Al MacDowell is acclaimed in the story of modern jazz for his long-term service as bassist to the one-and-only saxophonist-innovator Ornette Coleman. On a mid-1970s visit to the famous High School of Music & Art in New York, Coleman heard 17-year-old student MacDowell play bass and, mightily impressed, asked him to join his Prime Time Band, to become an exponent of Coleman’s “harmolodics” music (a radical jazz type in which each instrument is both a melody and rhythm instrument, unconcerned with keys and meters). Before long, MacDowell performed with Coleman at a 1976 concert in Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. In addition to live performances, MacDowell appeared on Coleman albums of the 1980s and ‘90s like Virgin Beauty and Tone Dialing. In 2014, MacDowell continues to play challenging harmolodic jazz as the leader of the Just Ornette Quartet; in top NYC clubs, his midrange piccolo bass stays alert to Tony Falanga’s standup bass, Tony Lewis’ drums and guest Jay Rodriquez’s saxophone.
Through the years, in addition to the Coleman connection, MacDowall has worked with everyone from punk-jazz icon James Chance to hip-hop legend Public Enemy. The bassist has an especially strong rapport with r&b. Moreover, the New Yorker is a gifted songwriter, as shown by his compositions on the new studio album by the City Boys Allstars.