Don Cherry

By: Brian Berger
November 18, 2014


Though his renown precedes it by a decade, the capacious brilliance of trumpeter DON CHERRY (1936–95), his ability to adapt to and enliven nearly any musical situation, recalls Philip K. Dick’s 1969 novel Ubik: “Instant Ubik has all the fresh flavor of just-brewed coffee. Your husband will say, Christ, Sally, I used to think your coffee was only so-so. But now, wow! Safe when taken as directed.” He came, via Oklahoma, from Los Angeles, enthralled with Dizzy and Bird, whose language he’d master in a mid-1950s combo with Texas-born tenorist James Clay, then mutate in partnership with another transplanted Texan, altoist Ornette Coleman, with whom he’d record Something Else!!!! in 1958. High praise and excoriation would follow, notably after their 1959 New York debut at the Five Spot, an event fictionalized in Thomas Pynchon’s V. Though Coleman and Cherry were extraordinary together — all their albums thrill — in 1962 the group dissolved and so Cherry found new challenges with such diverse, questing figures as tenorists Archie Shepp, Sonny Rollins and Albert Ayler; composer/theorist George Russell; vibraphonist Karl Berger. In 1966, Cherry’s first leader date, Symphony for Improvisers appeared, while another, 1969’s provocatively titled Where Is Brooklyn?, featured a painting by Cherry’s Swedish-born wife, Moki, whose remarkable quilting would adorn future albums, including 1975’s Europe-only Brown Rice. A masterpiece of idiosyncratic — and syncretic — fusion, when released domestically a year later, new cover art brought Cherry all the way back, to Simon Rodia’s ever inspiring Watts Towers, just blocks from his childhood home.

“Eventually” with Ornette Coleman Quartet (1959)

Sonny Rollins with Don Cherry (1964)

“Freein’ Up” with George Russell Sextet (1966)

“Malkauns” from Brown Rice (1975)

ALSO: Don Cherry’s stepdaughter, Neneh Cherry, is a HiLo Hero.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Wyndham Lewis, Bruce Conner, Alan Moore, Kirk Hammett, Margaret Atwood.

READ MORE about members of the Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation (1934-43).


HiLo Heroes, Jazz, Music

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