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'Free jazz' pioneer Ornette Coleman dies

American jazz musician Ornette Coleman has died at the age of 85. The saxophonist and composer was lauded for his unconventional style.

A representative for Ornette Coleman's family confirmed he had died early on Thursday, saying the cause of death was cardiac arrest.

Self-taught alto saxophone player Coleman, born in the US state of Texas, spent much of his career in New York. After saving up money working as a shoeshine boy, he bought his first saxophone with help from his mother as a teenager, and began mimicking songs he heard on the radio.

His highly unconventional "free jazz" style divided fans and critics, with some even leaving during his solos. However many reversed their opinions of him in later years, and he was labeled an innovator and a pioneer in the genre.

Coleman said his music was "removing the caste system from music." Of his more than 40 albums, he was best known for 1959's groundbreaking The Shape of Jazz to Come, listed as one of "Rolling Stone" magazine's 500 greatest albums. In 2007 he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as a Pulitzer Prize for music.

Coleman said he never realized his playing methods were unorthodox, believing that "jazz should express more kinds of feelings than it has up to now." He was known for saying his personal motto "I'd like to go out in space tonight" before performances.

He had one son, Denardo, from a previous marriage, to poet Jayne Cortez.

an/msh (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)