Son of the soil Mr. Neil Blyden was one of hundreds who said good-bye to American music legend Mr. Randolph Denard Ornette Coleman at the celebrity funeral that was held in New York in late June.
Mr. Coleman died at the age of 85 on 11 June 2015, in New York City. On 27 June, the legend was given a formal farewell with a star-studded special three-and-a-half hour service that was held at New York’s Riverside Church.
In an interview shortly after his return from New York Mr. Blyden referred to Coleman as the last of the jazz legends and provided an eyewitness account of the grand funeral. He noted that the service was punctuated by tributes from icons such as Yoko Ono, Tap Dancer Savion Glover and Drummer John DeJohnette among others. “It was an honour for me to go,” he declared.
Mr. Blyden noted that the church was filled with persons who wanted to bid farewell to the free jazz creator: “Coleman changed jazz in the 1960s to what was called free jazz, which paved the way to rock and roll and various music forms. He believed that music should have no boundaries,” Mr. Blyden pointed out.
In explaining how he came to cross path with the great Coleman, Mr. Blyden disclosed that the encounter occurred during his college days. He recalled: “I followed music, and was starting in the music business when I met his son by accident.”
“I guess he (Coleman) paid attention as one day he said to me – I was 20-years-old at the time: ‘I am going on a European tour and I want someone to make sure the band is together, organized and I want you to go’. I didn’t understand, but I dropped everything and I went. I left basically carrying bags, and I came back the boss, because the people who they had hired, who had big names didn’t care as much.”
That tour, Mr. Blyden said launched his career because he was able to plant his feet firmly in the music business: “Through him my whole career, and my life from — Whitney Houston to the Apollo all came about,” Blyden stated. He explained that he was considered for various roles later in his career, because Mr. Coleman was a musician that people in the industry respected.
Even though he later moved on to work at the Apollo, Blyden said that he was always happy to leave his work and go on tour with Mr. Coleman. “As Road Manager I had to take care of his saxophone, which is one of a kind. It was made of ivory and gold and made to go a lower octave than all other alto saxophones. The saxophone, which is intended for the Smithsonian as a piece of American history was previously secured, but for the day of the funeral I was the guardian,” Mr. Blyden said.
Mr. Coleman received many honours in his lifetime, chief of which are his Grammy Award, and Pulitzer prize.