This Date in Music History: March 9

Notorious B.I.G. dies and Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz lives

Mar 9, 2012 at 10:27 am
click to enlarge Christopher Wallace
Christopher Wallace

Today is the 15th anniversary of the murder of celebrated rapper Christopher Wallace, aka the Notorious B.I.G. (aka Biggie Smalls, aka Big Poppa, etc., etc.). Since his death, Wallace's status has risen considerably and he's widely considered one of the best MCs to ever hold a mic, for both his smooth, laid-back flow and lyrical prowess.

Caught in the middle of the East Coast/West Coast feuding of the time, Wallace (a NYC native) was killed while in California promoting his soon to be released sophomore album, eerily titled (in hindsight, as was his debut's title, Ready to Die) Life After Death. On March 9, Smalls attended the Soul Train awards show in L.A., where he presented Toni Braxton with one of two awards she would win that night (and was booed by the West-leaning coastal feuders in the audience). Wallace left an afterparty at 12:30 a.m. later that night and, about 50 yards from the party entrance, a black Chevy Impala reportedly pulled up next to the vehicle the MC was in and someone in the Impala shot Wallace four times in the chest. He was rushed to the hospital and pronounced dead March 9 at 1:15 a.m.

Despite various theories, confessions and extensive investigations, the case, like that of West Coast star rapper Tupac Shakur (killed about six months prior in similar fashion), remains unsolved.

Life After Death came out 15 days after Wallace's murder. It went to No. 1 on Billboard's album chart instantly. Two more posthumous B.I.G. records were cobbled together — 1999's Born Again, featuring tracks culled from unfinished ones on which Wallace had been working, and the similar Duets: The Final Chapter from 2005, which was widely criticized due to the posthumous pairings with artists many felt Wallace would never have worked with in his lifetime. The album's guests included Eminem, Twista, The Game, Nas, Nelly, Scarface, Missy Elliott, R. Kelly, Bob Marley (?!), Korn (?!?!) and West Coast MCs Snoop Dogg and 2Pac. Amazingly, unlike the posthumously prolific 2Pac, the album really was "The Final Chapter"; the only other Biggie releases to come out after that were a 2007 greatest hits collection and the 2009 soundtrack to the film Notorious, based on Wallace's life and death.

Time magazine's website posted a music video playlist tribute today here. And below is "Living In Pain" from the Duets release, which featured Big and Pac, plus still-alive performers Nas and singer Mary J. Blige:

Click on for Born This Day, featuring Bow Wow, John Cale and Ornette Coleman.

—- Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a March 9 birthday includeR&B singer ("Personality," "Stagger Lee") Lloyd Price (1933); founding member of the influential Velvet Underground, John Cale (1942); drummer for influential Post Punk band Fugazi, Brendan Canty (1966); singer for Thrash Metal specialists Exodus, Rob Dukes (1968); currently-incarcerated-for-life-in-prison-for-second-degree-muder rapper Corey Miller, unfortunately better known as C-Murder (1971); Ohio native/Rap star Shad Gregory Moss, better known as Lil' Bow Wow and now just plain ol' Bow Wow (1987); and one of Jazz music's greatest innovators, Ornette Coleman (1930).

Coleman was one of the prime movers behind the emergence of Free Jazz in the late ’50s. His first album for Atlantic Records, 1959's The Shape of Jazz to Come, was a landmark moment in Jazz, laying a foundation for the music's more avant garde players that followed. Much like artists from Can to Sonic Youth took Rock & Roll in new, unanticipated directions, The Shape of Jazz used Be Bop as a base but then took Jazz into the future with its innovative improv, eschewing of chord structures and embrace of dissonance and tension.

The Shape of Jazz to Come remains a stunning piece of art and Coleman has continued to push boundaries in his work ever since, never, ever resting on his laurels. Here's Shape's signature track, "Lonely Woman," which (like the rest of the album) featured Coleman's fantastic quartet-mates Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins.