As attested by his Pulitzer Prize-winning 2006 release Sound Grammar, a Lifetime Achievement Grammy and his stunning concert at the Royal Festival Hall in 2007, Coleman is still making musical history 50 years on from exploding onto the world with his ‘free jazz’ revolution.
With the full line-up for the annual nine day festival still to be announced, it can be revealed that the revered saxophonist, violinist, trumpeter, metaphysician and creator of some of the most beautiful, singular music ever heard will perform two very special concerts. One is inspired by his seminal 1959 release The Shape of Jazz to Come and the other by his landmark 1961 release This Is Our Music. Both concerts will take place in the Royal Festival Hall.
After a run of rock and pop artists in recent years – including David Bowie (2002), Morrissey (2004), Patti Smith (2005), Jarvis Cocker (2007) and Massive Attack (2008) – a jazz artist takes the curatorial controls for the first time in the festival’s 16 year history. While Meltdown has often honoured mercurial rock and pop artists with the chance to curate their very own festival, the early years saw contemporary classical composers George Benjamin (1993), Louis Andriessen (1994) and Magnus Lindberg (1996) take the curatorial reigns, and reggae artist Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry took up the challenge in 2003.
Born in the segregated town of Fort Worth, Texas in 1930, Ornette Coleman bought his first saxophone at the age of fourteen with money he earned shining shoes. Entirely self taught, his idiosyncratic approach to playing the saxophone below, between and beyond the notes in search of pure feeling, shocked audiences early in his career and even saw him being beaten up in Baton Rouge for ‘playing out of tune’. In the late 1950s Coleman pioneered the idea of improvising without chord changes. His musical system, at first called ‘free jazz’, which he later renamed ‘harmolodics’ and now prefers to call ‘sound grammar’, is a remarkable exercise in applied democracy – allowing all players to give free reign to their imagination and ideas.
From provocatively titled releases of the late 1950s and early 1960s (including The Shape of Jazz to Come, Free Jazz and This Is Our Music) to the orchestral symphony Skies of America and his sonic adventures with the Master Musicians of Jajouka in Morocco in the 1970s, Coleman has consistently challenged convention. His pioneering spirit continued through the 1980s with his collaboration with Pat Metheny in 1985 on Song X, and into the 1990s with groundbreaking multi-media shows (one famously involving a body-piercing 'fakir') and an unforgettable performance on Howard Shore's soundtrack to David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch. In September 2006, he released the critically acclaimed Sound Grammar - a live album recorded in Germany with his son Denardo on drums and bassists Greg Cohen and Tony Falanga.
Coleman’s radical, uncompromising approach to his art has made him a hero to generations of avantgarde artists, from jazzers to punks and thrash metallers alike. Artists who have cited Coleman as an influence and inspiration range from John Coltrane, John Zorn and Pat Metheny to Leonard Bernstein, Frank Zappa, Mike Patton, Patti Smith, Yo La Tengo, Sonic Youth, Spiritualized and Lou Reed, who said of Ornette “When you talk about someone speaking through their instrument, that’s Ornette. He changed everything. I just learn from him.”
ORNETTE COLEMAN, the 16th Director of Southbank Centre’s Meltdown, said: "I hope this festival will leave us with a lot of love for all mankind. We will use this time to gather together and create things that we love and believe in."
GLENN MAX, Producer of Contemporary Culture Southbank Centre, said: "Throughout his entire career, Ornette has always maintained that music is music. It’s not jazz, or rock, or classical. It’s just music. It’s a belief that we share and have demonstrated in sixteen years of Meltdown festivals. His impact on artists transcends genres and art forms and is testament to a persistence of vision and an enduring dedication to self-expression, no matter how idiosyncratic. In an era too often typified by the slavish aping of trends, these are qualities that are increasingly rare. As one of the few brave visionaries of 20th and 21st-Century thought, it is an honour to celebrate his genius.”
JUDE KELLY, Artistic Director, Southbank Centre, said: "The joy of Southbank Centre's Meltdown festival is that it never fails to offer up surprises, each year taking audiences in unexpected directions. We are delighted that the man who took the world in an entirely unexpected direction in 1959, and who continues to inspire, innovate and surprise fifty years on, has accepted our invitation to create a festival." -- www.southbankcentre.co.uk