MacArthur Fellows Program

Ornette Coleman

Jazz Performer and Composer | Class of 1994

Jazz Performer and Composer
New York, New York
64 at time of award
June 10, 2015
Published July 1, 1994

About Ornette's Work

Ornette Coleman is a musician and a composer long recognized as an influential figure in the history of jazz.

His innovative harmolodic theory of music abandons Western conventions of harmony and rhythm, and offers musicians an expanded tonal language with which to compose and improvise.  Coleman’s occasional use of the non-tempered scale, his abandonment of chord changes and the conventions of the 32-bar AABA song form, and improvisational interplay between musicians are characteristic features of his approach.  His album entitled Free Jazz (1960) gave a name to this new music style.

In addition to being featured on many jazz compilations, his albums include Who’s Crazy (1966), Science Fiction (1971), In All Languages (1987), and Tone Dialing (1995).  Coleman has written several modernist concert pieces, notably the orchestral Skies of America (1972), and movie soundtracks including Naked Lunch (1992).  He is the subject of a film, Ornette: Made in America (1984), compiled from early career footage.


Coleman is a self-taught composer, and a performer on alto and tenor saxophone, trumpet, and violin.  He attended the Lenox School of Jazz in Massachusetts in 1959.  In the 1970s he studied and recorded with the Master Musicians of Jajouka in Morocco, anticipating by a decade the worldwide interest in African music.

Last updated January 1, 2005

Select News Coverage of Ornette Coleman
October 24, 2017
"Musical Space: Genius Recognized"
Rhiannon Giddens, Yuval Sharon, Tyshawn Sorey, 2017 MacArthur Fellows
Milton Babbitt , 1986 MacArthur Fellow
Ornette Coleman , 1994 MacArthur Fellow
Edgar Meyer , 2002 MacArthur Fellow
Chris Thile, 2012 MacArthur Fellow
Vijay Iyer, 2013 MacArthur Fellow
June 30, 2017
"Lincoln Center Festival Celebrates Ornette Coleman"
Asbury Park Press NJ
Ornette Coleman , 1994 MacArthur Fellow
October 17, 2015
"Jazz Currents looks at Ornette Coleman"
Ornette Coleman , 1994 MacArthur Fellow
June 16, 2015
"The Legacy of Ornette Coleman"
Paste Magazine
Ornette Coleman , 1994 MacArthur Fellow
June 12, 2015
"Ornette Coleman Has Died"
Ornette Coleman , 1994 MacArthur Fellow
June 11, 2015
"Jazz Great Ornette Coleman Dies Aged 85"
The Guardian
Ornette Coleman , 1994 MacArthur Fellow
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