Charles Mingus in Downbeat

You didn’t play anything by Ornette Coleman. I’ll comment on him anyway. Now, I don’t care if he doesn’t like me, but anyway, one night Symphony Sid was playing a whole lot of stuff, and then he put on an Ornette Coleman record.

Now, he is really an old-fashioned alto player. He’s not as modern as Bird. He plays in C and F and G and B Flat only; he does not play in all the keys. Basically, you can hit a pedal point C all the time, and it’ll have some relationship to what he’s playing.

Now aside from the fact that I doubt he can even play a C scale in whole notes—tied whole notes, a couple of bars apiece—in tune, the fact remains that his notes and lines are so fresh. So when Symphony Sid played his record, it made everything else he was playing, even my own record that he played, sound terrible.

I’m not saying everybody’s going to have to play like Coleman. But they’re going to have to stop copying Bird. Nobody can play Bird right yet but him. Now what would Fats Navarro and J.J. have played like if they’d never heard Bird? Or even Dizzy? Would he still play like Roy Eldridge? Anyway, when they put Coleman’s record on, the only record they could have put on behind it would have been Bird.

It doesn’t matter about the key he’s playing in—he’s got a percussional sound, like a cat on a whole lot of bongos. He’s brought a thing in—it’s not new. I won’t say who started it, but whoever started it, people overlooked it. It’s like not having anything to do with what’s around you, and being right in your own world. You can’t put you finger on what he’s doing.

It’s like organized disorganization, or playing wrong right. And it gets to you emotionally, like a drummer. That’s what Coleman means to me.

Charles Mingus, from a Downbeat blindfold test in 1960.

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