Arts & Culture

Fort Worth ignores its musical heritage

Jazz great Ornette Coleman photographed at his NYC loft on November 27, 2007.
Jazz great Ornette Coleman photographed at his NYC loft on November 27, 2007. STAR-TELEGRAM/JILL JOHNSON

Earlier this year, not long after I’d posted my review of New Vocabulary, the album featuring Ornette Coleman that’s now the subject of a federal lawsuit, one of my Facebook friends wondered: “Why doesn’t Fort Worth have a street named for Ornette?”

It’s a really good question, and one I immediately thought of last week, when the news broke of Coleman’s death at age 85.

If you live in Fort Worth, the city of Coleman’s birth and where he first picked up a plastic saxophone, you can’t mourn Coleman in front of a statue or a mural or in a park or on a street.

The only place in Fort Worth — that I’m aware of — that mentions Coleman in any kind of laudatory fashion is the Fort Worth ISD Wall of Fame. (Coleman also is noted on a marker in the Evans Avenue Plaza.)

Not that the FWISD honor isn’t wonderful (Coleman was a proud graduate of I.M. Terrell High School), but we’re talking about someone who, in the span of his ferociously creative and critically acclaimed life and career, won some of the most prestigious honors that can be afforded a musician — or anyone, really: a Grammy; a MacArthur Genius grant; a Pulitzer Prize.

Yet, for some baffling reason, a visible appreciation for and celebration of Coleman is practically non-existent in his hometown.

And during his lifetime, it was a physical as well as a spiritual absence — Coleman’s last performance in Fort Worth was in 1983, an appearance on the occasion of the dearly departed Caravan of Dreams’ grand opening.

In fact, Coleman only ever got as close as Austin in the remaining five years of his life, performing at their Bass Concert Hall in 2010, in what would be his final appearance anywhere in Texas.

“I haven’t heard about coming to Fort Worth,” Coleman told me in 2007, when I spoke to him about winning the Pulitzer. “I haven’t given up hoping that it happens. I'm sure I’m going to get there one day.”

That day, sadly, never came — no serious efforts were made, that I’m aware of, to bring Coleman back home for a valedictory performance (his final public appearance was at a Brooklyn tribute concert last summer).

And now that Coleman is gone, perhaps it’s time for the city of Fort Worth to do something about honoring his legacy — and not just Coleman’s, but the whole host of legendary musical talent spawned from the city on the banks of the Trinity River.

There are no highly visible memorials to any of the skilled, influential musicians who grew up here: Townes Van Zandt, Stephen Bruton; Ronald Shannon Jackson; Roger Miller; Dewey Redman; and Van Cliburn (though there is a street, Van Cliburn Way) — why can’t fans of these artists come to Fort Worth and find somewhere to pay proper respects?

Perhaps it’s just an oversight and not, one hopes, a deliberate indifference to the lives and artistic legacies of these musicians, but the absence of any civic recognition — a plaque or a mural or a statue; something to mark the fact that Fort Worth is a city with a rich musical heritage, one which has helped influence decades of artists outside the city limits — is as puzzling as it is maddening.

While it would have been ideal to have honored Coleman or any of the others mentioned here while they were still living, some acknowledgment would be better than scarcely any.

Let Coleman’s passing be the catalyst for the city of Fort Worth to spur itself to action, and find some significant way to honor his life and accomplishments — his death was one of global impact, just as his life and art were — so that future generations of Fort Worthians don’t have to wonder why one of this city’s greatest citizens is a stranger in his own hometown.

Coleman, and his Fort Worth musical brethren, deserve at least that much.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713

Twitter: @prestonjones

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