Bud Kennedy

Coleman’s music began in downtown’s shadow

A vacant lot is all that remains of Ornette Coleman’s childhood home at 807 E. Second St., with his family’s old Allen Chapel AME church in background. Around the corner, his teenage home at 309 Elm St. is now railroad right-of-way.
A vacant lot is all that remains of Ornette Coleman’s childhood home at 807 E. Second St., with his family’s old Allen Chapel AME church in background. Around the corner, his teenage home at 309 Elm St. is now railroad right-of-way. Star-Telegram

Ornette Coleman opened the Caravan of Dreams, and then outlasted it.

In 1983, when the experimental jazz superstar welcomed first-nighters to the other-worldly downtown nightclub of the late 20th century, he was only a half-mile uphill from his Depression-era childhood homes in two shotgun shacks along the Santa Fe rail line.

Two historic African-American churches, Allen Chapel AME and Morning Chapel CME, still bookend the former Coleman home sites, one on Elm Street and the other across the railroad on East Second Street. (Coleman was baptized in both.)

In Ornette: Made in America, a 1985 film portrait, director Shirley Clarke suggested that the clanging bells and clanking wheels of passing trains inspired the sound and full-throttle pace of Coleman’s music.

“That didn’t do it,” said Marjorie Crenshaw, a jazz pianist who graduated ahead of Coleman at old I.M. Terrell High School, now an elementary but reopening soon as a performing arts high school.

“Being at Terrell with [music teacher] Adlee Trezevant pushing him so hard, and wanting to step out on his own — that’s what did it.”

But it was also at Terrell where Coleman was either demoted or dismissed from the band, the way the story goes, for adding a sax lick to a football pregame performance of The Star-Spangled Banner.

“He played it his own way,” Crenshaw said.

“You can imagine how it sounded.”

To the world, Coleman’s story is the history of avant-garde jazz, an almost frightening jolt to tradition.

The Star-Telegram’s first local story about Coleman, in 1960 before his second appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival, reported drily: “His supporters claim he is the harbinger of a wholly new musical language.”

But to Fort Worth, his story is also wrapped up in Terrell tradition, and the music legacy of a school where he played alongside south side teen-agers Dewey Redman and a younger “King Curtis” Ousley.

Crenshaw’s late husband, trumpeter Willie Crenshaw, was with them at Terrell and played shows with Coleman at the Grand Theater, still standing on Fabons Street.

“I just wish I could get Fort Worth to understand how important jazz is to us,” said Crenshaw, a 32-year elementary school music teacher.

And how important Fort Worth is to jazz.

Bud Kennedy’s column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538

Twitter: @BudKennedy

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