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

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