Ornette Coleman’s website includes a cool feature. I would describe it as an electronic xylophone, or a MIDI idiophone that lets you sound from a selection of samples by clicking on about 60 little buttons, multicolored keys. The sounds are samples of various tones and notes, presumably culled from actual Ornette performances. Meanwhile, a longer composition (that I cannot immediately identify) plays on so that you are augmenting or obscuring the melody and story.
I don’t know how far off I am to say it is an indirectly struck idiophone, by the Hornbostel – Sachs classification (112?) (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_idiophones_by_Hornbostel-Sachs_number) or to say it’s a cool tool, like triggering samples on a midi. It seems very Ornette. (And therefore “Plastic Alto” although I admit it is a challenge to my Luddite nature; I think this is the fifth reference to “luddite” here; at this point it may only mean that I am refusing to buy a computer and am writing this on the time-share system at Palo Alto Main Library).
Rather than me trying harder to describe this, I invite you to click thru here to check it out yourself. If I find a better description of this toy I will edita a link. For instance, I wonder what Ethan Iverson thinks. (And I admit it is probably beneath him, less interesting that who wrote “Solar“).
I got to this relatively esoteric point because Dave Douglas mentioned on his site (actually his social media feed) that Lol Coxhill had died. And not sure how I got from, say, Ava Mendoza to Dave Douglas’ site other than that is how the internet uses us. And I admit I sort of confuse Lol Coxhill with Elton Dean, who also died not too long ago.
I have a blue spiral notebook in which I have written the names and dates, and scant other info, of about one thousand jazz musicians. I call it “1,001 Saxophone Nights”. I created it by merging citations from three reference books: All Music Guide to Jazz, Penguin Guide to Jazz and Rough Guide to Jazz. As of July, 2006, that list was 760 names; by July, 2008 I had augmented it to about 943 names, mostly by reading the reviews section of Downbeat. In recent years, sadly, my only updating has been to add in a year of death and sometimes clip and file therein an obituary from the New York Times.
It is also news to me that there is a Joan Mitchell tribute to buskers that many think is based on her meeting Lol Coxhill, “For Free.”
A funny moment and reality-check about this project is that I mentioned via phone to Larry Ochs that I was, thanks to him, adding Paul Termos (1952-2003) to my list, “between Joe Temperley and Frank Teschenmacher” and he said “Who are Temperley and Teschenmacher?” Maybe better would have been to say Termos, a Dutch player and composer covered by ROVA, was between John Tchicai and Lucky Thompson. Or, I admit, maybe it would be better if I knew more about 100 top players than merely the names of 1,001 players. (ok, 943 and quasi-counting).
My original thinking was that there could be developed a device that would let players sweeten their sound with sounds that called to mind or were culled from dozens of hundreds or all 1,001 of these guys (and gals), that you could dial in an effect that would let you hear how to make your sound more like your predessors or influences. I have had exactly one interesting conversation furthering this topic, with the artist and techie Eric Walzack, although by now I have forgotten (on some levels but not all) his useful input. I was thinking, perhaps bombastically, that I am suggesting the Turing Machine of jazz saxophone.
Somebody, (maybe Ian Mackaye) once sent an attachement via email with a dozen or so John Bonham drum beats; somebody probably already has made a database of 100 or so jazz saxophone tones, that even ears like mine could learn to distinguish; I have a set of about 50 flashcards on which I had taught myself to distinguish photos of jazz sax greats, even more trivially.
Here is a representative electronic sample of Lol Coxhill, as suggested by Bill Wells and David Peschek: