Dear reader, if any one of you claims to have a better suit, tie, and hat combination than the one Ornette Coleman wore to the Grammy’s, I’ll tell you right now, you’re lying.
In the jazz club scene of Collateral the Vincent character played by Tom Cruise wiggles his fingers as if playing the trumpet and announces that the melody is “behind the notes.” Often critiques by non-listeners of jazz follow along the lines of the Max Durocher character, “I don’t hear a melody.” Recorded in 1959, Ornette Coleman’s Una Muy Bonita gives the listener just that, translated literally, “a very pretty one.”
The song teaches us to hear what happens when musicians loosen the screws on things like rhythm and form in favor of a more impressionistic palette of ideas. Eventually the musician would declare himself done with screws altogether and the “free jazz” movement was born in his wake. It wouldn’t be long before Atlantic Records kicked him to the curb. It took him another forty-some years to earn the Lifetime Achievement award.
The song’s title is more likely to mean “a very pretty girl,” if we deal in shades of meaning and implied melodies as jazz often does. But we are at a loss to know with certainty if the song’s title speaks of a muse or springs from the same self-reflexivity that spurred Coleman into naming his 8th album Ornette! in 1961.
Coleman, like Rushdie, Salman, has spent much of his career loved by fans who refer to him casually by his first name.
In either case, the undeniable truth continues to hold that all great jazzmen wear hats. And, sadly, the best of them will probably always do it better than you or I.
Una Muy Bonita.
(recorded to cd from a dusty record, the player pitched too high. if you’re feeling the vibes you can get a clean copy from iTunes) UPDATE here it is on YouTube:
Some funny quotes by Coleman at the Grammy’s.
Images by wireframe.