In the early to mid 90s I went to see Ornette Coleman and Prime Time play at the Duke Ellington theater in DC. My friend Futch had bought the tickets and come up from North Carolina with his girlfriend at the time and two of the seats were excellent, up front center as I recollect, while the third was not quite a nosebleed but up there on the mezzanine. I was happy to take the mezzanine seat and let the lovers get down close to Mr. Coleman; it was Futch anyhow who'd first told me to listen to Mr. COleman's music--I think I chose Chappaqua Suite or one of those improvi records--which I was none too wild about. But soon after I listened to Tomorrow is the Question and Something Else and The Shape of Jazz and soon everything else about Ornette Coleman became clearer and I could listen to all of his music with pretty clean ears (even Dancing in Your Head!).
ANyhow the show was great. Denardo was magnificent of course, powerful and driving that chariot, the skootelly-doot guit player with the big goofy George Benson-style f-hole and pleated khakis was pretty far out but certainly part and parcel of the beautiful weirdness of the show and of course the tabla player sitting there in full regalia--sitting right there on the floor in front of Denardo--well, it was all too much. And then Mr. Coleman, light, elegant, a still dancer, standing up front and center.
At some point I recognized from my seat way up there that Coleman would periodically stop blowing into his alto sax and bow forward, touch his chin to his chest almost, his shoulders shaking...between songs he'd look up at the audience in a pose I can only call beatific--face upturned, seemingly joyful at the praise from the audience's acknowledgment that we knew or could feel something was being made right there in the Ellington Theater that would make all of us different afterwards, a group rite--and his face would be shining in the lights, his eyes closed.
After the show I met up with Futch and his gal and we walked into the DC night. Futch asked if I could see Ornette Coleman's tears from up where I was sitting, that he was crying throughout the concert.
"Was he upset about something?" I asked.
Futch looked at me.
"The opposite I suppose," he said.
Have been away for awhile; will get back now.