The Avant-Garde (album)

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The Avant-Garde
The Avant-Garde.jpg
Studio album by John Coltrane and Don Cherry
Released 1966
Recorded June 28, 1960; July 8, 1960
Studio Atlantic Studios, New York City
Genre Free jazz, avant-garde jazz
Length 33:52
Label Atlantic
Producer Nesuhi Ertegün
Alternative Cover
Alternative Cover
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[1]
The Penguin Guide to Jazz 3/4 stars[2]

The Avant-Garde is an album credited to jazz musicians John Coltrane and Don Cherry that was released in 1966 on Atlantic Records. It features Coltrane playing several compositions by Ornette Coleman accompanied by the members of Coleman's quartet: Cherry, Charlie Haden, and Ed Blackwell.

The album was assembled from two unissued recording sessions at Atlantic Studios in New York City in 1960. As Coltrane's fame grew during the 1960s, long after he had stopped recording for the label, Atlantic, like Prestige before it, used unissued recordings to create marketable albums without consulting him.[citation needed] This is the last known album by John Coltrane in this category, and only the second collaboration in this category of recordings.


The events of the 1960s[vague] resulted in Coltrane's innovations being regarded as avant-garde statements of black revolution, which is apparent[vague] in the article "Black, Angry, and Hard to Understand" published in 1966 by the New York Times.[citation needed]

Ornette Coleman attended the Lenox School of Jazz in 1959 with Don Cherry as his private instructor. His education was sponsored by Atlantic Records. Coleman had a revolutionary sound that deviated from conventional jazz (apparent by the lack of harmonies) and that resulted in disrespect by other jazz musicians.[citation needed] Despite his deviations, Coleman retained the basic key and common time of traditional jazz. In 1953, he met drummer Ed Blackwell, who is featured on the album.

John Coltrane studied with Coleman, and they frequently played together but never made an album together. The Avant-Garde is a result of their mutual respect and friendship. Coltrane, Coleman, and Cherry played together in ensembles as they explored new ways of playing jazz. With this album Coltrane contributed to the formation of free jazz through his "modal school of improvisation".[3] "The Blessing" is the first time he recorded on soprano saxophone.[1]

Track background[edit]

"Focus on Sanity" was recorded in Los Angeles, California, on May 2, 1959. One reviewer said that Coleman's work was "so groundbreaking and divisive" that it divided his audiences.[citation needed]

"Cherryco" was recorded in 1960 under the title "Untitled Opus #1" according to Atlantic's Original Record Session Report.[citation needed] The title was considered a play on words with the name "Cherokee", though the style of the song has nothing to do with the name. Some of the tapes are missing from the song and "are presumed lost".[citation needed]

"The Invisible" was performed and recorded for Coleman's album Something Else!!!! which was released in 1958. According to Claire O'Neal, author of Ornette Coleman, this song "pokes fun at traditional musical structure, featuring a tonal center that hides from the listener".[4] The first song on the album, it lets the audience know that Coleman was ready to "leave musical concepts of keys, chords and melodies behind."[4]

"Bemsha Swing" was recorded in New York on July 8, 1960. It was composed by Thelonious Monk, who is considered one of the creators of modern jazz. Monk's compositions typically consisted of a "humorous, almost playful quality".[citation needed] It was also considered very "angular", he used "unusual intervals" and "complex and dissonant harmonies"[citation needed] which is consistent throughout "Bemsha Swing".

"The Blessing" was another piece that appeared on Something Else!!!!. John Litweiler, author of Ornette Coleman: The Harmolodic Life, mentions Don Cherry's comments about the "plastic alto"[5] and how it has a "warmer, drier sound than a metal alto"[5] and with this it makes Coleman's "bent notes so effective".[5]

Reviewer Chris Kesley calls Coltrane's approach to the tune "restrained".[6] This restrained sound remained consisted throughout much of Coltrane's work at the time.


The Avant-Garde is one of seven albums that Coltrane recorded for Atlantic between 1959 and 1962. The free jazz style of the album was considered controversial and "lacking the necessary discipline to represent America's art form."[7]

This new jazz composition by Coleman features surprising rhythmic accents, asymmetrical melodic phrases, and the incorporation of brass instruments and drums into the melody of the song. A unique feature of this album is its lack of pianist and usage of brass instruments to carry each piece. Also, Cherry and Coltrane complement each other with contrasting sound as Coltrane "leaps into [the music] like a man possessed, while Cherry answers with a feathery tone." (Larkin)[citation needed]

Many listeners[citation needed] think this album sounds more like Coleman than Coltrane. Coleman's playing had few chord changes, but Coltrane used many chord changes, often multiple inversions of a single chord before a change.

Reviews are split among listeners.[citation needed] Some believe this album is a sign of Coltrane's progress while others feel it sounds nothing like Coltrane. By the time The Avant-Garde was released in 1966, it was no longer considered avant-garde. The styles of Cherry and Coltrane had changed dramatically from the time of the album's conception to its release. Both musicians had taken different musical paths.

Track listing[edit]

Side one[edit]

  1. "Cherryco" (Don Cherry) – 6:47
  2. "Focus on Sanity" (Ornette Coleman) – 12:15

Side two[edit]

  1. "The Blessing" (Ornette Coleman) – 7:53
  2. "The Invisible" (Ornette Coleman) – 4:15
  3. "Bemsha Swing" (Thelonious Monk, Denzil Best) – 5:05



  1. ^ a b Planer, Lindsay. "The Avant-Garde". AllMusic. Retrieved 27 September 2017. 
  2. ^ Cook, Richard; Morton, Brian (2008). The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings (9th ed.). Penguin. p. 286. ISBN 978-0-141-03401-0. 
  3. ^ Carr, Ian; Fairweather, Digby; Priestley, Brian (2004). The Rough Guide to Jazz (3 ed.). London [u.a.]: Rough Guides. ISBN 978-1843532569. 
  4. ^ a b O'Neal, Claire (June 1, 2012). Ornette Coleman. Mitchell Lane. p. 20. ISBN 978-1612282688. 
  5. ^ a b c Litweiler, John (1992). Ornette Coleman: The Harmolodic Life. London: Quartet. p. 43. 
  6. ^ Kelsey, Chris. "John Coltrane and Don Cherry: The Blessing". Archived from the original on 6 October 2015. Retrieved 13 October 2015. 
  7. ^ Anderson, Iain (2000). "This Is Our Music": Free Jazz, Cultural Hierarchy, and the Sixties (PhD). Indiana University. p. 135. OCLC 45192013. 


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