Ornette Coleman turned 77 on March 9.
Ornette Coleman's Lifetime Achievement Grammy Acceptance Speech
It is really very, very real to be here tonight, in relationship to life and death and I’m sure they both love each other.
I really don’t have any present thoughts about why I’m standing here other than trying to figure out something to say that could be useful to someone that believes.
One of the things I am experiencing is very important and that is: You don’t have to die to kill and you don’t have to kill to die. And above all, nothing exists that is not in the form of life because life is eternal with or without people so we are grateful for life to be here at this very moment.
For myself, I’d rather be human than to be dead. And I would also die to be human. So you can’t die, you can’t die to be neither one, regardless of what you say or think so that’s why I believe that music itself is eternal in relationship to sound, meaning, intelligence…all the things that have to have something to do with being alive because you were born and because someone else made it possible for you to be here, which we call our parents, etc., etc.
For me, the most eternal thing is that I would like to live until I learn what it is and what it isn’t…that is, how do we kill death since it kills everything?
And it’s hard to realize that being in the human form is not as easy as wondering what is going to happen to you even if you do know what it is and it doesn’t depend on if you know what is going to happen to you.
No one can know anything that life creates since no one is life itself. And it’s obvious, at least I believe, it’s obvious the one reason why we as human beings get there and do things that seem to be valuable to us in relationship to intelligence… uh, what is it called…creativity and love and all the things that have to do with waking up every morning believing it’s going to be a better day today or tomorrow and yet at the same time death, life, sadness, anger, fear, all of those things are present at the same time as we are living and breathing.
It is really, really eternal, this that we are constantly being created as human beings to know that exists and it’s really, really unbelievable to know that nothing that’s alive can die unless it’s been killed. So what we should try to realize is to remove that part of what it is so that whatever we are, life is all there is and I thank you very much.
My own thoughts:
An interview with Ornette Coleman is the greatest test your average portable tape recorder (not to mention the cassette in it) will ever undergo, because you, the journalist, will spend hours running the tape back saying, "Did he just say what now?" and double-and triple-checking your transcriptions, and once you're done with all that, the real ordeal begins, which is attempting to yank a concise quote out of a five- or ten-minute answer. Plus, of course, re-reading what he said over and over again and only finally understanding it on every level on which he meant it (and probably a few unconscious resonances that just slipped in there unbidden) after the seventh or eighth time through. I am decidedly not one of those people who believes black musicians are innately in touch with some kind of great spirit of universal love and music-making or whatever, but talking to Ornette Coleman made me question my skepticism. I can't imagine how musicians can even steel themselves internally to get up and play with the guy. As open and generous as he is, it still must be terrifying to take that challenge as a player.