Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


CHERRY, Don (jazz musician)

(b 18 November 1936, Oklahoma City OK; d 19 October 1995 of liver failure) Trumpet, cornet, other instruments; composer. Came to prominence in Ornette Coleman's free jazz quartet, playing 'pocket' trumpet; also on John Coltrane quartet LP The Avant-Garde '60. Played early '60s with Steve Lacy, Sonny Rollins; founder-member of New York Contemporary Five '63-4 with Archie Shepp and John Tchicai; spent much time in Europe as prominent exponent of improvised contemporary music, but also coming to be an exponent of what has come to be called world music. An admirer of Bix Beiderbecke, he played cornet since c.1969; also flutes, bells, gamelan, etc. He began recording as a leader '61, his untitled originals recorded by a trio with Blackwell and bassist Henry Grimes not then released by Atlantic. Quintet with Gato Barbieri made Togetherness '65 in Paris, later on Inner City; then Blue Note LPs '65-6: Complete Communion a quartet with Barbieri, Grimes and Blackwell; Symphony For Improvisors adding Pharoah Sanders and two others; Brooklyn Is Now a quartet with Sanders, Grimes, Blackwell. (The Blue Note recordings were compiled complete on Mosaic.) Eternal Rhythm '69 was made in Berlin with Cherry on cornet, also playing flutes and other instruments; the octet included Albert Mangelsdorff, Arild Anderson and Sonny Sharrock. Mu First Part, Second Part '69, duos with Blackwell, were issued as a set on French Actuel and as separate LPs on Affinity UK. A trio set Live In Ankara '69 was made at the U.S. Embassy; Human Music '69-70 was a solo LP made at Dartmouth College; trio set Don Cherry was made in Paris '71; The Creator Has A Master Plan '71 in Sweden by Organic Music Society with 'visitors and friends', some tracks including a Youth Orchestra.

Cherry had married Moki, a Scandinavian percussionist; she encouraged him to study ethnic musics, and among other instruments he took up the doussn'gouni, a hunter's guitar from Mali. They played festivals and exhibitions, especially for children; he received an NEA endowment '82 to work in Watts teaching children.

Meanwhile, other albums were mostly on Japanese or European labels. Actions '71 was a particularly interesting project, made at Donaueschingen, Germany, then a center of the European avant-garde, by a specially assembled group called the New Eternal Rhythm Orchestra under the direction of Cherry and composer Krystzof Penderecki. The band included a great many members of the emerging European free jazz scene: Peter Brotzmann, Willem Breuker, Paul Rutherford, Han Bennink, Terje Rypdal, Kenny Wheeler and Tomasz Stanko were all there. 'Classical' composers were finding that some of their interests and working methods were shared by the young jazzmen, while Cherry was beginning to study ethnic musics, so there were echoes of Turkish folk and classical Indian rhythms in Cherry's pieces, such as 'Sita Rama Encores', interspersed with passages of explosive energy. Penderecki's piece, 'Actions for Free Jazz Orchestra', explored the balance between composition and improvisation, using drones, overblowing and so on. Penderecki's piece may have been influenced by the Global Unity Orchestra, which had recorded foir ECM; he did not follow through with more compositions for the group, but the project was an influence that continues to this day, on composer/leaders such as Butch Morris.  

Further Cherry albums were the trio set Orient '71; Organic Music '72 at Copenhagen and Stockholm; Relativity Suite '73 on the JCOA label NYC with a large group including Carla Bley, Frank Lowe, Haden and Blackwell; Eternal Now '73 in Stockholm, a quintet with harmonium, bells, cymbals, gongs; Brown Rice '75 on A&M with Lowe, Haden, Billy Higgins and others; Hear And Now on Atlantic '76; The Journey '77 on Chiaroscura with Hamiet Bluiett, Dollar Brand and others. Music/Sangam '78 was a duo with Latif Khan, tabla; El Corazón '82 with Blackwell, both made in Europe.

He formed the quartet Old and New Dreams '78 with Charlie Haden, Ed Blackwell and Dewey Redman celebrating the original Coleman groups; albums included Old And New Dreams and Playing on ECM, A Tribute To Blackwell '87 on Black Saint. There was also a duo Grazing Dreams with sitar and tabla player Collin Walcott '77, and three ECM albums '80-2 by Codona, a trio with Walcott and Naná Vasconcelos playing Eastern instruments. Walcott (b 24 April 1945, NYC) was killed in a car crash '84 in East Germany while touring with the fusion band Oregon, which also recorded for ECM. From '87 Cherry occasionally reunited with Ornette; Art Deco on A&M included Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins, and James Clay on tenor sax; Cherry's sextet album Dona Nostra came out on ECM; Brotherhood Suite on Flash Music released posthumously compiled '67-74 tracks with Swedish musicians. His stepdaughter is pop singer Neneh Cherry.