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Ornette Coleman, Saxophonist and Free Jazz Legend, Dead at 85

Ornette Coleman, a saxophonist, composer and legend of free jazz, died Thursday in New York City. He was 85.

The cause of death was cardiac arrest, according to a family representative.

Coleman's work as a saxophonist and composer was hugely influential in the jazz world and beyond.

"Mr. Coleman widened the options in jazz and helped change its course," wrote The New York Times today. "Partly through his example in the late 1950s and early Sixties, jazz became less beholden to the rules of harmony and rhythm while gaining more distance from the American songbook repertoire.

"His own music, then and later, embodied a new type of folk song: providing deceptively simple melodies for small groups with an intuitive, collective musical language and a strategy for playing without preconceived chord sequences. In 2007, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his album Sound Grammar."

Coleman collaborated with jazz veterans including Charlie Haden and Don Cherry—but he also worked with pop artists, including Lou Reed, Yoko Ono and the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia.

Below, you can hear two full sets Coleman performed with the Grateful Dead in 1993. Take note of how his free-range playing traveled effortlessly across genres.

To hear individual tracks from these two shows, head here.

Grateful Dead Live at Oakland (Alameda County Coliseum), 1993-02-23

Grateful Dead Live at Los Angeles Sports Arena, 1993-12-09

Jackson Maxwell

Jackson is an Associate Editor at He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.