Donald Eugene Cherry was born on November 18, 1936 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and raised in Los Angeles, California. Don’s grandmother player piano for silent movies and his mother played piano at home. Cherry’s father owned a music venue in Oklahoma and then worked as a bartender at bebop hangout called Plantation Club on Los Angeles where Don would come hang out. Cherry studied a few different brass instruments in high school and leaned piano at home and choose trumpet in his early teens as his main instrument. Early on he jammed with Dexter Gordon, Wardell Grey, Harold Land and played piano in Art Farmer’s band. One of his biggest early influences was Fats Navarro and was mentored on trumpet by Clifford Brown.
Don’s first band was called The Jazz Messiahs with Billy Higgins on drums and James Clay on tenor sax. It was in late ‘50s when Don met Ornette Coleman that he began to really make his name. They formed a group with Charlie Haden on bass and Higgins on drums and recorded the very important album ‘Something Else!’ in 1958, which pushed the boundaries of jazz in new ways. In the 1960s, Cherry also worked with Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Steve Lacy, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp and George Russell. The first record Cherry made as a leader was ‘Complete Communion’ in 1965 with Gato Barbieri, Henry Grimes, and Ed Blackwell.
By the 1970s Don Cherry was touring Europe, Asia and Africa and learning about different cultures and music. He added various new cultural influences to his music and picked up some new instruments along way including wooden flutes, doussn’ gouni (cross between guitar and sitar) and the pocket trumpet. From Pakistan, this miniature trumpet was only eight inches in length. He put together many performances showcasing his new influences and began the movement that is now known as world music. Some of these included his Swedish wife, Moki, as well as a group called Codona with Collin Walcott on sitar and tabla, and Nana Vasconcelos on percussion. He also performed with Sun Ra during this period. Don Cherry was only 58 when he passed away in 1995 in Malaga, Spain.
"I realize all these things, but I realize most of all that the trumpet to me is an amplifier of the voice. That's the way I want to approach it. Also, I think of it as a form of nature, or dance and movement. Where I'm playing phrases, or maybe something chromatic, I'm not trying to show technique as a virtuoso, I'm thinking in relation to movement or maybe nature and wind, how the trees are blowing. In terms of dance, because dance is always an important part of music. Dance and movement and the sound of the voice are very important, no matter what type of music I'm playing.”
"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."
“If you lose it, man, if you start taking music for granted, or take playing music for granted, you take away from yourself. I've seen that happen. It's like they say in India: 'A life is not long enough to learn music.'"