Don Cherry was born in Oklahoma City, OK in 1936 and raised in Los Angeles, where he first began to play the trumpet and later piano. According to Cherry, his upbringing had everything to do with his interest in music:
Yeah, well I was fortunate to have such great parents…because they've always been around music. My Father was a bartender, and he was very much into the music of the swing period. That whole groove of music and ballrooms and dance and what it meant in the late 30's and up into the 40s. So I was raised around all that type of music. But what was happening after especially moving to Watts, what was happening in our neighborhood, there was musicians…Dexter Gordon, Wardell Grey, Sonny Criss, all these people that were from the neighborhood…and what was happening in rhythm and blues…
Don cut his teeth on bebop, like most young musicians of his generation. In one of those historic moments that defy reason, Don met young saxophonist Ornette Coleman in a record store on 103rd Street, and was soon playing with Coleman's seminal quartet which also included bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Billy Higgins. The group cut the landmark album Something Else!!! , ushering in the new Free Jazz movement. The group recorded several other albums and free jazz became an established jazz innovation during the 1960s. Cherry worked with other artists, including John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, and Albert Ayler, who were all becoming instrumental in the greatest developments in jazz music since the birth of bebop.