is? Which one do you think?

That’s a ponderous question!

Yeah it sure is. And not only is it ponderous, but you don’t have to talk to see. That’s pretty heavy.

The reason why I’m saying these things is because being human, which is how I know that, I know about my own concept of being alive, and talking to you and speaking to people, I know that my basis or whatever it’s called, is a human being. But what makes me a human being, now that is very interesting. My mama made me a baby, made me when I was a baby, then I grew up to be the way I am now, but I have never thought about being any particular form of human being, but I must say this. The human being is programmed in a way where that program can change at any moment in any way and get to something that has to do with what we call the human race. I don’t know the human race to be so different in relationship to two things: race, ability, knowledge, quality, whatever. Every person that’s human will find themselves doing the same thing that everyone else is doing and calling it something else, because of what it means to them.

Well let’s face it. How can I say this but, I’m trying to say something that… what makes being the intellectual part of life so different to making someone feel outside of being up to speed as a citizen, being on the same level as someone else mentally, physically and everything else it has something to do with. The knowledge of being alive but, it doesn’t work that way. I mean I don’t know this for a fact, but when we say “life”, are we talking about people, or are we talking about a substance that’s called, something that’s called “life” to have that title? Is life different than if the title wasn’t called that?

You mean like, the difference between human life and biology?

See there you just said it. But biology is definite. How can I say it. Biology is a definite way of analyzing something, more or less, right? Now we’re right back where we started. But everybody has accepted that for the same reason. But that doesn’t mean it’s the supreme way of achieving whatever it is that you’re trying to do. But wait a minute, I’m a about to say something that’s even more weird.

See the flatted fifth of C, which is F sharp, and F sharp is the major seventh of G. Now is that distance or sound? Is it distance? That’s crazy.

The reason why I’m saying that, even as I’m sitting here with the newspaper, and obviously the newspaper is definitely improvising from what we call the spelling of sound and words and meaning. You know, here’s a word called “lovely”, and it’s spelled backwards. Well what happened there, what makes the word “lovely” have the sound of what we call, of the public or secular knowledge, all it is is an audience for people. But really, how can I say what I’m trying to get to?

What I’m really trying to get to is that, the human race, and the members of the human race, are not very profound on only the ability to improve our ability, to change our ability. It has something to do with learning something that you don’t know, and that is working every day, twenty-four hours a day, learning something that you don’t know in order to be able to be active and when you can learn, to use it for something that has somwthing to do with the meaning of what you’re trying to achieve.

The reason why I’m saying that is because, I’m sitting on the phone speaking to you, and we haven’t met, we don’t know each other, but I do know this: that the telephone is allowing us to have this experience, and that comes from the knowledge of humans.

Well now, what … look at money. I mean, can you print money and put any kind of value on it, and it goes to be that way? Now I don’t know if that’s true but that’s pretty heavy if it does. Does money have a fake image to it, or does it just have the symbol of what it represents in relationship to being human? I don’t know, personally. I mean there’s many different (kinds of) currency, of money, is that right?


Well then we’re right back where we started. So what I’m really trying to say is that I’m speaking to you on the phone right now, and I don’t know, I don’t think we know each other personally, and why I’m speaking this long. But I’m aware of two things, that wherever you are and wherever I am, that knowledge has made it possible for us to take our idea, our sound enough for you to identify what I’m saying and what you’re saying. And that is fantastic! But why is it that, when you, I don’t know, being rich or poor, or being, I don’t know. What I’m trying to say, I don’t have no idea of how much the human race controls the value of life. Do you?

If you put it that way, that’s very hard to say.

It’s hard to do. I mean it’s so obvious that knowledge is one of the most gifted things to human beings as long as everybody finds a way to use it in some form, a way that provides them to have some value to their environment. But now there is something called money that only comes from a place like, where they print the money up, whoever prints the money up for America. Whoever prints the dollar bill up. I mean, everybody can’t print their own dollar bill and set it out and say, “yes, it’s all right!” .

But whatever that means, and this is what’s so amazing, how can any person become a quality for value just because of the, how can I say it… the knowledge of what it represents because of the classification of the world. It’s not the same thing as everybody participating in that world equally.


OK, well now we’re talking. And I’m talking to you on the phone not because I’m trying to make a conversation out of what I’m saying. I’m saying this because I personally go to sleep, do what I do, and get up and try to work and go and find a job, whatever it is. I know that I can’t print my own money and everybody can say “yeah, this is all right, we’ll take this.” But I’m sure there are people who can print their own money and it still works for them.

What I’m trying to talk about is, the human race is human but not by, but, how can I say this? The human race is human but the classification of the human race has many other alternatives of not only what race you are, but (how) effective you are and what is your ability to survive, and what is your skill in relationship to knowledge? All of those things are very, very, very close to why racism, socialism, and plain old what we call being poor and being rich, every human being has experienced something that is different in the way they wake up every morning and speak to someone, “good morning, how are you,” and all that. But when it comes to knowledge, it’s not “how are you”, it’s saying, “how much and when will I be paid”, and all that. And I don’t know it has to be that way. Because it seems to me that the human being has a much more eternal way of accepting what life is. I mean look at the word God and look at the word life. L-I-F-E and G-O-D. I mean those two terms eliminates people from having to worry about how someone is treating them in relationship to what they mean to someone, whether it’s broke or poor, or someone that’s lost their job or whatever.

What I’m trying to say, I have no idea why the human race is so divided because of value. And I’m not one to sit here and try to make value express itself. But I am not interested in making slaves or making anyone in a degenerating way because of human. To me, that’s not something I want to participate in. I’m sorry if I’m talking backwards to you or whatever.

No, this is very interesting!

Well I’ll tell you, and when I say I’ll tell you, I’m sitting here in New York City, speaking to you, and I don’t have any clue of trying to go outside and make a fortune or go outside and impress some people that “I can do this” and all that. I don’t know how to be the human being that I want to be. I know the human being I don’t want to be and which I don’t want to be a killer and I don’t want to deprive someone of something that they want to be doing, and if I don’t them to do it I don’t want to be that way and I don’t want to deprive anybody financially, socially, racially or any of those ways. But I am not able to live that every day and smile to everyone I meet because I don’t know everybody.

But I do know one thing, that life, every human being that’s walking with life, and the thing about it, I don’t know what life is made out of but the human being is at the zenith of what we call human. That’s fantastic and most human beings, you know, have a quality of what their origin or… well that only has to do with two things: how valuable and what is the intelligent part that gives it the clue to be active? Now it could be money or it could be just plain old, how could I say it …knowledge. I don’t know, well, knowledge is, obviously knowledge is based in immortality in relationship to being two things: being youthful and being healthful. And how we relate to each other as humans.

But what I really don’t understand, what is race? Does race have to have anything to do with what you don’t do and what you do do? It shouldn’t be that way. And if it is that way, what is it supposed to mean? What is it supposed to allow you to become? I don’t know but I’m not trying to find out neither.

But one thing is true, knowledge does exist but knowledge is not… knowledge is taught. It’s not something that someone else have and nobody else doesn’t have it. But still, it’s taught but it’s not taught for the reason why it’s knowledge. It’s taught because of the reason why human beings provide each other a way of communicating the value of their socialism, or whatever you want to call it. Look at money. Oooh! If it wasn’t for money, what would human beings do? Do you have any idea?

Trap and trade?

(laughs) Oh man, you’re a real American. That’s fantastic!

But wait a minute! But you can’t trap and trade human beings! Well that’s not the same thing, is it? But wait a minute! Is knowledge the only way that you learn? I’m asking a question.

Well there’s a difference between knowledge I have of music theory and intervals, which was explained to me and I can demonstrate it and see how it works, versus knowledge that fire is hot because I stuck my finger on the stove. I suppose there is that kind of knowledge that’s not necessarily taught.

Well you see the F sharp is a flatted fifth, of course from C to F sharp is a major seventh but it’s still the same notes. Can you imagine the freedom of what that gives the person that is using it from an intelligent of point of view, and has working in his favor, has his value in relationship to what money represents. I’m not talking race or anything like that. What I’m really trying to say is that, money, is there only one way that money can be money and it has to be the way it is? As of now? Is there any other way money could be different than the way it is?

That’s a good question.

It sure is. And I’m not here trying to fight it. Because I’ve stayed broke with a broken tooth, but I don’t want to run you crazy because I’m sitting here talking.

But I’m just saying this, the only thing I can say is that I’m made in the form of a human so that made me think I have some qualities of not being an animal, and I’d call it a human being, but there’s something about the human being that I can’t express to the world because there’s something called racism, there’s something called race, there’s something called color, there’s something called… so many different things. But they don’t have to be there to express something that affects you. That’s just a powder over you. It’s like a powder puff, you put some powder on your face and your face changes. But really, isn’t the concept of life mostly coming to origination because of the quality of God? God doesn’t exist, is that right.


God doesn’t exist? Did you say yes?

I may have misunderstood what I thought you were saying but I believe there is a spiritual quality that goes considerably beyond what’s knowable.

Even when it’s knowable. Do everyone get a chance to participate in it? I doubt it.

The reason why I’m speaking to you, it’s not that I’m trying to make any point against or for anything. I’m only speaking about two things. Look at the word “human.” Now, i nobody lied that their face wouldn’t be made to identify themselves as a human. Is that true?


Well then, OK, how can humans have any role if the human that is there, the role, who you are, doesn’t have any value. It’s more, what can you do and what do you know? But why do you need to know what can you do and what can you know when you’ve already lived long enough to tell someone to kiss your butt or whatever?

I personally don’t understand two things. You have so many different, white race, you have black, you have all kinds of people, human beings. But it ain’t changing human beings. The names might be changed. But the human part of human, there’s no way that any human being that’s made like everyone else can say they’re different. We’re all made the same way. But what’s wrong with the light? Why don’t we all make heaven on earth? Why would someone want…God wants you to do something and someone else wants you to do something. And that’s not even reason to explain it all, oh, what can I say.

Well I’m sitting here realizing two things. It’s so true that the world is a master of everyone’s way of wanting to achieve something. And in what we call the human world, we learn how to read and write and count, and all of a sudden the money comes along and you need more money and more money. And the people that created the money don’t have that much, because that’s what they do, for it to be able to get to someone like myself, I don’t know about you.

But the reason why I’m saying that, it seems to me that life is playing a back door and everything else is in the front. But life should be in the front and everything else should be in the back! And I’m not saying that because of my race or my playing or nothing. I’m talking about it, I mean, I’m still alive and I want to build. But I’m not worried about who doesn’t like me if I’m still alive and who doesn’t like me if I die. I want to learn about, what is the (uintelligble)? Learning something I can believe in because of who I’m not. I don’t have to be anyone to die. And since I don’t have to do that, what do I have to do because I’m alive? And I don’t know how that works either, ha ha.

And the reason I’m saying that is I’m talking with my cousin, and there’s two of us here, and I’m in New York City, and I’m talking to him as I’m talking to you, one of my relatives from Fort Worth and wherever.

But the reason I’m saying this is, whether you want to create a white race, or a black race or blue race, whatever, everybody has two eyes, a nose and a butthole, ha ha ha. So that has that nothing to… why do we want to be against each other? When we’re all using the same tools, heh heh, we’re using the same conditions to relate to those things that we’re doing, not so good to each other. And I don’t know why and I’m not sitting here trying to find out. Look, I don’t know what race you are and I, they call me black or nigger or whatever it is, that’s the closest that I can see what I’m supposed to be, ha ha ha. But I am not concerned about it. And the reason why is because there is another word called “Life,” and it doesn’t have no image. I mean Life is not, two pieces of beans and some of cornbread, ha ha ha. You don’t know that phrase!


This entry was posted in Interviews, Music, News & Sports and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Remembering Ornette Coleman And Our 2010 Interview

  1. Paul Gaita says:

    Just reading this for the first time, and it is an amazing interview. I got to see Ornette on the Tone Dialing tour, and “supernatural” is exactly the right word to describe the experience. Your interview sums up the scope of his genius.

Leave a Reply