The former Caravan of Dreams, now a restaurant, B&B and shops. The rooftop garden can be seen on the left, the geodesic dome just visible on the right. Photo from fortwortharchitecture.com
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Skies of America
Did you know that September 29 was Ornette Coleman Day? In Fort Worth it was, back in 1983 .
Fort Worth, Texas, is Ornette's home town, and on that day he was there to celebrate the opening of the Caravan of Dreams, a newly-renovated performing arts complex located downtown on Houston Street. The project of billionaire philanthropist/financier Ed Bass, the Caravan housed a theater, dance studios, a recording facility and a desert garden under a geodesic dome (the precursor of Bass' "Bioshpere" experiment). The center's focus was on "the creation of new forms of music, theater, dance, poetry and film," and Ornette fit the bill perfectly. His music was chosen to be performed at the Caravan's launch. And as a result, the city's mayor proclaimed the day be named in Coleman's honor.
The gala included a performance of Ornette's new string quartet (dedicated to Buckminster Fuller), a set by his electric band Prime Time and a full reading of his symphony, the epic "Skies of America." The latter was performed as a sort of dialogue between Prime Time and the Fort Worth Symphony, the way Ornette had originally intended (and not the way it was reconfigured for the Columbia Records album from 1972).
A jazz journalist friend of mine was in the audience for "Skies of America," and he managed to record the entire 85-minute performance. He shared that tape with me, and now I'm sharing it with you. The sound quality isn't the best, but it's as good as you'd expect from a lap-held stereo cassette recorder. The piece is extraordinarily dense, with rich textures and startling juxtapositions – and you even get to hear the guys in Prime Time take solos. If you're familiar with the Columbia LP release of "Skies of America," this is a very different animal. It uses the familiar "Theme from a Symphony" motif (from "Dancing in Your Head") but also relies heavily on the melody of "All My Life" (from "Science Fiction") which I don't recall hearing in the recorded version. As far as I know, this was only the second time "Skies" was performed live (the first was at Newport in New York back in 1972 or '73) and it was the only time it was played in full.
A seminal work, and one I believe is destined to achieve repertoire status with symphonies around the world (though that may take a few years). Also included, by the way, is a 1985 interview with Ornette where he endeavors to explain his harmelodic theory. Fun!
Skies of America, private recording
Ornette Coleman, as, vi, tp; Bern Nix, Charles Ellerbee, el g; Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Albert MacDowell, b; Sabir Kamal , d; Denardo Coleman, d, syn; Fort Worth Symphony orchestra.
Opening of the Caravan of Dreams performing arts center
Tarrant County Convention Center, Fort Worth, TX; September 29, 1983
1. Skies of America, pt. 1 46:21
2. Skies of America, pt. 2 40:21
Ornette Coleman, guest; Tim Page, host
Meet the Composer radio program, WNYC, New York, NY; May 22, 1985
3. Interview 17:58
Find it here: http://www.mediafire.com/?z6a462u20wbkv86