"Donald Eugene Cherry (November 18, 1936 – October 19, 1995) was an American jazz trumpeter. He is well known for his long association with saxophonist Ornette Coleman, which began in the late 1950s. In the 1960s he became a pioneer of world fusion music, incorporating various ethnic styles into his playing. In the 1970s he relocated to Sweden. He continued to tour and play festivals throughout the world and work with a wide variety of musicians.
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 1950s Cherry was playing with jazz musicians in Los Angeles, sometimes acting as pianist in Art Farmer’s group. 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.
Cherry 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. During this period, “his lines … gathered much of their freedom of motion from the free harmonic structures.” Cherry co-led The Avant-Garde session which saw John Coltrane replacing Coleman in the Quartet, recorded and toured with Sonny Rollins, was a member of the New York Contemporary Five with Archie Shepp and John Tchicai, and recorded and toured with both Albert Ayler and George Russell. His first recording as a leader was Complete Communion for Blue Note Records in 1965. The band included Coleman’s drummer Ed Blackwell as well as saxophonist Gato Barbieri, whom he had met while touring Europe with Ayler.
After leaving Coleman, Cherry often played in small groups and duets (many with ex-Coleman drummer Ed Blackwell) during a long sojourn in Scandinavia and other locations.
He later appeared on Coleman’s 1971 LP Science Fiction, and from 1976 to 1987 reunited with Coleman alumni Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and Blackwell in the band Old And New Dreams, recording four albums with them, two for ECM and two for Black Saint, where his “subtlety of rhythmic expansion and contraction” was noted.
Don Cherry playing a very particular “cornet” at Park Le Cascine, Firenze, Italy, September 1975 (Festival Nazionale dell’Unità)
In the 1970s he ventured into the developing genre of world fusion music. Cherry incorporated influences of Middle Eastern, traditional African, and Indian music into his playing. He studied Indian music with Vasant Rai in the early seventies. From 1978 to 1982, he recorded three albums for ECM with “world jazz” group Codona, consisting of Cherry, percussionist Nana Vasconcelos and sitar and tabla player Collin Walcott.
Cherry also collaborated with classical composer Krzysztof Penderecki on the 1971 album Actions. In 1973, he co-composed the score for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s film The Holy Mountain together with Ronald Frangipane and Jodorowsky.
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, and recordings with Lou Reed, Ian Dury, Rip Rig + Panic and Sun Ra.
In 1994, Cherry appeared on the Red Hot Organization’s compilation CD, Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool, on a track titled “Apprehension” alongside The Watts Prophets. The album, meant to raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic in African-American society was named “Album of the Year” by Time Magazine.
Cherry died on October 19, 1995, at the age of 58 from liver cancer in Málaga, Spain.
His stepdaughters Neneh Cherry and Titiyo and his sons David Cherry, Christian Cherry and Eagle-Eye Cherry are also musicians.
Cherry was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 2011.”