Complete Communion: David Ornette Cherry Remembers His Father

“There are only beginnings, there is never an end. Music never stops. It’s you who is stopping it. It’s you who is ending,” said the late great jazz trumpeter Don Cherry, quoted in this essay on the everlasting spirit of his brilliant musical career. Cherry died in Spain in 1995, but his music lives on and next week at ALOUD, Cherry’s son David Ornette Cherry, will gather local musicians including his sister Jan Cherry, to reflect, jam, and pay homage to the memory of Don Cherry.

Don spent most of his life following the call of music. He travelled the world incorporating global influences into his own sound, which organically evolved over the years, but David explains that his father always wanted to return to the strong musical community of Los Angeles because it was where it all started for him. As a child, Don’s family moved to Los Angeles from Oklahoma during World War II and his mother gave him a trumpet, perhaps to keep him out of trouble. Yet Don often skipped his own classes to study music with Samuel Brown at Jefferson High School in Watts. From there, Don went on to become a fixture in the global jazz scene, including playing with greats John Coltrane, Billy Higgins, Charlie Haden and saxophonist Ornette Coleman.

Over the last few years, David has been brainstorming with ALOUD’s Louise Steinman to orchestrate this homecoming tribute for Don Cherry. “It’s important for this to be at the Los Angeles Public Library, and for the city of Los Angeles to know about the little jewels of artists in the trenches outside of the industry,” says David. “Don is such an icon around the world and people know about him as a musician,” but David explains how this is not always the case in Los Angeles, where people are often more familiar with the Hollywood heroes. “What are these real stories about great people who came out of nowhere to have a dream of creativity? The Library is a great place of education and culture, and I am so excited to be able to share with Los Angeles this story about my dad.”

For David, a composer and jazz keyboardist who now lives in Portland, the tribute is a return to his own musical roots. Following in a similar trajectory as his father, David also grew up in Watts (a musical “melting pot in Los Angeles,” he calls it, including the famous Locke High School marching band), before he headed to Europe when he was 16 to play gigs with his father. This was where David learned from his father the importance of the purity and quality of music. “It’s not about the ego,” he recalls his father’s music lessons, “it’s about the elements of music that people need in their daily life—it’s spiritual.”

The importance of keeping it about the music has been one of the guiding lights for David’s vision of the upcoming tribute. The ALOUD program will be the first-ever hometown tribute for Don Cherry, and David is thrilled that his sister Jan will be fronting, along with the Organic Roots, a group of musicians specially assembled for the occasion. For more information about the June 24th program and participants, visit the ALOUD website here. Watch a clip of David’s work below.

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