Book Review–John Updike and Jim Harrison, and Their Poems

December 31, 2015

Review: Men of Letters, John Updike and Jim Harrison, and Their Poems

John Updike and Jim Harrison are an odd couple to bring together in a review. Updike, who died in 2009, was a finicky and cerebral writer, fundamentally a neatnik. Mr. Harrison is backwoodsy and satirical. The shirt of his prose is perpetually untucked and perhaps stained with a splash of red wine.

Yet these extremes — urbane versus rural — do meet. These men are roughly of the same generation. Updike was born in 1932; Mr. Harrison, who is 78, was born in 1937. Like Updike, Mr. Harrison has been almost dementedly prolific.

Like Updike, too, Mr. Harrison is best known for his novels, yet is a committed and talented poet. Their poetic themes intertwine, especially as regards sex, which each explores with uncommon ardor. Both are close watchers, in their poems, of the natural world, especially birds and dogs. Both confront old age and death with grace and frequently with wit.


December by John Updike

Updike’s best verse is presented now in “Selected Poems,” edited by Christopher Carduff with a wise introduction by Brad Leithauser. Updike’s gift for close observation, in these poems as elsewhere, is near to supernatural. In an early poem, “Seagulls,” he writes:

Are they intelligent?
We imagine so, because they are ugly.
The sardonic one-eyed profile, slightly cross,
the narrow, ectomorphic head, badly combed,
the wide and nervous and well-muscled rump
all suggest deskwork: shipping rates
by day, Schopenhauer
by night, and endless coffee.

When Updike’s poems miss, it is usually because they are tense and linguistically ornate. (When Sylvia Plath felt that her poems reeked of the thesaurus, she referred to herself as “Roget’s trollop.”) Such misses, in “Selected Poems,” are rare.

These poems are darker than you may remember Updike’s poetry being. In “Spanish Sonnets” he writes, in a manner that resembles Philip Larkin, “Prayer’s a joke, love a secretion;/the tortured torture, and worse gets worse.” Even the lovemaking might not have been as good as this author would have had us, in his fiction and nonfiction, believe. In his long poem “Midpoint,” he wrote: “we always exuded better sex than we had.”

Condescend to Updike’s golf poems at your peril. In “Golfers,” men are glimpsed in a locker room almost as carcasses headed for the abattoir:

Breathing of bourbon, crowing, they strip;
the hair of their chests is grizzled, their genitals
hang dead as practice balls,their blue legs twist;
where, now, are their pars and their furor?
Emerging from the shower shrunken,they are men,
mere men, old boys, lost, the last hole a horror.

That last line reminds me of a sentence of Mr. Harrison’s that I’ve been unable to shake. In his collection of novellas “The Beast God Forgot to Invent” (2000), he had a character intone, “I’ve certainly rounded third base and am headed for home plate, which is a hole in the ground.”

Mr. Harrison’s novels and poems over the last two decades have been increasingly preoccupied with mortality, never so much as in “Dead Man’s Float,” his very good new book of verse. Here he details the shocks of shingles and back surgery, as well as the comprehensive low wheeze of a fraying body.

23BOOKUPDIKE2-master180The joys in Mr. Harrison’s world have remained consistent. If sex is less frequently an option, his appetites for food and the outdoors are undiminished. In one poem, he goes out into a rainstorm at night and sits naked at a picnic table. In another, he writes: “I envied the dog lying in the yard/so I did it.” His dog thinks he is being bizarre. That poem ends: “We humans can take off but are no good at landing.”

About his bird-watching, Mr. Harrison declares, “Without birds I’m dead.” In the prose poem “Whimsy,” his manias for birds and food collide. “I am the bartailed godwit of poets,” he declares. “I fly 7,000 miles from the Aleutians to New Zealand without stopping. Unknown to the ornithologists I pause in China for a bowl of noodles. I can’t help it. I am full of noodle love.”

Mr. Harrison’s unrhymed verse is far less rhetorically organized than is Updike’s, but this is part of his work’s charm. His earlier poems were ruder in their embrace of the world. Here, his mellow advice is “Seize the day gently as if you loved her.”

This poet turns over in his mind the things he wishes he’d done differently. In a harrowing poem called “Vows” — Mr. Harrison’s wife, Linda King Harrison, died in October — he writes:

I feel my failure intensely
as if it were a vital organ
the gods grew from the side of my head.
You can’t cover it with a hat and I no longer
can sleep on that side it’s so tender.
I wasn’t quite faithful enough
to carry this sort of weight up the mountain.

The title of this volume, “Dead Man’s Float,” refers to a way to stay alive in the water when one has grown tired while far from shore. As a poet, however, Mr. Harrison is not passively drifting.

He remains committed to language, and to what pleasures he can catch. A short poem, “Zona,” printed here in its entirety, sums up this late-career collection:

My work piles up,
I falter with disease.
Time rushes toward me —it has no brakes. Still,
the radishes are good this year.
Run them through butter,
add a little salt.

A version of this review appears in print on December 23, 2015, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: Sharp of Eye, Men of Letters in Verse Mode.

What PAS Wants Out of UMNO

December 30, 2015

COMMENT: Will this union of sorts happen in 2016? It may because Prime Minister NajibKamsiah and Din 2015 CNY Razak desperately wants to secure his position by rallying Malay support via PAS mullaism. To achieve his aim the Prime Minister is prepared to ignore the concerns of MCA, MIC and Gerakan and other secular parties in Barisan Nasional about Hudud. Fancy having a fanatic as Deputy Prime Minister No. 2 at the expense of his loyal Deputy, Dr. Zahid Hamidi.

For Prime Minister Najib, it is a small price to pay to remain in  power. With one stroke, Najib is able to dilute Zahid’s influence and keep him in check. For Ustaz Abdul Hadi, it will be his last attempt to be in Putrajaya, after failing to take control in 2008 when PAS was with Pakatan Rakyat.

Is this arrangement with PAS is sustainable? I wonder. Of  greater concern to me is: will there be a GE-14 given Najib’s unpopularity among Malaysians and factionalism within UMNO? If he knows that he may not win in the next general election, why must Prime Minister Najib have one in 2018? To me, the passage of the NSC Bill by the Senate after Dewan Rakyat had earlier voted in the Bill is a clear signal that the Prime Minister is has something in mind as back-up. Of course, I hope I am wrong about this. What do you, my blog readers, think? Am I like a little shephard crying wolf?–Din Merican

What PAS Wants Out of UMNO–Hudud and Power Sharing

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee


Desperadoes shaking hands

We are seeing today the biggest happening to take place in Malay and Muslim politics in a long time. It has upheaval effects that can potentially reshape Malaysian politics and society. This is the courtship of PAS and its  enigmatic President Abdul Hadi Awang by the Prime Minister and UMNO President, Najib Abdul Razak. The seduction line held out: in bed together, we can advance Islamic and Malay unity.

The reason why Najib is doing this is clear. In addition to gerrymandering, vote-buying and other forms of electoral trickery, Najib needs an insurance policy to ensure that UMNO retains power in the coming election. Desertion by UMNO’s supporters alone could lead to a possible loss of power. Having Hadi by his side and a partnership with PAS could stem the UMNO haemorrhage arising from the 1MDB and RM2.6 billion donation debacles, and see the party’s rank and file refrain from abstaining or voting against the ruling government. It could also produce the bonus of having PAS supporters vote against whatever opposition coalition that finally emerges. In effect this is a double whammy against the opposition and a winning strategy for Najib.

But what is in it for PAS in what looks to me like a Faustian bargain for both sides? After all, they have been implacable enemies for much of the history of the two parties. An early episode of collaboration in 1973 following the restoration of parliamentary government proved to be disastrous for PAS. Since then the party – together with the DAP – has borne the brunt of the Barisan’s arsenal of dirty tricks weaponry, including arbitrary imprisonment of opposition leaders, and marginalization and discrimination of the electorate voting for the opposition.

So what then is in it for PAS’s present leadership that can overcome the history of ideological differences and bitter rivalry? Firstly, we should not be fooled by the light and sound show on hudud put out by Hadi Awang and his men. This is not the real cause of the breakup with Pakatan Rakyat and the DAP. Hadi knows that there is no prospect of hudud being implemented because the individuals and groups that will be affected most by the imposition of hudud law will come mainly from UMNO; and perhaps from PAS too.

Hudud was used as an opening gambit in getting out of the Pakatan coalition. It has served its purpose and is now being put on the backburner. Replacing it is the siren song of a purer and larger Islamic agenda that can help cleanse UMNO and national politics.

The prize that Hadi and his followers are after is not a backroom or advisory role as may be construed from his speeches and most recently in the interview he gave to Utusan which received front page sidebar prominence.


No More Above


In Hudud style after this with UMNO-PAS Tie-Up

Coveted are the positions of power, privilege and dominance that come with an electoral victory with UMNO. At the top at federal level we presently have one Deputy Prime Minister. Najib will provide for two to reward Hadi should the latter deliver the anticipated havoc to the opposition’s vote in the coming election. Along with the DPM-ship there will be minimally several deputy ministerships and political secretaryships for Hadi’s closest supporters. Especially desired too are the lucrative and well-heeled positions in the Islamic agencies and bodies which have proliferated in the civil service during the last two decades.

But it is at the state level where the electoral pact with UMNO could produce the most gains. PAS-led or UMNO-PAS coalition-led state governments would offer rapid upward mobility for many party members. The younger members have seen how UMNO’s ulama graduate followers have done well. Understandably they are impatient and hungry for their turn at access to power, wealth and fortune with an Islamic face.

Thus it is not surprising that PAS Youth has been one of the first groups in the party to react positively to Najib’s proposal of cooperation between the nation’s largest Malay-based parties.

Youth chief Nik Abduh Nik Abdul Aziz has noted that the offer of cooperation marks a new page in Malaysian politics, which will benefit the Muslim community. It will certainly benefit him and other PAS leaders. “We accept the Prime Minister’s offer because previously anything that was proposed by the opposition was rejected wholesale by those in power. We welcome the call for closer ties on condition that the cooperation is based on religious values as religion is a core part of Malaysian life. So we support what the government wants to implement as long as it is for the greater good”, he is reported by Utusan Malaysia as saying.

To justify his stand, Nik Abduh who is the son of the late PAS spiritual leader Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat has argued that PAS has already agreed with UMNO on various issues, including its stand against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

It appears that the fruit has fallen far from the tree in him and the current party leadership since both have not taken any stand on the 1MBD, RM2.6 billion donation into the Prime Minister’s personal account, YaPEIM scandals, GST imposition and other scandals and controversies which have been much more costly to the nation than the groups condemned as sexual deviants.

Will all the leaders as well as the grassroots of PAS be easily seduced by the “cash is king” lure?PAS Deputy President Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man has continued to speak out against Najib and the Government in recent press statements issued in his personal name, so that apart from the Amanah outcasts, there is still some opposition within the party to Hadi’s dalliance with UMNO.

Will there be a generational split with the older members seeing through the proposed bridal bedroom curtains to reject a suitor that has consistently paid lip service to faithfulness and moral behavoir and has a long record of disloyalty, infidelity, cuckoldry and worse? These are tantalizing questions for which the answers should not be long in coming.

Matters to Consider from my friend, Syed Outside the Box

December 30, 2015

Matters to Consider from my friend, Syed Outside the Box


Former Attorney-General Tan Sri Abu Talib said Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) cannot express its views on the investigations on the Prime Minister.  MACC’s role is only to investigate and pass the investigation papers to the ‘mai dari entah mana’ A-G for his decision whether to prosecute the case or not.

Shall we run a poll and ask the people what  they think about the A-G (Apandi Ali)? The very fact that the MACC will hand over the investigation papers to the AG immediately implies that the MACC feels there is a case for prosecution.

It is like this folks, if there is no case or if the MACC has not found anything worth prosecuting, then the MACC WILL NOT HAND OVER ANY INVESTIGATION PAPERS to the A-G.   The MACC will just close the file.  Period. There is no such thing as the MACC submitting an investigation paper to the A-G with the recommendation “Insufficient Evidence” or “No Further Action” or “Case Closed”. It does not work that way.

The moment an investigation file is opened, investigations are completed and the MACC hands the file over to the A-G, then their recommendation will be to pursue the case in court. ONLY then is it up to the A-G to decide whether to prosecute  the case or not. Yes the A-G has the final say whether to charge the person in Court or to declare an NFA (No further action).

Apandi ampu
Mai dari entah mana Attorney-General of Malaysia

Our Federal Constitution envisages that the Attorney-General will always be a man or woman of unquestionable integrity.  A fearless person who is honest and will uphold the Constitution (please stop laughing – this is a serious matter).  Unfortunately, thus far, the public does not seem to perceive the ‘mai dari entah mana’ A-G as fitting this shoe size.

The brand new A-G has been revived and brought to life again at the age of 65 when most retirees begin to forget the details of their past careers.The new A-G was brought in after the incumbent Tan Sri Gani Patail was unceremoniously removed  under the most suspicious circumstances and without following normal procedures. The smoke screen thought up in July was that Gani Patail was too sick to perform his duties. Well they forgot to ask Gani Patail about how sick he was because Gani is still walking, talking and doing all the usual things.

Since his appointment, the new A-G has omitted and committed many things, almost all of which appear more and more strange to the Malaysian public. Note the following:

1.  Just like MACC will submit their investigation papers to the new A-G soon, Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) also submitted their investigation papers to the new AG with a very strong and made-known-to-the-public recommendation that the A-G should prosecute 1MDB for certain crimes.  The A-G acted quite predictably. The Governor of BNM made appeals that the case be prosecuted and yet the answer was the same.

2. The new A-G then held an unprecedented Press ‘conference’ where he read a prepared statement (he did not say prepared by whom) then promptly left the room without taking any questions from the Press whom he had summoned.

3. The new A-G also did not prosecute the Ali Tinju fellow. He said that the video evidence was insufficient. The A-G should explain to the public how cases were prosecuted before the invention of video? Especially a case where multiple witnesses were present.

4.  The A-G did charge Khairuddin and his lawyer, Matthias Chang under the SOSMA for lodging police reports against 1MDB. Here the new A-G again bungled because there is a proviso under the Penal Code to deal with the crime of making of “false Police Reports”.  Perhaps to avoid exactly that, Khairudin employed the services of a lawyer to make sure his Police report was not a false report.  But Khairudin’s lawyer was also arrested and charged. Strangely (this is where the new AG bungled). Khairudin and his lawyer were never charged with making a false Police report. Instead the new AG charged them with ‘economic sabotage’ under SOSMA.  Then the Court threw out their 28 day remand  and Khairuddin and his lawyer have been freed.

5. The new A-G then withdrew the case against that NFC fellow (the husband of the Wanita leader who has pledged her support to the PM) while his trial was already being conducted in Court. The A-G withdrew the case based on a letter written to him by the defense counsel.

6. Back to the 1MDB matter, the new A-G did say that he had advised the PM to give a statement to the MACC.  Then he said that he also told the MACC to “complete their investigations by December 2015″. Isn’t this considered interfering with the investigations? Isn”t it an offence to interfere with an official investigation? The MACC is an independent body.  If the AG gave instructions to the MACC to wrap up their investigations by December 2015, the public will question if he also gave the MACC other instructions?  Why December? Christmas holidays?


Why didn’t the new A-G advise the PM to go on leave pending the outcome of the investigations?  Surely justice must not only be done but it must be seen to be done as well. So as the Legal Advisor to the government, why didnt the new A’-G tell the PM who is under investigations to go on leave?

Looking at all these strange omissions and commissions in such a short space of time (in just about three months) by this brand new, crawled-out-of-the-darkness A-G,  it is no surprise then that the public has little faith in him. Period.

Many Malaysians have already formed an opinion about what the new A-G will decide when the MACC submits the results of their investigations to him.  He was a former defeated UMNO candidate in the elections. Most certainly the PM did not choose him to be A-G because of his advanced age or his non-projection of a s*nil* appearance.

The PM’s other brown nosers say that the PM should be forgiven as past PM’s too had made mistakes. Well obviously if they are going to destroy the difference between right and wrong, between corruption and justice they have to go all the way. There is a huge difference between making a mistake and committing a crime.

When people make mistakes no criminal investigations are made by Bank Negara Malaysia, the MACC or the Police.  The Police, Bank Negara and the MACC do not investigate ‘mistakes’.  They only investigate crimes.

A mistake becomes a mistake when the outcome of an action is different from what was intended and despite the efforts that were put in. Obviously a mistake happens when there was insufficient knowledge of the risks involved that will cause disaster. You planted oil palms in an area that later suffered serious flooding which destroyed the plantation.It was a mistake because you ignored a river running through the plantation. That would be a mistake. The Police, MACC and BNM will not investigate your mistake as a crime.A crime requires two elements : a niat jahat and then the actions necessary to carry out your niat jahat.  Mens rea to think up a crime and the actus rea to carry it out.

 The question is how many PMs before this
  • set up a company using taxpayers money.
  • got involved with dubious characters.
  • siphoned out money outside the country.
  • then brought it back disguised as ‘donations’.
  • broke their own Bank Negara rules.
  • fired the AG, fired the DPM, removed the head of the SB,  jailed people etc.

All those people were fired, removed, transferred, arrested, jailed  just for exposing a mistake? It is obvious that the people who say this was just a mistake are looking for favours. They are also criminals themselves.

A crime is a crime. If we are required to ‘close one eye’ or ‘close both eyes’ towards crime, then why have laws in the first place? Why do we need the Police, the Courts or the AG? Just disband the Police, the Courts and let the AG go back to being in goodly spirits.

The Book Entrepreneur Story: Popular Bookstore

December 30, 2015

The Book Entrepreneur Story: Popular Bookstore

 by Business Times

SINGAPORE – At 79 years of age, Popular Holdings supremo Chou Cheng Ngok is at the prime of his life: actively devoted to his business, charmingly mischievous at times, intimidating at others.

Asked if he has any plans to retire, he put a twist on a well-known phrase: “You know (American general) Douglas MacArthur. When he retired … he said, ‘old soldiers never die, they just fade away’.

“I say, Chinese businessmen never retire. They just drop dead. Maybe today you see me, tomorrow you’ll see the obituary, ‘died peacefully in his sleep.'”He guffawed. The jovial man is fond of making irreverent jokes.

Where succession is concerned, Mr Chou told The Business Times, there was nothing to worry about as long as the company was properly managed and there was no nepotism.Mr Chou has no relatives working for him. A brief stint by his son Wayne in 2010-11, whom he once wanted to take over the book business, did not work out. Mr Chou made no mention of the past in the interview.

Mr Chou said he plans to live to 100. The self-confessed food lover tries to eat lightly, helped by a watchful wife. Mr Chou also walks for close to an hour every night.Based in Hong Kong, he still works six days a week, resting only on Sunday. “I’ve got no hobby. I don’t play mahjong. I don’t play golf either. I don’t dance. So what do I do? I’m really a very boring bookseller,” he said.

Mr Chou said he enjoys walking around, talking to strangers, and observing what people buy. He said his way of doing market studies has unearthed interesting things, like how some young people like to buy scrapbooks, which they make and give to friends. “You get to understand their reaction, their thinking,” he said.

“Somehow if you put together your work and play, it can be quite a lot of fun. So I’m never bored. I know how to amuse myself. And I said if I cannot amuse myself any more, I get the staff here and give them hell.”

Stationery, but still Popular

Popular Holdings might have started out as a bookseller, but the household brand name is no longer making most of its money from books. In fact, “more than 50 per cent” of its core retail and distribution business, which has a turnover of S$470 million a year, comes from non-book sales, notably stationery, said executive chairman Chou Cheng Ngok in an interview with The Business Times.

The company is still a bookstore empire with 168 outlets in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. But it is behaving more like a general retailer. Popular is exploring new markets in high-end stationery under its UrbanWrite brand. It sells plenty of gadgets and IT accessories, and even stocks household items such as air fryers.

“Retailing is very interesting. It’s basically common sense,” said Mr Chou. “If you’re willing to explore and think, you can have various permutations and combinations.”

While industry players might say online shopping has killed off retailers, Mr Chou refuses to believe it. “As long as there’s civilisation there will be shopping,” he said.

Latest numbers show that Popular, a company founded in 1924, is surviving, though not growing. Net profit attributable to shareholders for its financial year ended April 30, 2015, was S$16.5 million, a rebound from S$10.6 million a year ago, due mainly to the absence of impairment losses for its property arm.

Revenue was flat at S$552 million, from S$551 million a year ago. The information came from Popular’s 2015 annual report, which was published and audited externally despite the company having delisted since May.

Popular’s delisting came after an 18-year run on the exchange.According to Bloomberg, buying Popular shares at end-May 1997 and holding them until end-March 2015 generated a total price return of 27 per cent (1.35 per cent a year), or 152 per cent (5.3 per cent a year) if dividends were reinvested.

An ill-timed venture into property development in recent years had forced Mr Chou to take the company private to avoid paying hefty penalties due to unsold units at its freehold Ei8ht Raja condominium in Balestier. Just 8 out of 26 units have been sold there, Mr Chou said, adding ruefully that the property market here is “as dead as a doornail”.

“I’m going to go fishing,” Mr Chou said, adding he is “lying low” with no major investments planned for now. “I’m 79 years old, can I afford to fall? I either crack my pelvis or crack my femur. If I crack both legs I cannot walk any more,” he said.

Another memorable miss was Popular’s acquisition of the Borders bookstore brand, which Mr Chou said he bought for US$15,000. A store opened in Jurong East’s Westgate mall in December 2013. It closed after just five months.

At one point the store was making less than S$2,000 a day, which was not enough to pay rent, Mr Chou said. “We lost a million in a year. Now, (with a Popular bookstore in its place), hallelujah! It’s booming,” he said.

Popular is currently completing its 17-unit Permai Residences in Kampong Bahru, with its Temporary Occupation Permit (TOP) expected this month. The company has also recently moved into its new headquarters in Serangoon North.

Looking ahead, Mr Chou said he is exploring entering the Malay book market in Singapore. The company started selling Malay books in Malaysia two years ago. This is a major change for the 91-year-old company, which was founded by Mr Chou’s father Chou Sing Chu in 1924.

Popular started out selling Chinese books, before moving into English books, publishing primary school textbooks, and selling music and audio products. It also launched electronic learning platforms. In Singapore, it is also known for selling assessment books and compilations of past years’ examination papers.

The company never paid attention to the Malay book market in Singapore because of a lack of demand, Mr Chou said. But it has belatedly realised the enormity of the Malay book market in Malaysia. Asked why he did not think of it earlier, he laughed. “Stupid, lah,” he said.

“We published a Malay cookbook (1 Hari 1 Resipi) . . . in three years, we sold over 300,000 copies,” Mr Chou said. He sees potential in religious books and Malay fiction in Malaysia.

The company’s Hong Kong operations remain highly profitable, more so than its Singapore or Malaysian segments.

Mr Chou cites how Popular broke into the English textbook market in Hong Kong, gaining market share over publishing rival Longman.Today, Popular unit Educational Publishing House (EPH) publishes a range of Chinese, English, mathematics and general studies textbooks for almost all primary schools in Hong Kong, Mr Chou said.

EPH Hong Kong grew sales by 12 per cent and profit by 30 per cent in the past year, Popular’s latest annual report showed.

The company is also setting up tuition centres in Hong Kong under the EduSmart brand, initially teaching math and English to kindergarten and primary school pupils. “We have four now and are planning to build more,” Mr Chou said.

In China, Popular has tied up with BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), to open an English learning centre in Shanghai in May 2015, targeting children aged three to six. Mr Chou said he envisions up to 80 such centres in the country eventually.

Tuition might seem like an attractive prospect given the Asian focus on education. But Mr Chou said there is a limitation on the time of students.”All these people go to regular schools. Whether it is profitable depends on whether you can get the students. You have to see how you can make use of the empty periods,” he said.

The company also experiments with different concepts to keep itself relevant. One major programme is BookFest, the mega book fair it has been running in Singapore and Malaysia since the mid-2000s.

Popular lost money on them for the first five years but they have since become profitable. A recent fair in December in Suntec attracted over 600,000 people in 10 days. This year’s fair sold imported snacks for the first time. A colouring competition was held for adults. Shoppers were enticed with gold bar rewards.

“I tell myself, you can no longer rely on people to come and visit your bookshops. But if you can make these book fairs very creative, it becomes a fair, and everybody will come,” Mr Chou said.

Ultimately, the company’s willingness to innovate – encapsulated in its book fairs – has ensured Popular’s survival as a retailer, Mr Chou said.

He is still not giving up on his property development dreams, however.Mr Chou quotes late property tycoon Ng Teng Fong, who told him: “If you want to be in property, don’t look further, just stay in Hong Kong and Singapore”.

Land supply is limited and assuming a stable government, population growth in both places will help the property market, Mr Chou said.The other thing he remembered is how Mr Ng regarded the “buy low, sell high” advice in the property market.

“He said, ‘an idiot also knows that. Let me ask you, when you want to buy low, who’s going to sell it to you low? When you want to sell high, who’s going to buy it from you? . . . I tell you, buy high, sell higher! When the market is shooting up, there’s no such thing as high’.” – The Business Times

Prime Minister Najib Razak and the Money Network Of Malaysian Politics

December 29, 2015

Prime Minister Najib Razak and the Money Network Of Malaysian Politics

by Tom Wright andBradley Hope

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was fighting for his political life this summer after revelations that almost $700 million from an undisclosed source had entered his personal bank accounts.

Under pressure within his party to resign, he called together a group of senior leaders in July to remind them everyone had benefited from the money.

The funds, Mr. Najib said, weren’t used for his personal enrichment. Instead, they were channeled to politicians or into spending on projects aimed at helping the ruling party win elections in 2013, he said, according to a cabinet minister who was present.

“I took the money to spend for us,” the Minister quoted Mr. Najib as saying.It still isn’t clear where the $700 million came from or where it went. But a six-month Wall Street Journal examination revealed that public entities spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a massive patronage machine to help ensure Mr. Najib’s United Malays National Organization stayed in power. The payments, while legal, represented a new milestone in Malaysia’s freewheeling electoral system, according to ruling-party officials.

The UMNO has led every Malaysian government since the country’s independence from Britain in 1957, making it one of the world’s longest-ruling political parties. Its extraordinary grip on power has delivered economically for Malaysia, boosting living standards and establishing the country as a fast-growing emerging market and U.S. ally in Asia.

But its dominance of the vote, its critics contend, has prevented Malaysia’s democracy from maturing in a similar fashion, instead leaving a system riven by patronage and vote-buying that analysts say has consistently skewed results in UMNO’s favor.

The Journal examination, which included interviews with ruling coalition politicians and former government employees as well as a review of documents related to a state-investment fund Mr. Najib set up, found hundreds of millions of dollars in unreported political spending. Much of it flowed from public sources or programs set up for other purposes.

The effort relied heavily on the state investment fund Mr. Najib controlled, 1Malaysia Development Bhd., according to minutes from 1MDB board meetings seen by The Wall Street Journal and interviews with people who worked there.

The Prime Minister, who is chairman of 1MDB’s board of advisers, promised repeatedly that the fund would boost Malaysia’s economy by attracting foreign capital. It rolled up more than $11 billion in debt without luring major investments.

Yet Mr. Najib used the fund to funnel at least $140 million to charity projects such as schools and low-cost housing in ways that boosted UMNO’s election chances, the Journal investigation found.

The minutes portray a fund that repeatedly prioritized political spending, even when 1MDB’s cash flow was insufficient to cover its debt payments.

Board members wondered aloud if they would get in trouble. In a meeting on December 20, 2014, they discussed what to do about the Police who came to investigate allegations of financial irregularities, according to the minutes.

The 1MDB fund also transferred hundreds of millions of dollars to politicians through Ihsan Perdana Bhd., a company formed in 2011 to carry out 1MDB’s corporate social responsibility programs, said a person involved with setting up the fund. Ihsan Perdana is exempt from filing financial statements, according to Malaysian company records.

Malaysian investigators believe the cash that ended up in Mr. Najib’s personal accounts moved through government agencies, banks and companies linked to 1MDB. At least $14 million flowed into his accounts via Ihsan Perdana, according to documents from a Malaysian government investigation.

The source of that $14 million was SRC International Bhd., a company controlled by Malaysia’s finance ministry, which Mr. Najib also heads, the documents show.

The Prime Minister signed checks from his personal accounts to lawmakers, who used the money as they saw fit, according to the Malaysian cabinet member interviewed by the Journal and another lawmaker who said he accepted the money.

Mr. Najib declined multiple interview requests. He has denied wrongdoing or taking money for personal gain, while defending 1MDB spending as good for Malaysia. He hasn’t explained where the $700 million in his accounts came from or how it was used.

Senior UMNO politicians have said the money was a political donation from an unnamed Middle East donor. Malaysia’s anticorruption agency has defended Mr. Najib’s right to use personal accounts for political transfers, which isn’t illegal under Malaysian law.

The 1MDB fund is the focus of probes in at least six countries, including in Malaysia by the nation’s anti-corruption body, central bank, auditor general and a parliamentary committee.

Executives at 1MDB declined interview requests. The fund denies its business decisions were driven by politics and has pledged to cooperate with investigations. It said in a statement: “We note with surprise that The Wall Street Journal continues its campaign to malign 1MDB, a campaign based on old and recycled allegations.”

A spokesman for UMNO, whose financial reports aren’t required to be publicly disclosed, didn’t respond to requests for comment. A U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation probe into 1MDB is looking at assets owned by Mr. Najib and his family, including luxury real estate in New York and Los Angeles, according to people familiar with the matter. These people said the agency is also is looking at the funding of a film-production company, Red Granite Pictures, which was set up by Mr. Najib’s stepson and produced The Wolf of Wall Street starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

These inquiries are at an information-gathering stage and neither Mr. Najib nor any of his family members have been accused of wrongdoing. Red Granite Pictures, in a statement to the Journal, said that neither the stepson nor the company engaged in any “inappropriate” business activities.

Tens of thousands of protesters took to Kuala Lumpur’s streets in August to call for Mr. Najib’s ouster over his handling of the economy and management of 1MDB. Some lawmakers are still calling for him to resign.

Activities like the use of personal bank accounts to fund election spending don’t happen in “most decent democracies with an element of accountability,” said Dr. Lily Zubaidah Rahim, a University of Sydney professor who is involved with the Electoral Integrity Project, a survey of voting standards with Harvard University.

Mr. Najib’s UMNO party, founded in the 1940s to represent ethnic Malays, has ruled for decades in coalitions with parties drawing support from ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.

UMNO benefited from an affirmative-action program it set up in the 1970s that reserves an outsize proportion of state jobs, school places and government contracts for Malays, who make up just over half of Malaysia’s 30 million people.

Opposition critics say UMNO doled out contracts to Malay companies in return for donations to fund election spending. Ruling coalition politicians confirmed the practice in interviews but emphasized it is legal.

There are no laws in Malaysia on how much a company or individual can give to a party or politician, and neither is required to report who donated. Candidates are limited to spending $47,000 during election periods, but there are no caps on what a party can disburse. There are no laws against tapping state resources for campaigns.

Disbursing money or other favors to sway an election, known as vote buying, is prohibited but widespread, politicians say. Malaysia’s election watchdog has no legal power to investigate complaints.

After 2008 elections in which the ruling coalition lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament, the UMNO ditched its leader and elevated Mr. Najib, then Deputy Prime Minister. He pledged to end corruption and improve transparency. He promised a Malaysia in which all citizens benefited, dubbing the effort “1Malaysia.”

He also talked about the need to break UMNO free from dependence on corporate donations, said people who interacted closely with him. Yet Mr. Najib knew he needed funding sources, they said.

An opportunity presented itself when Jho Low, a Malaysian financier then in his late 20s, appeared. Hailing from the Malaysian state of Penang, Mr. Low studied in England and befriended Mr. Najib’s stepson in London, according to people who know him. He later attended the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

In Malaysia, he helped set up an investment fund for the oil-rich Terengganu state, he told a Malaysian newspaper in 2010. Mr. Najib turned the fund into a federal entity and 1MDB was born.

Mr. Low, whose full name is Low Taek Jho, would later help direct election-related spending, despite not holding a formal title within UMNO, said a former Malaysian ruling coalition politician interviewed by the Journal.

Mr. Najib and 1MDB executives said the fund was supposed to attract investment in energy, real estate and tourism, with no mention of charity spending. Opposition parties pointed out that Malaysia already had a sovereign-wealth fund pursuing similar aims, Khazanah Nasional Bhd., and asked why 1MDB was put under Mr. Najib’s control.

Nurul Izzah Anwar, a lawmaker and daughter of Malaysia’s opposition leader, called 1MDB’s setup an “absolute sham” and “a blatant attempt by the PM to have direct intervention in the management of the wealth fund.”

The Prime Minister told Parliament that his stewardship of 1MDB was to ensure it spurred economic development and foreign investment so that wealth “can be distributed equally regardless of race and ethnicity, but for 1Malaysia.”

From the outset there was an air of secrecy. Senior management shot down suggestions to share documents on Google, arguing Malaysia’s political opposition might access them, a former employee said.

Mr. Low dialed in to conference calls but was referred to by a code name, “UC,” the person said.In September 2009, 1MDB signed its first major deal, a joint venture with Saudi oil firm PetroSaudi International Ltd. to invest in energy projects.

Of a $1 billion investment from 1MDB, approximately $700 million instead moved to another company’s bank account, according to a draft report into the fund’s activities by Malaysia’s auditor general, a copy of which was reviewed by the Journal.

The account was owned by Good Star Ltd., a Seychelles-based firm set up by Mr. Low, according to the person who was involved with the formation of 1MDB.

Full Coverage: Malaysia’s 1MDB

What happened to the money is unclear. The following year the joint venture was wound up without investing in any major energy projects.The 1MDB fund denies wrongdoing and says it made a profit on the venture. The Saudi company says the venture was profitable for 1MDB.

Two board members, including 1MDB’s chairman, resigned in 2009 and early 2010 over the way the fund handled the venture, the auditor general report said. Attempts to reach them were unsuccessful.

In early 2010, Mr. Najib authorized creating a 1MDB charity arm that gave $140 million for corporate social responsibility spending up until the 2013 elections, the fund’s board minutes show. None of it was required to be reported in 1MDB financial accounts, though some projects were publicized in fund promotional materials.

The prime minister’s office viewed 1MDB as a way to finance projects aimed at boosting UMNO’s popularity, said Oh Ei Sun, who at the time was Mr. Najib’s political secretary. Money from 1MDB was available for projects drawn up by staff in the Prime Minister’s Office, he said.

“If we thought it could help the incumbent government pull in some votes, we could propose that,” said Mr. Oh. He said he helped give scholarships to ethnic Chinese students, but said he later quit, citing his concern about lack of transparency in the government.

1MDB’s management proposed the spending should only happen when the fund made profits, but asked for a waiver of the rule to allow immediate spending on schools, the minutes say.

In July 2010, the Prime Minister traveled to Sarawak, a rainforest-covered Malaysian state on Borneo island whose voters include members of indigenous tribes. Ahead of the visit, 1MDB’s board of directors approved around $540,000 in financial aid to build shelters for tribal people, among other uses.

The Board’s Chairman “noted that it is vital for the company to win the support of Sarawakians, particularly the natives,” the minutes said.

There was wasteful spending. Malaysia’s government in 2010 sold prime land in Kuala Lumpur to 1MDB at below-market rates to develop a financial center, in a joint venture with a subsidiary of an Abu Dhabi sovereign-wealth fund.

After spending almost $2 million to organize a launch party, 1MDB ditched the event when the Gulf emirate’s crown prince decided not to attend, according to board minutes.

Local media began criticizing the fund.“The company is perceived as a secretive cloak-and-dagger setup with sinister motives to benefit cronies and not the Malaysian people,” read a plan submitted to the board in October 2010 by 1MDB’s management to improve the fund’s image.

The solution was a media blitz to promote 1MDB’s focus on “new sources of growth,” the plan said. Mr. Najib, in other minutes, ordered the board to better promote 1MDB education scholarships.

To book profits, the fund took the land it bought cheaply from the government and marked it up to market prices. In the financial year ended March 31, 2011, the fund revalued the land by 426%, even though it had neither sold nor developed it. The fund also borrowed heavily. Goldman Sachs Group helped it raise $6.5 billion in bond issuances in 2012 and 2013. Some money was used to buy power plants.

A $3 billion bond two months before the 2013 elections was supposed to fund development of the Kuala Lumpur financial center, according to offering documents. The project stalled and the money was used for other purposes, including working capital, according to a 1MDB financial statement.A Goldman spokesman declined to comment.

As elections approached in 2013, the fund began transferring hundreds of millions of dollars to politicians to spend on their campaigns, said the person who helped set up the fund. Mr. Najib began pushing out checks from his accounts to politicians, according to a lawmaker quoted in local media and the cabinet minister interviewed by the Journal.

Shahrir Abdul Samad, a UMNO Parliament member, was quoted saying he was given over $300,000. “To whom else can I ask for financial assistance for administration expenses if not from the party president himself,” Mr. Shahrir said in an interview with an official website run by the ruling coalition. “That explains the money the party president received is for party use,” not Mr. Najib’s enrichment, he said. Mr. Shahrir didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Najib announced projects like hospitals and low-cost housing across the country.The 1MDB fund financed free trips to Mecca for more than 1,000 village headmen. Letters to the recipients came from the Prime Minister’s office.

Mr. Najib has said such projects show that 1MDB is beneficial to Malaysians. Local media reports note the program, started in 2011, is adding more pilgrimages annually. Perhaps the biggest UMNO effort to win back votes was in Penang, a historic trading entrepôt won by the opposition in 2008.

Mr. Low, the financier, returned home to Penang before the May election and acted as a senior strategist, according to the former ruling-coalition leader in the state. Coalition candidates were told by Mr. Low they could request money for their campaigns and he would deliver it, the politician said. Candidates asked for money to paint voters’ houses and give out free food and other favors, the politician said.

The source of the money, which didn’t flow through official UMNO channels, and its total size were unclear, ruling-coalition politicians said. Another former coalition lawmaker said he assumed the funds came from corporate donors. “The money was flowing like hell,” he said.

A school friend of Mr. Low’s, Geh Choh Hun, organized a group called 1Malaysia Penang Welfare Club, which hired a hotel ballroom and handed out checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars to nongovernment groups, according to people who attended. It is unclear where the money came from. Mr. Geh declined to comment.

Loh Cheng Kooi, executive director of the Women’s Center for Change, a female-empowerment organization, said she got almost $70,000 from the welfare club. She said she assumed the government was financing the event because of “1Malaysia” slogans at the ballroom.

In the days before voting on May 5, UMNO supporters organized free dinners and gave out cash, according to people who attended.UMNO lost the popular vote and failed to win Penang. But its coalition won enough votes to hold on to power nationally.

After the victory, 1MDB had only about $20 million in cash compared with liabilities of over $10 billion, board minutes show. 1MDB says the value of its assets covers the fund’s debt. Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd., the fund’s current auditor, told 1MDB’s board in February 2014 it had received emails and letters alleging “financial reporting fraud” in connection with the PetroSaudi deal, the changing of auditors and alleged over payment for power-plant assets, the board minutes show.

The auditor said there was no evidence of wrongdoing, according to the minutes, and signed off on 1MDB’s accounts. The fund reported a net loss of around $200 million in the year to March 31, 2014, the last available results. Deloitte declined to comment.

A few months later, a UMNO politician filed a report with the Police over alleged financial mismanagement by 1MDB, according to board minutes from December 2014. Officers visited 1MDB’s headquarters but left without taking away evidence.

One board member worried whether they could be charged for “criminal breach of trust.” The fund’s general counsel answered it was unlikely given no one on the board had personally benefited from 1MDB’s activities, the minutes say. The Board’s Chairman suggested convening in the future outside of 1MDB’s offices to “reduce the risk of bugged meeting rooms.”

The fund is now trying to wind down operations by selling assets to pay down debt. In November, it agreed to sell its power plants to a Chinese state-owned company for $2.3 billion, almost 20% less than it had paid for them. 1MDB says it “essentially broke even” given that the buyer also assumed some debt.

The Prime Minister told parliament in November there was nothing unusual about government-controlled companies donating money to political parties.But he has vowed to change the system, setting up a bipartisan parliamentary panel to look at election reform.

“There is an urgent need to regulate political financing to ensure accountability and transparency,” Mr. Najib said.He promised new laws would come into effect before the next elections, in 2018.

Write to Tom Wright at and Bradley Hope at


The Passing of Jazzman Ornette Coleman

December 29, 2015


By chance, I belatedly learned from a friend of the passing of one of my favorite jazz saxophonists, Ornette Coleman. This blog pays tribute to Jazzman Ornette Coleman by playing my favorite Coleman album, Dancing in your Head.  RIP Ornette and thanks for your fabulous jazz.–Din Merican

Ornette Coleman, Saxophonist Who Rewrote the Language of Jazz, Dies at 85

Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman, the alto saxophonist and composer who was one of the most powerful and contentious innovators in the history of jazz, died on Thursday in Manhattan. He was 85. The cause was cardiac arrest, a family representative said.

Mr. Coleman widened the options in jazz and helped change its course. Partly through his example in the late 1950s and early ’60s, jazz became less beholden to the rules of harmony and rhythm and gained more distance from the American songbook repertoire.

His own music, then and later, embodied a new type of highly informed folk song: deceptively simple melodies for small groups with an intuitive, collective musical language and a strategy for playing without preconceived chord sequences. In 2007, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his album “Sound Grammar.”

His early work — a personal answer to his fellow alto saxophonist and innovator Charlie Parker — lay right within the jazz tradition and generated a handful of standards for jazz musicians of the last half-century. But he later challenged assumptions about jazz from top to bottom, bringing in his own ideas about instrumentation, process and technical expertise.

He was more voluble and theoretical than John Coltrane, the other great pathbreaker of that jazz era. He was a kind of musician-philosopher, whose interests went well beyond jazz. He was seen as a native avant-gardist, personifying the American independent will as much as any artist of the last century.

Slight, Southern and soft-spoken, Mr. Coleman became a visible part of New York City’s cultural life, often attending parties in bright satin suits; even when frail he attracted attention. He could talk in sometimes baffling language about harmony and ontology, but his utterances could also be disarming in their freshness and clarity (or become clear on about the 10th time you read them).

His music was usually not so oblique. At best, it could be for everybody. Very few listeners today would fail to understand the appeal of his early songs like “Una Muy Bonita” (bright, bouncy) and “Lonely Woman” (tragic, flamencoesque). His run of records for the Atlantic label near the beginning of his career — especially “The Shape of Jazz to Come,” “Change of the Century” and “This Is Our Music” — pushed through an initial wall of skepticism, ridicule and condescension to be recognized as some of the greatest albums in jazz history.

His composing voice, and his sense of band interplay, was intact by 1959, when he caught the ear of almost every important jazz musician in the world. He wrote short melody sketches, nearly always in a major key, that could sound like old children’s songs or, in pieces like “Turnaround” and “When Will the Blues Leave?,” brilliant blues lines. With the crucial help of the trumpeter Don Cherry, he organized his band to act like a single organism with multiple hearts.

Randolph Denard Ornette Coleman was born in Fort Worth on March 9, 1930, and lived in a house near railroad tracks. According to various sources, his father, Randolph, who died when Ornette was 7, was a construction worker and a cook; his mother, Rosa, was a clerk in a funeral home. Both, he liked to say, were born on Christmas Day.

He attended I.M. Terrell High School, a veritable seeded of modern American jazz. Three three of his future   — the saxophonist Dewey Redman and the drummers Charles Moffett and Ronald Shannon Jackson — were graduates, as were the saxophonists King Curtis, Prince Lasha and Julius Hemphill; the clarinetist John Carter; and Red Connor, a bebop tenor saxophonist who, Mr. Coleman said, influenced him by playing jazz as “an idea” rather than as a series of patterns.

Mr. Coleman’s melodies may be easy to appreciate, but his sense of harmony was complicated. When he learned to play the saxophone — at first using an alto saxophone his mother gave him when he was around 14 — he had not yet understood that, because of transposition between instruments, a C in the piano’s “concert key” was an A on his instrument. When he learned the truth, he said, he developed a lifelong suspicion of the rules of Western harmony and musical notation.

In essence, Mr. Coleman believed that all people had their own tonal centers. He often used the word “unison” — though not always in its more common musical-theory sense — to describe a group of people playing together harmoniously, even if in different keys.

“I’ve learned that everyone has their own moveable C,” he said to the writer Michael Jarrett in an interview published in 1995; he identified this as “Do,” the untempered start of anyone singing or playing a “do-re-mi” major-scale sequence. During the same conversation, he said he had always wanted musicians to play with him “on a multiple level.”

“I don’t want them to follow me,” he explained. “I want them to follow themselves, but to be with me.”

Learning by ear, he played alto and then tenor saxophone in rhythm-and-blues and society bands around Texas, backing up vocalists and practicing the honking,  gut bucket style that made stars out of Illinois Jacquet and Arnett Cobb. But he had already become entranced by the new kind of jazz known as bebop, and by Parker’s imaginative phrasing.

In 1949, Mr. Coleman joined Silas Green From New Orleans, a popular traveling minstrel-show troupe on its last legs. He was fired in Natchez, Miss., he said, for trying to teach bebop to one of the other saxophonists.

In Natchez, he joined the band of the blind blues singer Clarence Samuels. While on tour with the group, he said, he was beaten by a gang of musicians outside a dance hall in Baton Rouge, La., for playing strangely; as the climax of a story he would repeat ever after in variations, they threw his saxophone down the street, or down a hill, or off a cliff.

Soon afterward, in 1953, he moved to Los Angeles to play with the R&B bandleader Pee Wee Crayton. In 1954, he married the poet Jayne Cortez, with whom he had a son, Denardo. They divorced in 1964. Mr. Coleman’s survivors include his son, who played drums with him on and off since the late 1960s, and a grandson.

Also in 1954, he bought a white plastic alto saxophone, which became an emblem of his early years. He stayed in Los Angeles for six years, finding a core group of musicians who were not only interested in playing his music but who also helped define it. They included the trumpeters Mr. Cherry and Bobby Bradford, the drummers Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins, and the bassist Charlie Haden.

These musicians were the exceptions; during his Los Angeles period, many wanted nothing to do with Mr. Coleman, a long-haired Jehovah’s Witness dressed in clothes made by his wife. He “looked like some kind of black Christ figure,” Mr. Cherry said, “but no Christ anybody had ever seen before.”

Mr. Coleman made his first album, “Something Else!!!! The Music of Ornette Coleman,” in 1958 for the Contemporary Records label. No recording of Mr. Coleman’s holds closer to the model of Charlie Parker. But he adhered less to a strict rhythmic grid than Parker did. Operating on his own sense of time, Mr. Coleman raced and flagged and played his own proud blues lines, diatonic runs and plump, raw, crying notes.

Mr. Coleman made one more record for Contemporary, “Tomorrow Is the Question!,” with Percy Heath and Red Mitchell on bass, Shelly Manne on drums and, significantly, nobody on piano. The lack of a pianist to root the music in chords would characterize the sound of Mr. Coleman’s music for a long time. The Ornette Coleman Quartet — with Mr. Cherry, Mr. Haden and Mr. Higgins — then recorded six numbers for Atlantic in May 1959. (John Lewis, the pianist for the Modern Jazz Quartet, had glowingly recommended Mr. Coleman to Nesuhi Ertegun of Atlantic Records.)

This session was released as “The Shape of Jazz to Come.” This was the first great Coleman band; the record’s swing and harmonic freedom, its intuitive communication between Mr. Coleman and Mr. Cherry, and its ease with nonstandard ways of playing jazz made it a classic. But it was not released before other events had made Mr. Coleman notorious.

Later that year, Mr. Coleman was invited to the School of Jazz in Lenox, Mass., a summer institution run by John Lewis. In concerts and workshops, Mr. Coleman fascinated some teaching musicians there and alienated others. On hearing him at Lenox, the critic Martin Williams wrote, “I believe that what Ornette Coleman is playing will affect the whole character of jazz music profoundly and pervasively.”

Then, with his quartet, in November 1959 Mr. Coleman hit the Five Spot Café in Manhattan, his first New York gig. A two-week engagement stretched to two and a half months. And suddenly it became fashionable for journalists to ask established jazz musicians what they thought of Mr. Coleman’s jolting music.

Many said he was unformed but promising. John S. Wilson, of The New York Times, heard Mr. Coleman at the Five Spot and wrote a few months later that he had initially found his playing “shrill, meandering, and pointlessly repetitious” — although by that time Mr. Wilson had begun revising his opinion. The trumpeter Roy Eldridge did his due diligence on Mr. Coleman before forming an opinion. “I listened to him high, and I listened to him cold sober,” he said. “I even played with him. I think he’s jiving, baby.”

In the quartet, Mr. Coleman and Mr. Cherry could solo together harmoniously, yet loosely, sometimes clashing and sometimes flying together. Mr. Haden, the bassist, helped the music cohere by creating a strong tonal center, and the front-line musicians were only loosely tied to the pulse of the drummer. (Mr. Coleman would coin a term for the music’s guiding principles: “harmolodics,” a contraction of harmony, movement and melody.)

In under two years, the group made nine records with Atlantic, including “Free Jazz,” using a “double quartet” of four musicians in each audio channel. It was not quite “free jazz,” though. Despite the great harmonic mobility among the musicians, Mr. Coleman relied on polished written melodies to cut the piece into episodes; rhythmically, Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins swung hard, and not in free rhythm.

Mr. Coleman’s music had such force that even Coltrane said, in 1961, that the 12 minutes he had spent on stage with Coleman amounted to “the most intense moment of my life.”

Around this time Mr. Coleman’s group began to rupture. Mr. Coleman sought more control of his music and insisted on better pay, reducing his bookings to a dribble. Mr. Haden was hospitalized for heroin addiction. Mr. Cherry, needing work, joined Sonny Rollins.

In 1962 Mr. Coleman rented the Town Hall, the New York performance space, to play with his new trio, featuring David Izenzon on bass and Charles Moffett on drums, and on one piece with a string quartet. It was the beginning of Mr. Coleman’s public career in classical music, a much more dissonant and self-consciously European-modernist body of work. He retreated from performance and separated himself from New York’s emerging free-jazz scene.

When he reappeared, in 1965, at the Village Vanguard jazz club, he was playing trumpet and violin as well as alto saxophone. He wrote music on a well-paid commission for “Chappaqua,” a movie about drug addiction by the Avon cosmetics scion Conrad Rooks. Mr. Rooks rejected the music, for jazz quartet and orchestra, though it was eventually released by Columbia Records.

In 1966 Mr. Coleman made the album “The Empty Foxhole,” with Mr. Haden on bass and Mr. Coleman’s son Denardo, only 10 years old, on drums. And in the late ’60s, Mr. Coleman bought two floors of an industrial building in SoHo, on Prince Street, beginning his do-it-yourself life in earnest. He called the building Artists House and produced concerts there, and he formed a new band that included Dewey Redman on tenor saxophone. Among its albums, for Blue Note and Columbia, were “New York Is Now!” and “Science Fiction.”

Mr. Coleman soon began writing a concerto grosso called “Skies of America,” which he recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1972. It was the purest demonstration of his harmolodic principle, with parallel lines for orchestra members to play as written, rather than transposing to fit their instruments’ home keys.

In 1973 he traveled to the Rif mountains of Morocco to collaborate with the famed musicians of Jajouka. A short recording of these encounters, using the Jajouka reed players’ untempered approach, appeared on his album “Dancing in Your Head,” released in 1977. The collaboration confirmed his belief that the “concert key” system of Western tonality was misguided.

“Dancing in Your Head” marked the beginning of Prime Time, Mr. Coleman’s first electric band — it had two guitarists — and a new chapter in his music. Loud, jagged and densely woven, the music took few cues from rock, but it nonetheless had an influence on what would be called post-punk, the sound of late-1970s bands like the Pop Group and the Minutemen.


Meanwhile, Mr. Coleman was releasing records with Prime Time on his own Artists House label, founded in 1977 with the record producer and lawyer John Snyder, and on A&M Records. He appeared on “Saturday Night Live” in 1979. He moved his base of operations to a building on Rivington Street on the Lower East Side, made his son his manager, and worked with Caravan of Dreams, a new performance center and record label based in his hometown, Fort Worth.

In 1985 Mr. Coleman collaborated with the guitarist Pat Metheny on the album “Song X.” In 1987 he released “In All Languages,” a double album, with Prime Time on one disc and his original acoustic quartet on the other. And in 1988 he released “Virgin Beauty,” a Prime Time album with Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead on board at times as a third guitarist. In 1991, Mr. Coleman played on Howard Shore’s soundtrack to the film “Naked Lunch,” based on the novel by William S. Burroughs.

By this time Mr. Coleman represented the avant-garde establishment. He was awarded a National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master fellowship in 1984 and made a MacArthur Foundation fellow in 1994. He had reached old-master status on the jazz-performance circuit and gave well-attended concerts — again with a white saxophone, but metal, not plastic.

Mr. Coleman formed a new quartet in 2004, with two bassists and Denardo Coleman on drums, and started the Sound Grammar record label. In 2007, the same year he won the Pulitzer Prize, he received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award and performed at the Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee. To the alarm of the audience, he passed out from heat stroke and was taken to a hospital. His final public performance was at Prospect Park in Brooklyn in June 2014, as part of a tribute to him organized by his son.

“One of the things I am experiencing is very important,” he said in his Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award acceptance speech. “And that is: You don’t have to die to kill, and you don’t have to kill to die. And above all, nothing exists that is not in the form of life, because life is eternal with or without people, so we are grateful for life to be here at this very moment.”

Correction: June 11, 2015

An earlier version of this obituary misstated the age of Mr. Coleman’s son, Denardo, when he played drums on Mr. Coleman’s album “The Empty Foxhole.” He was 10, not 12. It also misstated the date of an interview Mr. Coleman gave to the writer Michael Jarrett. It was 1987, not 1995.

Correction: June 17, 2015

An obituary on Friday about the jazz saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman referred incorrectly to the blues singer Clarence Samuels, with whom Mr. Coleman worked early in his career. He was not blind.

Correction: September 28, 2015

An obituary on June 12 about the jazz saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman referred incorrectly to his investment in the industrial building in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan where he produced concerts beginning in the late 1960s. He owned two floors of the building, not the entire building. A reader called the error to the attention of The Times only recently.

A version of this article appears in print on June 12, 2015, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Ornette Coleman Dies at 85; Rebel Lent Jazz a New Language.