Don Cherry Was an Innovative Trumpeter


Trumpeter Don Cherry, who died last week at the age of 58, was one of the key figures in the jazz avant-garde and an original member of innovative saxophonist Ornette Coleman's quartet.

Born in Oklahoma City but raised in Los Angeles, Cherry was originally a fan of be-bop and cited Fats Navarro as an early influence. In the mid-'50s, he met Coleman in Los Angeles and began to explore more experimental styles, an exploration that continued throughout his life.

With Coleman's quartet, Cherry traveled to New York, where the group's performances at the Five Spot Cafe in 1958 split modern jazz into two camps--those that saw Coleman and his colleagues as the new direction of jazz, and those that considered the musicians charlatans.

Cherry recorded with Coleman--"Shape of Jazz to Come," "Free Jazz" and more--and then in 1960 made his first album as a leader, "The Avant-Garde," which also featured John Coltrane. He then performed and/or recorded with Sonny Rollins and other leading lights of the avant-garde, particularly saxophonists Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders, Steve Lacy and Gato Barbieri. He made several top-notch recordings for Blue Note Records, among them "Complete Communion" and the recently reissued "Symphony for Improvisers."

In the '70s, Cherry expanded his horizons, literally by living first in Sweden, then elsewhere in Europe, and by opening up his music, playing with rock star Lou Reed and incorporating ethnic sounds, rhythms and instruments that, with ever-present jazz, became an essential element in his later music.

"They always say music is the universal language, and if so, jazz definitely is the one that really brings everyone together," Cherry said in a 1989 profile in The Times. "In all different forms of music, you can still play as an improviser and be compatible with other musicians."

In the '80s, Cherry co-led the group Codona, with Colin Walcott and Nana Vasconcellos, and formed Old and New Dreams, with ex-Coleman associates Charlie Haden, Dewey Redman and Ed Blackwell.

In the last years of his life, Cherry was often heard performing with members of his family, including sons Jan and David.

Cherry was at the home of his stepdaughter, pop singer Neneh Cherry, in Malaga, Spain, when he died. The cause of death was liver failure brought on by hepatitis.


Streetside Bash for Dizzy: More than 500 family, friends, colleagues and fans gathered on Oct. 20 on Hollywood Boulevard to pay tribute to the great Dizzy Gillespie. The ceremony, which took place near Mann's Chinese Theatre and which included musical performances and speeches by Quincy Jones, Boo Frazier (Gillespie's cousin), disc jockey Chuck Niles and others, was held to mark the placement of a star for Gillespie on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Among the musicians attending were Jon Faddis, Jimmy Owens, James Moody, Arturo Sandoval, Lalo Schifrin, Gerald Wiggins, Al Grey, Andy Simpkins, Earl Palmer and Harry (Sweets) Edison. Several numbers written by Gillespie, who died Jan. 6, 1993, of cancer, were played--among them "A Night in Tunisia" and "Con Alma."


Kirk's Kids: With guests such as Bob and Hilary James and George Duke on the lineup, the music will be diverse for Saturday's seventh annual Kirk Whalum Charity Concert at 8 p.m. at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. The event grew out of a desire Whalum had many years ago to give something back to less-privileged children in his community of South Pasadena.

"We as artists spend so much time getting our thing out there, but as time passes, the question becomes what are you doing that really matters besides to yourself?" Whalum says.

Since 1989, Whalum and such colleagues as Phil Upchurch, Patrice Rushen and Nancy Wilson have raised more than $250,000 for Whalum's charity of choice, the Boys and Girls Club of Pasadena (McKenzie/Scott Branch).

Information: (818) 449-7360.


Young Horn on the Way Up: Trumpeter Marcus Printup, who plays Wednesday and Thursday at the Jazz Bakery, is yet another youngster who is trying to take the influence of prior greats and come out with his own sound.

"I try to put my being into every note I play," he says. "I also want to try and express the history of the trumpet, and of jazz, continue the lineage in the manner it should be." Information: (310) 271-9039.

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