Don Cherry

Don Cherry, July 1990,Boulder, Colorado – photo: Allen Ginsberg, courtesy Stanford University Libraries / Allen Ginsberg Estate

Don Cherry in the studio, January 1990 – photo(s): Allen Ginsberg, courtesy Stanford University Libraries / Allen Ginsberg Estate

Don Cherry –  Ornette Coleman’s trumpet player (and that’s just the beginning!) –  Cherry (1936-1995) has been described (with no over-estimation) as “one of the most influential jazz musicians of the 20th century”.  He was in the vanguard of not one, but two major uprisings which changed the face of jazz forever, a pioneer of both the free jazz revolution of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and the so-called ‘world-jazz’ movement of the 1970s.

As Chris May in his selection for The Vinyl Factory, “An Introduction to Don Cherry on 10 Records”, writes, “As a consequence of all this innovation and diversity, you might expect that Cherry’s legacy would be more widely renowned. But history favours simple rather than complex stories, and Cherry, who died in 1995, is today less celebrated than he deserves to be”.

Admired by the cognoscenti, but still a neglected genius. Read more about him here and here.

Cherry previously appeared on The Allen Ginsberg Project – here

from a 1970 interview with Allen:

AG: ” …So what I’ve been doing is learning music, learning notation of chords, keyboard a little bit and actually composing and performing. Except I wound up, not with rock people, but with black jazz. Musicians like Don Cherry and Elvin Jones
Interviewer (Robert Head): Do you rehearse together? For many hours?
AG: With Cherry a couple of evenings. They’re such great musicians you don’t have to rehearse those things….


Cherry appears notably on Allen’s 1970 William Blake recordings – playing finger-cymbals on “The Blossom”, sleigh-bells and bearded gourd on “Laughing Song”, trumpet and wooden flute on “Holy Thursday”, and  bass tom, beaded gourd, sleigh bells & finger cymbals & harpsichord on “To Tirzah”


In 1975 he recorded the studio album  Brown Rice.  

Steve Huey in Allmusic:  “Brown Rice is the most accessible entry point into Cherry’s borderless ideal, jelling into a personal, unique, and seamless vision that’s at once primitive and futuristic in the best possible senses of both words”

Brian Morton and Richard Cook, writing for The Penguin Guide to Jazz, call it “a lost classic of the era and probably the best place to sample the trumpeter as both soloist – he blows some stunningly beautiful solos here – and as the shamanic creator of a unique, unearthly sound that makes dull nonsense of most fusion work of the period.”

Here’s Don Cherry from 1976 – Don Cherry & Organic Music Theatre

This performance was recently released (2020) as a posthumous Cherry album – Om Shanti OM

Here’s a documentary from Swedish television  (Cherry moved  with his wife and collaborator, the interdisciplinary artist and designer, Moki Cherry (Monika Karisson), following residency in New York, in the latter part of the ‘Sixties and remained in Scandinavia for a good long time  – (see Byron Coley‘s “Don Cherry in Sweden” – here)


Cherry’s c.v. (he was an inveterate collaborator) is truly impressive. Looking back, it seems he played with almost everyone! –

Here’s Cherry (recorded in 1960) with John Coltrane
with Sonny Rollins, 1962
with Albert Ayler.   (Here’s Don Cherry speaking on Albert Ayler)
with Herbie Hancock in 1986

and more live footage:

The Don Cherry Trio Live, Paris 1971.  (and with a quartet, Live, Paris 1979)
Live in New York, 1984 (with the band Codona).
Live in San Sebastian, 1986 (with the band Nu)
Live in Germany, (with the band Multikulti)

Here’s Don Cherry playing in 1983 in Berlin with Sun Ra All-Stars and the Sun Ra Arkestra (featuring Archie Shepp) 

Allen,  in 1996 (to the Students at Texas State)  “Do you know Don Cherry?….. He’s such a good musician that, like, anything he did, of.. like body-movements, or even comments on the poetry, had a kind of musical value.”

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