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Don Cherry (trumpeter)

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Don Cherry
Cherry in Münster, 1987
Cherry in Münster, 1987
Background information
Birth nameDonald Eugene Cherry
Born(1936-11-18)November 18, 1936
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S.
DiedOctober 19, 1995(1995-10-19) (aged 58)
Málaga, Andalusia, Spain
  • Cornet
  • trumpet
  • piano
  • wood flute
  • tambura
  • gamelan

Donald Eugene Cherry (November 18, 1936 – October 19, 1995)[1] was an American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and multi-instrumentalist. Beginning in the late 1950s, he had a long tenure performing in the bands of saxophonist Ornette Coleman, including on the pioneering free jazz albums The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959) and Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation (1961). Cherry also collaborated separately with musicians including John Coltrane, Charlie Haden, Sun Ra, Ed Blackwell, the New York Contemporary Five, and Albert Ayler.

Cherry released his debut album as bandleader, Complete Communion, in 1966. In the 1970s, he became a pioneer in world music, with his work drawing on African, Middle Eastern, and Hindustani music. He was a member of the ECM group Codona, along with percussionist Naná Vasconcelos and sitar and tabla player Collin Walcott.[2] Chris Kelsey of AllMusic called Cherry "one of the most influential jazz musicians of the late 20th century."[3]

Early life


Cherry was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to a mother of Choctaw descent and an African-American father.[4] His mother and grandmother played piano and his father played trumpet.[5] His father owned Oklahoma City's Cherry Blossom Club, which hosted performances by jazz musicians Charlie Christian and Fletcher Henderson.[6] In 1940, Cherry moved with his family to the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, where his father tended bar at the Plantation Club on Central Avenue, at the time the center of a vibrant jazz scene.[6][7][8] Cherry recalled skipping school at Fremont High School in order to play with the swing band at Jefferson High School.[7] This resulted in his transfer to Jacob Riis High School, a reform school,[7] where he met drummer Billy Higgins.[9][10]



By the early 1950s Cherry was playing with jazz musicians in Los Angeles, sometimes acting as pianist in Art Farmer's group.[11]: 134  While trumpeter Clifford Brown was in Los Angeles with Max Roach, Cherry attended a jam session with Brown and Larance Marable at Eric Dolphy's house, and Brown informally mentored Cherry.[7] He also toured with saxophonist James Clay.[12]: 45 

Cherry became well known in 1958 when he performed and recorded with Ornette Coleman, first in a quintet with pianist Paul Bley and later in the quartet which recorded for Atlantic Records. During this period, "his lines ... gathered much of their freedom of motion from the free harmonic structures."[12]: 289  Cherry co-led The Avant-Garde session which saw John Coltrane replacing Coleman in the quartet, recorded and toured with Sonny Rollins, was a member of the New York Contemporary Five with Archie Shepp and John Tchicai, and recorded and toured with both Albert Ayler and George Russell. His first recording as a leader was Complete Communion for Blue Note Records in 1965. The band included Coleman's drummer Ed Blackwell as well as saxophonist Gato Barbieri, whom he had met while touring Europe with Ayler, and bassist Henry Grimes.[13]

Cherry at Park Le Cascine, Florence, Italy, September 1975

After leaving Coleman's quartet, Cherry often played in small groups and duets, many with ex-Coleman drummer Ed Blackwell, during a long sojourn in Scandinavia and other locations. He traveled through Europe, India, Morocco, South Africa, and elsewhere to explore and play with a variety of musicians. In the late 1960s he settled in Tagarp, Sweden with his wife, Swedish designer and textile artist Moki Cherry. In 1968, Don Cherry taught music classes with guest lecturers, performance collaborators, and workshop leaders from around the world at Arbetarnas bildningsförbund (ABF) House, a Swedish labor movement-run education center. For ten years, Don and Moki Cherry lived and worked collaboratively in an abandoned schoolhouse in Tagarp, holding classes and performances, hosting guests and collaborators, and exploring their concept of Organic Music Society.

In 1969, Cherry played trumpet and other instruments for poet Allen Ginsberg's 1970 LP Songs of Innocence and Experience, a musical adaptation of William Blake's poetry collection of the same name.[14] He appeared on Coleman's 1971 LP Science Fiction, and from 1976 to 1987 reunited with Blackwell and Coleman alumni Dewey Redman and Charlie Haden as Old and New Dreams,[15] Old and New Dreams recorded four albums (two for ECM and two for Black Saint) where Cherry's "subtlety of rhythmic expansion and contraction" was noted.[12]: 290 

Don Cherry in 1989

In the 1970s, Cherry ventured into the developing genre of world fusion music. Cherry incorporated influences of Middle Eastern, African, and Indian music into his playing. He studied Indian music with Vasant Rai in the early seventies. From 1978 to 1982, he recorded three albums for ECM with "world jazz" group Codona, consisting of Cherry, percussionist Naná Vasconcelos and sitar and tabla player Collin Walcott.[9]

Cherry also collaborated with classical composer Krzysztof Penderecki on the 1971 album Actions. In 1973, he co-composed the score for Alejandro Jodorowsky's film The Holy Mountain, together with Ronald Frangipane and Jodorowsky.

At the end of the 1970s, the trio Organic Music Theater (with Gian Piero Pramaggiore and Naná Vasconcelos) had an intense live activity in Italy and France.

During the 1980s, Cherry released the recording El Corazon, a 1982 duet album with Ed Blackwell. He also made two albums as bandleader, Home Boy (Sister Out) in 1985 and Art Deco in 1988. Cherry recorded again with the original Ornette Coleman Quartet on Coleman's 1987 album In All Languages,

Other playing opportunities in his career came with Carla Bley's Escalator over the Hill and as a sideman on recordings by Lou Reed, Ian Dury, Rip Rig + Panic and Sun Ra.

In 1994, Cherry appeared on the Red Hot Organization's compilation CD, Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool, on a track titled "Apprehension", alongside the Watts Prophets.[16] The album, meant to raise awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in African-American society, was named "Album of the Year" by Time.

Death and legacy


Cherry died of liver cancer in Málaga, Spain, on October 19, 1995, at the age of 58.[5]

Cherry was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 2011.[17]

Family and Personal Life


He was married to Monika Karlsson (Moki Cherry), a Swedish painter and textile artist, who also occasionally played tanpura drone on his recordings and jams.[18] His stepdaughter, Neneh Cherry,[18] his step-granddaughters Mabel and Tyson and his sons, David Ornette Cherry, Christian Cherry, and Eagle-Eye Cherry, are also musicians. David Ornette Cherry died from an asthma attack at the age of 64 on November 20, 2022.[19]

Don Cherry practiced Vajrayana Buddhism. [20][21][22]



Cherry learned to play various brass instruments in high school.[11]: 134  Throughout his career, he played pocket cornet (though he identified this as a pocket trumpet), trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn, and bugle.[23][24]

Cherry began his career as a pianist, and would continue playing piano and organ.[23]

After returning from a musical and cultural journey through Africa, he often played the donso ngoni, a harp-lute with a gourd body originating from West Africa (see ngoni). During his international journeys, Cherry also collected a variety of non-Western instruments, which he mastered and often played in performances and on recordings. Among these instruments were berimbau, bamboo flutes and assorted percussion instruments.[23]

Technique and style


Cherry's trumpet influences included Miles Davis, Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, and Harry Edison.[23] Journalist Howard Mandel suggests Henry "Red" Allen as a precedent (given Allen's "blustery rather than Armstrong-brazen brass sound, jauntily unpredictable melodic streams, squeezed-off and/or half-valve effects and repertoire including novelty vocals")[25] while Ekkehard Jost cites Wild Bill Davison.[11]: 138 

Some critics have noted shortcomings in Cherry's technique.[9][11]: 137 [23] Ron Wynn writes that "[Cherry's] technique isn't always the most efficient; frequently, his rapid-fired solos contain numerous missed or muffed notes. But he's a master at exploring the trumpet and cornet's expressive, voice-like properties; he bends notes and adds slurs and smears, and his twisting solos are tightly constructed and executed regardless of their flaws."[23] Jost notes the tendency for writers to focus on Cherry's "technical insecurity", but asserts that "the problem lies elsewhere. Perfect technical control in extremely fast tempos was more or less risk-free as long as the improviser had to deal with standard changes that were familiar to him from years of working with them.... In the music of the Ornette Coleman Quartet—a 'new-found-land' where the laws and habits of functional harmony do not apply—there is no use for patterns that had been worked out on that basis."[11]: 137 

Miles Davis was initially dismissive of Cherry's playing, claiming that "anyone can tell that guy's not a trumpet player—it's just notes that come out, and every note he plays he looks serious about, and people will go for that, especially white people."[25] According to Cherry, however, when Davis attended an Ornette Coleman performance at the Five Spot Café in Greenwich Village, he was impressed with Cherry's playing and sat in with the group using Cherry's pocket trumpet.[25] Later, in a 1964 DownBeat blindfold test, Davis indicated that he liked Cherry's playing.[26]



As leader or co-leader

Recording date Release date Album Label Notes
1960 1966 The Avant-Garde Atlantic With John Coltrane
1965 1966 Togetherness Durium Also released as Gato Barbieri & Don Cherry
1965 2020 Cherry Jam Gearbox EP
1965 1966 Complete Communion Blue Note
1966 2007 Live at Cafe Montmartre 1966 Volume 1 ESP-Disk
1966 2008 Live at Cafe Montmartre 1966 Volume 2 ESP-Disk
1966 2009 Live at Cafe Montmartre 1966 Volume 3 ESP-Disk
1966 1967 Symphony for Improvisers Blue Note
1966 1969 Where Is Brooklyn? Blue Note
1968 2021 The Summer House Sessions Blank Forms
1968/1971 2013 Live In Stockholm Caprice
1968 1969 Eternal Rhythm MPS
1969 1969 Mu First Part BYG Records With Ed Blackwell
1969 1970 Mu Second Part BYG Records With Ed Blackwell
1969 1978 Live Ankara Sonet
1969-1970 1970 Human Music Flying Dutchman With Jon Appleton
1971 1971 Actions Philips With Krzysztof Penderecki
1971 1974 Orient BYG Records
1971 1974 Blue Lake BYG Records
1972 1972 Organic Music Society Caprice
1972 2019 Universal Silence Lepo Glasbo With Carlos Ward and Dollar Brand
1972 2021 Organic Music Theatre Festival De Jazz De Chateauvallon 1972 Blank Forms With Naná Vasconcelos
1973 1973 Relativity Suite JCOA With the Jazz Composer's Orchestra
1973 1974 Eternal Now Sonet
1975 1975 Brown Rice Horizon Also released as Don Cherry
1976 1977 Hear & Now Atlantic
1976 2020 Om Shanti Om Black Sweat
1977 2014 Modern Art Mellotronen
1982 1982 El Corazón ECM With Ed Blackwell
1985 1985 Home Boy (Sister Out) Barclay
1986 2002 Nu: Live at the Bracknell Jazz Festival, 1986 Barclay
1987 2021 Nu: Live in Glasgow Mark Helias self-released
1988 1989 Art Deco A&M
1988-1990 1990 Multikulti A&M
1993 1994 Dona Nostra ECM

With Old and New Dreams

With Codona

As sideman


With Ornette Coleman

With the New York Contemporary Five

With Albert Ayler

With Carla Bley

With Paul Bley

With Bongwater

With Charles Brackeen

With Allen Ginsberg

With Charlie Haden

With Abdullah Ibrahim

With Clifford Jordan

With Steve Lacy

With Michael Mantler

With Sunny Murray

With Jim Pepper

With Sonny Rollins

With George Russell

With Sun Ra

With Lou Reed

With Charlie Rouse

With others


  1. ^ Kernfeld, Barry (20 January 2001). "Cherry, Don(ald Eugene)". Grove Music Online (8th ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.05535. ISBN 978-1-56159-263-0.
  2. ^ Shatz, Adam (6 June 2019). "The Apostle of Now-ness". New York Review of Books. LXVI (10): 30–32.
  3. ^ Kelsey, Chris. "Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 12 July 2021.
  4. ^ Lavezzoli, Peter (2006). The Dawn of Indian Music in the West: Bhairavi. New York: Continuum. p. 317. ISBN 0826418155. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  5. ^ a b Olsher, Dean (1995-10-20). "The Jazz World Remembers Trumpeter Don Cherry". All Things Considered. NPR. Archived from the original on 2013-11-05. Retrieved 2012-09-28 – via HighBeam Research.
  6. ^ a b Feather, Leonard; Gitler, Ira (1999). The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz. Oxford: Oxford UP. p. 124. Archived from the original on 2018-07-16.
  7. ^ a b c d Silsbee, Kirk (April 2003). "Don Cherry interview (April 25, 1984)". Cadence. 29 (4). Redwood, NY: Cadnor Ltd.: 5–11. ISSN 0162-6973.
  8. ^ Carr, Roy (2006) [1997], "The Cool on the Coast", A Century of Jazz: A Hundred Years of the Greatest Music Ever Made, London: Hamlyn, pp. 92–105, ISBN 0-681-03179-4
  9. ^ a b c Voce, Steve (1995-10-21). "Obituary: Don Cherry". The Independent. Archived from the original on 2013-11-05. Retrieved 2012-09-28 – via HighBeam Research.
  10. ^ Crouch, Stanley (1976). "Biography". Brown Rice (Media notes). Don Cherry. Los Angeles: A&M. 397 001-2.
  11. ^ a b c d e Jost, Ekkehard (1994) [1974]. Studies in Jazz Research 4: Free Jazz. Da Capo. ISBN 0-306-80556-1.
  12. ^ a b c Litweiler, John (1984). The Freedom Principle: Jazz After 1958. Da Capo. ISBN 0-306-80377-1.
  13. ^ "Discography – Henry Grimes". Henrygrimes.com. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  14. ^ a b Jurek, Thom (2017). "The Complete Songs of Innocence and Experience - Allen Ginsberg". AllMusic. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  15. ^ Old and New Dreams at AllMusic
  16. ^ "Stolen Moments: Red Hot & Cool: Various Artists: Music". Amazon. Retrieved 2012-03-28.
  17. ^ "Don Cherry". okjazz.org. 2019. Retrieved 6 July 2019.
  18. ^ a b Johnson, Martin (June 18, 2021). "Don And Moki Cherry's Organic Dreams Made Real". NPR. Retrieved June 18, 2021.
  19. ^ "Oregon music giants Tomas Svoboda, David Ornette Cherry die". Oregon ArtsWatch. November 22, 2022. Retrieved December 21, 2022.
  20. ^ https://allenginsberg.org/2013/09/ginsberg-cherry-rowan-buddhism-in-song/
  21. ^ https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2019/06/06/don-cherry-apostle-now-ness/
  22. ^ https://www.overgrownpath.com/2014/09/nada-brahma-sound-is-god.html
  23. ^ a b c d e f Wynn, Ron (1994), Ron Wynn (ed.), All Music Guide to Jazz, M. Erlewine, V. Bogdanov, San Francisco: Miller Freeman, p. 147, ISBN 0-87930-308-5
  24. ^ "Pocket Players". Pocketcornets.com. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  25. ^ a b c Mandel, Howard (December 1995). "Don Cherry". The Wire (142): 26–29. ISSN 0952-0686.
  26. ^ Feather, Leonard (1964-06-18). "Blindfold test: Miles Davis". Down Beat. Reprinted in Frank Alkyer, ed. (2007). The Miles Davis Reader: Interviews and Features from DownBeat Magazine. Hal Leonard. p. 59. ISBN 978-1-4234-3076-6. Retrieved 2012-09-28.