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Live at The Empire Theatre

Don Cherry


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Remembering the Versatile
Artistry of Don Cherry


Don cherry is captured on film using a number of different instruments; doussn'gouni, pocket cornet, and piano during a performance at The Empire Theatre in Paris in 1979 .

Donald Eugene Cherry (November 18, 1936 October 19, 1995) was an innovative jazz trumpetist whose career began with a long association with saxophonist Ornette Coleman.

Cherry was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where his father (who also played trumpet) owned the Cherry Blossom Club, which hosted performances by Charlie Christian and Fletcher Henderson. In 1940, Cherry moved with his family to Los Angeles, California. He lived in the Watts neighborhood, and his father tended bar at the Plantation Club on Central Avenue, which at the time was the center of a vibrant jazz scene. Cherry recalled skipping school at Fremont High School in order to play with the swing band at Jefferson High School. This resulted in his transfer to Jacob Riis High School, a reform school, where he first met drummer Billy Higgins.

By the early 1950's Cherry was playing with jazz musicians in Los Angeles, sometimes acting as pianist in Art Farmer's group.:134 While trumpeter Clifford Brown was in Los Angeles with Max Roach, Cherry attended a jam session with Brown and Larance Marable at Eric Dolphy's house, and Brown informally mentored Cherry. He also toured with saxophonist James Clay. He became well known in 1958 when he performed and recorded with Ornette Coleman, first in a quintet with pianist Paul Bley and later in what became the predominantly piano-less quartet which recorded for Atlantic Records.

Don Cherry began as a pianist but learned to play various brass instruments in high school; continuing to prform on piano and organ, pocket cornet, trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn, and bugle throughout his career.

After returning from a musical and cultural journey through Africa, Cherry often played the doussn'gouni, a stringed instrument with a gourd body (see ngoni). During his international journeys, he also collected a variety of non-Western instruments, which he mastered and often played in performances and on recordings. Among these instruments were berimbau, bamboo flutes and assorted percussion instruments.

*Cherry died on October 19, 1995 at age 58 from liver cancer in Malaga, Spain. His stepdaughters Neneh Cherry and Titiyo and his sons David Cherry and Eagle-Eye Cherry are also musicians.

*Cherry was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 2011.

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