Friday, March 12, 2010

Harmolodic = Highest Instinct

When I speak of rhythm I'm speaking about the oxygen of the notes. The beat or the time is the constant format. It's the mechanical part of motion. Rhythm is the freest part of that motion. The beat is the cement for the road. It's the road you're traveling on; the road doesn't necessarily ever change. Rhythm can be harmonic or melodic. Most listeners and players think of rhythm as the drums and think of non-rhythm as sound or words. To me they're the same. You can be moved rhythmically or non-rhythmically.

Improvising is a word used to express music that is not being written and calculated at the moment. Once I heard Eubie Blake say that when he was playing in black bands for white audiences, during the time that segregation was strong, that the musicians would go backstage, look at the music, then leave the music there and go out and play it. He was saying that they had a more saleable appeal if they pretended not to know what they were doing. The white audience felt safer. If they had the music in front of them, the audience would think they were trying to be white. So that's what I think of the word improvising. It's outdated. The term doesn't describe the muscians individual struggle for expression. Usually the person improvising has to use some sort of vehicle to let you know he's doing that. It's a limited term. Memory has a lot to do with improvisation. People enjoy the music they've heard before, much more than the music they haven't heard. To me that's like memory. The same sensations that made them enjoy what they liked in the past, when it was the present, wasn't memory. That was an experience.

This essay, written by Ornette Coleman, originally appeared in

pictured above are, left to right,
Charles Ellerbe, Ornette Coleman, Bern Nix,
at Caravan of Dreams, 1986.


David Meltzer said...

This is of course beautiful & wonderously enigmatic. Many musicians I know remain to this day puzzled by what "harmolodics" is/are. Sometimes I think Ornette is too.

Justin Desmangles said...

David Meltzer writes, "Ornette's 80!
Knew him in LA in the '50s when he & Cherry & Charlie migrated to the Big Orange. I was hanging out w/ Paul & Carla Bley; they had a loft above a gas station on Santa Monica Boulevard. When the station closed, there were continuous sessions until the gas station opened the next morning. Paul had a steady trio gig at a local club, got so excited by Ornette's concept that he incorporated them into his group which after a couple of nights was fired. But what a gig it was. Traces of it on either Ornette or Paul pirates & CDs at The Hillcrest Club. If you listened hard enough, you cd hear Meltzer moaning low. I was underage -- 19 or 20 -- but thy slipped me through."

groove68 said...

Watch Shirley Clarke's documentary about Ornette Coleman as video on demand