The Shape of Jazz to Come

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The Shape of Jazz to Come
Studio album by Ornette Coleman
Released October 1959
Recorded May 22, 1959
Genre Avant-garde jazz
Free jazz
Length 37:59
Label Atlantic 1317
Producer Nesuhi Ertegun
Ornette Coleman chronology
Tomorrow Is the Question!
The Shape of Jazz to Come
Change of the Century

The Shape of Jazz to Come is the third album by jazz musician Ornette Coleman, released on Atlantic Records in 1959. It is his debut on the label, and his first album featuring his working quartet. The recording session for the album took place on May 22, 1959, at Radio Recorders in Hollywood, California. Two outtakes from the session, "Monk and the Nun" and "Just for You," would later be released respectively on the 1970s compilations Twins and The Art of the Improvisers. In 2012, the Library of Congress added the album to the National Recording Registry.[1]


The album contains the one Coleman composition to achieve jazz standard status, "Lonely Woman." Coleman's group did not contain chord-playing instruments. Each selection contains a brief melody, much like the tune of a typical jazz song, then several minutes of free improvisation, followed by a repetition of the main theme. While this resembles the conventional head-solo-head structure of bebop, it abandons the use of chord structures. The album was a breakthrough and helped to establish the free jazz movement. Later avant-garde jazz was often very different from this, but the work helped to lay the foundation upon which much subsequent avant-garde and free jazz would be built.

Track listing[edit]

All compositions by Ornette Coleman.

Side one[edit]

No. Title Length
1. "Lonely Woman"   4:59
2. "Eventually"   4:20
3. "Peace"   9:04

Side two[edit]

No. Title Length
1. "Focus on Sanity"   6:50
2. "Congeniality"   6:41
3. "Chronology"   6:05



From 1948 to 1958, Coleman moved between New Orleans, Fort Worth, TX and Los Angeles, working various jobs and developing his own unique sound that was often met with hostility.[2][3] His unique approach to jazz initially made it difficult to make ends meet by playing music.[4] While employed as an elevator operator in Los Angeles, he studied music theory and harmony and developed an idiosyncratic take on country blues and folk forms.[5] Coleman's big break came in Los Angeles when he caught the attention of Percy Heath and John Lewis, the bassist and pianist of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Lewis encouraged Coleman and his trumpeter Don Cherry to attend the Lenox School of Jazz in Massachusetts in 1959, and secured him a deal with Atlantic Records as well as his historical residency at New York's Five Spot.[5][6]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars[7]
Penguin Guide to Jazz 4/4 stars
(Crown award)

On November 17, 1959, one month after the release of The Shape..., Coleman's quartet began its residency at the Five Spot.[9] This engagement was arranged by the aforementioned John Lewis and initially scheduled to last two weeks though it was eventually extended to two-and-a-half months.[6][9] The performances were well-attended and generated controversy amongst attendees, critics, and jazz musicians alike. Whereas some musicians and critics praised him for an inventiveness not seen since the emergence of be-bop, he found his detractors in such notable jazz figures as Charles Mingus and Miles Davis.[6][9] In 2003, the album was ranked number 248 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The album was identified by Chris Kelsey in his Allmusic essay "Free Jazz: A Subjective History" as one of the 20 Essential Free Jazz Albums.[10] The Penguin Guide to Jazz awarded the album its "crown" accolade, in addition to a perfect four star rating.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Http://" PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2014.
  3. ^ Deveaux, Scott. "Jazz: W. W. Norton StudySpace." Chapter 15: The Avant-Garde. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2014
  4. ^ Johnson, Martin. "Bluesy and Achingly Beautiful." The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 18 Apr. 2009. Web. 06 Oct. 2014.
  5. ^ a b "Http://" PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2014
  6. ^ a b c Johnson, Martin. "Bluesy and Achingly Beautiful." The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 18 Apr. 2009. Web. 06 Oct. 2014
  7. ^ The Shape of Jazz to Come at AllMusic
  8. ^ a b Cook, Richard; Brian Morton (2008) [1992]. The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings. The Penguin Guide to Jazz (9th ed.). New York: Penguin. p. 274. ISBN 978-0-14-103401-0. 
  9. ^ a b c Davis, Francis. "Ornette's Permanent Revolution." The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, Sept. 1985. Web. 06 Oct. 2014
  10. ^ Kelsey, C. Free Jazz: A Subjective History accessed August 25, 2011