UPDATE, July 2017: A judge dismissed the case “with prejudice on
the ground that [Ornette] Coleman[‘s guardian Denardo] has failed to prosecute his claims
It had been nearly 20 years since jazz legend Ornette Coleman released a studio album when a new LP bearing the saxophonist’s name titled New Vocabulary arrived quietly in 2014. A year later, Coleman has filed a federal lawsuit against Antibalas’ Jordan McLean and drummer Amir Ziv for releasing New Vocabulary without Coleman’s “consent or knowledge.”
In the lawsuit, Coleman claims that he was introduced to trumpeter McLean, who worked on the Broadway musical Fela!, in 2009. Around that time, Coleman invited McLean and Ziv over to his house to “share his knowledge” of jazz. Those teaching sessions were recorded and, years later, when McLean asked Coleman if he could release those tapes, the jazz great denied the request.
Attempts by Coleman’s attorneys to procure those recordings failed, and McLean allegedly ended up issuing those sessions – with extra instrumentation – as New Vocabulary.
“Without plaintiff’s knowledge or consent, defendants McLean and Ziv made audio recordings of one or more live musical performances by plaintiff,” Coleman’s lawyers state in the complaint. “Without plaintiff’s consent, defendants have reproduced, communicated to the public, publicly distributed, sold, transmitted and trafficked in copies…of the infringing recordings under the title New Vocabulary.”
In a joint statement to Rolling Stone, Ziv and McLean refuted Coleman’s allegations, claiming Coleman’s participation was voluntary. “New Vocabulary is a collaborative, joint work by professional musicians Jordan Mclean, Amir Ziv and Ornette Coleman, made with the willing involvement of each artist,” the duo said. “The album is the end result of multiple deliberate and dedicated recording sessions done with the willing participation and consent of Mr. Coleman and the other performers. Any suggestion to the contrary is unfounded and we deny any allegations of wrongdoing.”
Coleman also alleged that New Vocabulary credits “an individual not recorded at the sessions” with participating, most likely referring to pianist Adam Holzman, who is listed as a fellow collaborator. Coleman also accuses McLean of adding music atop the recordings that were made. Lastly, the lawsuit claims, “The public is likely to be misled into believing that Coleman approves of, or is affiliated with, the public release of these recordings.” It’s unclear how much financial compensation Coleman is seeking in the federal suit.
“As a direct consequence of defendant’s wrongful conduct, plaintiff has suffered and is suffering irreparable harm and has sustained substantial injury, loss and damage,” the suit claims.
Coleman’s last official LP was his Pulitzer Prize-winning 2006 live album Sound Grammar. The Shape of Jazz to Come great will next release his “Celebrate Ornette” tribute concert – featuring performances by Sonny Rollins, Patti Smith, Flea and Coleman himself – as a deluxe box set this fall.