Don (Donald Eugene) Cherry (November 18, 1936 October 19, 1995) was an innovative African-American jazz trumpeter whose career began with a long association with saxophonist Ornette Coleman, and who would go on to live and work with a wide variety of musicians in many parts of the world.
Cherry was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and raised in Los Angeles, California. After learning various brass instruments in high school, by the early 1950s he was playing with jazz musicians in Los Angeles, sometimes acting as pianist in Art Farmer’s group.
Cherry became well known in jazz 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. During this period, “his lines … gathered much of their freedom of motion from the free harmonic structures.”
Cherry also co-led the Avant-Garde session which saw John Coltrane replacing Coleman in the Quartet. He also recorded and toured with Sonny Rollins, co-led the New York Contemporary Five in Manhattan with Archie Shepp, recorded and toured with Albert Ayler and with bandleader and composer George Russell. His first recording as a leader was Complete Communion for Blue Note Records in 1965.
After leaving Coleman, Don Cherry eschewed the trend towards funk/fusion and continued to play a sparse jazz often in small groups and duets (many with ex-Coleman drummer Ed Blackwell) during a long sojourn in Scandinavia and other locations.
He would later appear on Coleman’s 1971 LP Science Fiction, and from 1976 to 1987 would reunite with Coleman alumni Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and Blackwell in the band Old And New Dreams, where his “subtlety of rhythmic expansion and contraction” was noted. That band recording a total of four albums, two for ECM and two for Black Saint. During the 1980s, he recorded again with the original Ornette Coleman Quartet on In All Languages, as well as recording El Corazon, a duet album with Ed Blackwell.
Other playing opportunities in his career came with Carla Bley’s Escalator Over The Hill project or recordings with Lou Reed, Ian Dury, Rip Rig & Panic and Sun Ra.
Don Cherry was only 58 when he died in M?ga, Spain in 1995 due to liver failure caused by hepatitis.
His stepdaughters Neneh Cherry and Titiyo and his sons David Cherry and Eagle-Eye Cherry are also musicians.