Forth Worth Avant-Guarde Jazz


The formation of the Fort Worth Avant-Garde jazz movement was ultimately the product of the innovative genius of Ornette Coleman. Coleman, born and raised in Fort Worth, created a major break in jazz during the late 1950s. With his famous West Coast quartet—which included Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins, and Ed Blackwell—he began to experiment with a new basis for improvisation. Instead of improvising scales on top of the harmonies of a song, as had been done since the advent of bebop in the mid-1940s, he allowed himself and his musicians to choose their own harmonic structures. This gave soloists and their accompanists greater flexibility in what they performed and significantly altered the general textures of the way that jazz sounded. Coleman would further develop these principles over the career and later call them “Harmolodics.”leman’s ideas became the foundation for a whole jazz style—often called Free Jazz—and he is recognized as one of a handful of the most important innovators in jazz history. It is difficult to overstate Coleman’s significance in twentieth century music.

Despite his revolutionary reputation, Coleman’s own playing was still very rooted in the Texas saxophone tradition. Before his residence in California, he performed in travelling R&B bands during the late 1940s and early 1950s. His style, in fact, incorporates and transforms many of the staple characteristics of the Texas Tenors: honking and overblowing.

Coleman inspired also a generation of musicians from the Fort Worth area. Many came from Coleman’s high school—I. M. Terrell—and many would play in his own bands during the 1960s and 1970s. Prince Lasha, Dewey Redman, John Carter, Ronald Shannon Jackson, and Julius Hemphill all attended Terrell and Bobby Bradford (born in Dallas), Redman, and Jackson played in Coleman’s bands. As a group, these musicians extended and worked out many of Coleman’s ideas and their collective body of work offers a compelling tradition of advanced Texas music.