By Lily Rothman
June 11, 2015

When TIME first wrote about the work of jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman—who died on Thursday at 85—it was 1960 and Dizzy Gillespie was confused. “I don’t know what he’s playing,” the famed trumpeter admitted.

He was, the story continued, doing something new, and in the process creating much ado in the jazz world. But what exactly was so new and different about his sound? TIME explained:

Coleman’s willingness to break sound barriers was why, in his youth, one of his early bosses—bandleader Pee Wee Crayton—hired him and then paid him not to play. But, once the world caught up with him, it was what ended up making him a legend.

Read the full 1960 story, here in the TIME Vault: Beyond the Cool

Write to Lily Rothman at


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