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
Genre Jazz, free jazz, avant-garde jazz
Label Atlantic
Producer Nesuhi Ertegün
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, released in 1966 on Atlantic Records, catalogue SD 1451. It features Coltrane playing the compositions of Ornette Coleman accompanied by the members of Coleman's quartet: Cherry, Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell. It is assembled from unissued results of two separate recording sessions at the 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 new marketable albums without Coltrane's input or approval. This is the last known album by John Coltrane in this category, and only the second collaboration in this category of recordings.


The Avant-Garde is one of seven albums that Coleman recorded for Atlantic records between 1959 and 1962. The Free Jazz style of this album was viewed as radically controversial and "lacking the necessary discipline to represent America's Art Form" (Anderson 135) 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)

Many auditors consider this album to sound more like one of Coleman's works than Coltrane's. Coleman's playing style had few, if any chord changes. Coltrane preferred to utilize numerous chord changes while even playing multiple inversions of a single chord before a change. These are challenges faced by Coltrane in performing with Coleman's classic quartet.

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


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

Ornette Coleman:

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

John Coltrane:

Coltrane studied with Coleman, and they frequently played together but never produced a formal recording. The Avant-garde album is a result of their mutual respect and friendship. Coltrane, Coleman, and Cherry all played together in ensembles as they explored a new dimension in jazz.

Influences and contributions[edit]

Despite Coltrane's controversial status as a constituent of the free jazz movement, it is accepted that this album depicts his facilitation of its inception with his "modal school of improvisation" (Carr). Coltrane also revitalized the usage and importance of soprano sax in new jazz, which is a major contribution to the genre.

Don Cherry's influences include Miles Davis and Fats Navarro.


In May 1959 Coltrane received dental work which included the installment of an 8-tooth upper bridge. This procedure was required due to Coltrane's heroin use. As a result, Coltrane had to redevelop his embouchure, which is the way that the facial muscles and lips form around the mouthpiece of a reed instrument in order to produce a musical tone. Some believe this to be the reason that Coltrane sounds lost or bulky on this record.

Track listing[edit]

Side one[edit]

  1. "Cherry-Co" (Don Cherry) — 6:47
  2. "Focus on Sanity" (Ornette Coleman) — 12:15

Side two[edit]

  1. "The Blessing" (Ornette Coleman) — 7:53 This is the first studio track on which Coltrane plays soprano sax.
  2. "The Invisible" (Ornette Coleman) — 4:15 (distinguished by rhythmic slang)
  3. "Bemsha Swing" (Thelonious Monk, Denzil Best) — 5:05


Track specifics[edit]

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

"Cherry-co" was recorded in 1960, even though the song (and album) released in 1966. "Cherry-co" was originally titled "Untitled Opus #1" according to Atlantic's Original Record Session Report. The title was also considered a joke or play on words with the name "Cherokee", even though the musical stylistics of the song has nothing to do with the name. Some of the tapes are missing from the song and "are presumed lost".

"The Invisible" was performed and originally recorded for Ornette Coleman's Something Else!!!! album 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" Being the first song in the album, it let its audience know that Coleman and his group were ready to "leave musical concepts of keys, chords and melodies behind".

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

"The Blessing" was another piece that was performed and recorded originally on Ornette Coleman's album Something Else!!!! in 1958. John Letweiler author of Ornette Coleman: The Harmonic Life goes into detail about the description Don Cherry gives about the "plastic alto" and how it has a "warmer, drier sound than a metal alto" and with this it makes Coleman's "bent notes so effective". One reviewer, Chris Kesley, describes Coltrane's approach to the tune as "restrained". This "restrained" sound remained consisted throughout many of Coltrane's work at the time.


  1. ^ The Avant-Garde (album) at AllMusic
  2. ^ Cook, Richard; Morton, Brian (2008). The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings (9th ed.). Penguin. p. 286. ISBN 978-0-141-03401-0. 


3. Larkin, Colin. The Encyclopedia of Popular Music. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford U, 2006. Print.

4. Anderson, Iain. "This Is Our Music": Free Jazz, Cultural Hierarchy, and the Sixties. Diss. Indiana U, 200. N.p.: ProQuest Dissertations, n.d. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses [ProQuest]. Web.

5. Carr, Ian, Digby Fairweather, Brian Priestley, and Ian Carr. The Rough Guide to Jazz. New York: Rough Guides, 2004. Print.

6. Holtje, Steve, and Nancy Ann Lee. MusicHound Jazz: The Essential Album Guide. Detroit: Visible Ink, 1998. Print.

7. Larkin, Colin. The Virgin Encyclopedia of Jazz. London: Virgin in Association with Muze UK, 2004. Print.

8. Cole, B. (1976). John Coltrane. New York: Schirmer Books.

9. DeVito, Chris, and Lewis Porter. "Track Notes." The John Coltrane Reference. New York: Routledge, 2008. 586. Print.

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11. Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. "Thelonious Monk | Biography - American Musician." Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2015. <>.

12. Kesley, Chris. "Welcome to" John Coltrane & Don Cherry: The Blessing –, n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2015. <>.

13. Litweiler, John. Ornette Coleman: The Harmonic Life. N.p.: Quartet, 1992. 43. Print.

14. Murphy, Frank. "Welcome to" Ornette Coleman: Focus on Sanity –, n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2015. <>.

15. O'Neal, Claire. "Chapter 3." Ornette Coleman. N.p.: Michelle Lane, 2012. 20. Print.