This weekend at The Slow Train Café, The Feeyadellfiya Orchestra, a group of Conservatory students, will perform two sets of tunes written and inspired by Ornette Coleman, one of jazz music's most renowned living legends.
Coleman, a multi-instrumentalist and composer, born in 1930 in Forth Worth, TX, has shaped the identity of American music. Coleman worked as a rhythm and blues saxophonist and bebop artist in the earlier part of his long career, all the while forming his unorthodox style of playing jazz that would later make him a pioneer.
As a saxophonist, violinist, trumpeter and composer, Coleman became one of the fathers of free jazz, a musical style that was characterized by his improvisational tendencies and ground-breaking compositions, broke the preceding jazz music boundaries and explored fascinating new grounds of tonal and rhythmic possibilities. His records such as Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation and The Shape of Jazz to Come offended traditionalists and enthralled forward-thinking communities of artists in ways that continue to excite and inform players all over the world.
Having collaborated with a broad array of artists both within and outside the realms of jazz music such as Don Cherry, Billy Higgins, Eric Dolphy, Lou Reed and Yoko Ono, Coleman’s history has birthed an eclectic breadth of musical innovation.
The Feeyadellfiya Orchestra features Conservatory senior Alex Cummings on alto saxophone, Conservatory sophomore Zach Warren on trombone, Conservatory senior Julia Chen on piano and keyboard, double-degree senior Nathan Swedlow on bass and Conservatory senior Ian McColm on drums. The band is not strictly a tribute band as their group's mission is to modify Coleman's music with the distinct musical personalities of the student members and perform original material and compositions by artists Charles Mingus and Donny McCaslin.
Bringing the music of Coleman and like-minded composers to Oberlin's stage seems an appropriate, if not inevitable, development in the college's thriving culture of music. However, McColm explained the lack of access student musicians have to free jazz and music similar to Coleman's.
“In my personal opinion, the music of Ornette Coleman and other free music visionaries is a tad underrepresented in the Oberlin jazz department," he said. "We have a highly qualified and knowledgeable faculty available to discuss and study this material very seriously … However, at this time, there is no curriculum in place to guarantee that Oberlin jazz students will spend serious time playing in a freely improvised context."
This inaccessibility inspired the band's formation. McColm said, “The origin of the band was really centered around the fact that all of the musicians ... have experience and interest in free playing and had hoped, at various times, for an ensemble that could attempt to showcase this music as a serious avenue of improvisation."
The Feeyadellfiya Orchestra will perform at 8 p.m. on Feb. 22 at The Slow Train Café.