Ornette Coleman's Challenging Sound This week's staff song pick comes from News & Notes producer Roy Hurst. His choice is Ornette Coleman's "Only Once," a piece Hurst describes as an emotional and challenging composition.

Ornette Coleman's Challenging Sound

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TONY COX, host:

Time now for our Song Pick of the Week.

Around here, when you talk about music with the staff, producer Roy Hurst always steps up. He lives and breathes music, as he told me when we sat down to discuss his pick, Ornette Coleman. Roy says even after 50 years in jazz, Coleman is the greatest living black musician who most black folks still don't know about.

(Soundbite of song, "Once Only")

COX: So Roy, what is it about Ornette Coleman that you like?

ROY HURST: He's so emotional, Tony, and so completely original. His concept of music is so extremely original. You can't deny his genius. That's the way I look at Ornette Coleman.

COX: Is it hard to get into it?

HURST: Well, I think that it's taken me a while to come around to Ornette, but you hear a song like "Peace" or a song like "Lonely Woman"; they just sort of wash over you like, oh my God, this is coming from outer space. It's so strange and yet his music is so emotionally cohesive and well-rounded, and there's so much depth there.

Finally, I think the world is coming to Ornette Coleman, so to speak. He just won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for his record "Sound Grammar." This is the first record that he has come out with in 10 years. And this song, my song pick, because you asked…

COX: I did.

HURST: …is called "Once Only."

(Soundbite of song, "Once Only")

COX: You said that Ornette Coleman's music was emotional. So what emotion do you get from this song?

HURST: Well, it's emotional and lyrical, I should say. And in his music, I find that there are all these recognizable lines, all these things that sort of hint at other things. Sort of like a poem that's playing around another poem. First of all, it's difficult to describe Ornette Coleman. For me to sit here and try and describe this man's music is, you know, I'm just pulling it out, you know, my backside.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HURST: But I can hopefully impart my enthusiasm and inspiration, the inspiration I get from his music. One thing is important, though, when you are talking about free jazz, which is what this has been called for 50-something years; that is free because it's free improvisation. That means every musician is doing his own thing within the confines of the song itself.

The one thing that you should understand is that, you know, you can say there's music before Ornette Coleman and there's music after Ornette Coleman. And what Ornette Coleman did for legions of musicians who came after him was free them up of the idea that they had to follow chord structure, and so you got a lot of guys who were just, you know, a lot of people thought were playing nonsense. In fact, they thought Ornette Coleman was playing nonsense at first, and then they started to listen a little closer.

And this song is a good example of that. You've got guys playing all over the place, and then you have his alto saxophone playing these beautiful, lyrical lines over the top of this nonsense, and it all in my mind tends to make sense. It's making a complete sentence, so to speak.

(Soundbite of song, "Once Only")

COX: "Once Only" by Ornette Coleman, our Staff Pick of the Week chosen by producer Roy Hurst.

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