Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman

The Five Spot
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Free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman collaborated with Yoko Ono and other avant-garde artists; his 1959 residency at the Five Spot was legendary, expanding the possibilities of jazz.


Yoko Ono’s Absurdist Sensibility


By the mid-1960s, Yoko Ono had collaborated with John Cage, Ornette Coleman, and other prominent composers and musicians, as well as important visual artists, dancers, and poets. She eventually moved on to more established venues such as Carnegie Recital Hall and London’s Indica Gallery, but it wasn’t always easy. “I feel that even in the avant-garde world, what I was doing was seen as a little bit out of line,” she said. “They had their own set of rules, you know? ‘You can’t do that! You can’t do certain things!’ ” For Ono’s Cut Piece in 1964, the audience was invited to cut off bits of her clothes until nothing remained. She sat onstage with her legs folded in a traditional Japanese pose of feminine submissiveness, embodying the kind of vulnerability women experienced in Asian and American societies. “That was a frightening experience,” she recalled, “and a bit embarrassing. It was something that I insisted on—in the Zen tradition of doing the thing that is most embarrassing for you to do, and seeing what you come up with, and how you deal with it.” Ono entered the underground film world in 1966 with Bottoms, a brazen but playfully cheeky work featuring several naked buttocks and no recognizable narrative. After she met John Lennon, they baffled audiences by crawling into a large sack and staying inside for long stretches of time. She called it “bagism.”  Yoko’s absurdist sensibility was also on display in her conceptual piece Questionnaire, 1966 Spring, which included lines such as “Happenings were first invented by Greek gods” and “The word ‘manila envelope’ comes from a deeply-rooted racial prejudice.” Her Do It Yourself Fluxfest Presents Yoko Ono and Dance Co. instructed its audience to “Face the wall and imagine throughout the year banging your head against it: A) Slowly until the wall collapses B) Violently until your head is gone.”

From Chapter 8 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore