When I was in high school or college, I bought The Shape of Jazz to Come, Ornette Coleman’s seminal 1959 free jazz album. I listened to jazz at the time, especially Miles’s electric stuff, but even more I listened to James Brown and Prince and P-Funk and various alternative rock bands. In fact, I’d probably never heard Ornette Coleman before I bought the album.[fn1] I bought it because I knew it was important, and I wanted to like it.
But, it turned out, I wasn’t a big fan. I don’t remember what the problem was, if it was Coleman’s tone or the unusual melodies, the lack of an underlying harmonic structure, or what. I probably listened to it once or twice, then put it back with my other CDs and didn’t pull it out.
I decided a couple weeks ago to give Ornette Coleman another try. And I can’t speak highly enough of his music. The rhythmic and harmonic innovation, the creativity, and the almost telepathic interaction between the band.
What changed? Not the album. It was set in stone (well, except for remastering) 55 years ago. But in the years since I initially bought the album, my taste in jazz has expanded. I’ve listened more and more exclusively to jazz. Some jazz you have to work at before you can enjoy it; I’d put in the work and my ears understand better what Coleman was doing.
Faith does not come naturally to me. It hasn’t since at least high school. I’m not cynical, but I tend toward skepticism.
And yet I believe in the Gospel. I believe in the truth-claims of the Church.
And even when I don’t naturally believe, I try to believe. I work at belief.
Why? Because the Gospel message resonates with me. Because I’ve had experiences where the Spirit testified to me of the truth of it all. Because I find that the Church and the Gospel make me a better person than I otherwise would be.
But largely because, like I knew that Ornette Coleman was someone whose music I should enjoy, I know that the Gospel is something I should believe. So today I work at it. And I hope, in days to come, that I will hear the rhythms and harmonies fall naturally into place, that I will understand the complexities of it all, and that my heart will hear the beauty in what it now perceives as dissonance.
[fn1] This would have been in the early- to mid-1990s, with no Spotify or YouTube, no even Amazon 30-second previews.