Ornette Coleman, the multi-instrumentalist, composer and innovator whose harmonic concepts pointed jazz in a new direction, died June 11 in Manhattan. He was 85.

A family representative said the cause of death was cardiac arrest.

Immediately after Coleman’s mother gave him an alto saxophone at age 14, he began experimenting with various sounds that led him on his own independent path. While primarily self-taught, Coleman attended I.M. Terrell High School, known for its great band, in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas. He was so involved with playing music and exploring his instrument that he was chastised on occasion for improvising and teaching fellow band members bebop chords.

It was here at his hometown high school that he met his future bandmates, the saxophonist Dewey Redman and the drummers Ronald Shannon Jackson and Charles Moffett. Other graduates included R&B funk saxophonist King Curtis, Julius Hemphill, Prince Lasha and bebop tenor saxophonist John Carter.

After high school, he switched to tenor saxophone and played rhythm and blues, backing up vocalists around Texas, where he was known to walk the bar while roaring some loud Illinois Jacquet honks.

Although he had been struck by the jazz bug of Charlie Parker, Coleman took to the road in 1949 with the traveling minstrel show of Silas Green from New Orleans. On the tour, Coleman was terminated for playing bebop while in Natchez, Miss.

In Natchez, he quickly joined Clarence Samuels, the blind blues singer. After a performance during the tour in Baton Rouge, La., Coleman was beaten up by angry ticket holders and even band members, who disliked the music he was playing. During the hostile attack, they broke his saxophone and threw it down a steep hill.

Some even noted they didn’t like his style of dress. Coleman was an independent genius. He had his own style of dress and moved the music of jazz to another platform.

“A lot of people didn’t get it,” said Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid, who played with Jackson, in a Rolling Stone article. Furthermore, John Coltrane was totally inspired by Coleman’s work.

Coleman eventually moved to Los Angeles in 1953 and became a member of an R&B band led by Pee Wee Crayton. During this period he also returned to playing alto saxophone. In 1954, to expand his sound, Coleman started playing a white, plastic saxophone.

During his six-year stay in Los Angeles, some musicians thought he played “crazy and off key,” but he was able to find musicians of like minds who were looking for progression. They included the trumpeter Don Cherry, drummers Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins and bassist Charlie Haden.

In 1962, Coleman temporarily refrained from public performances to teach himself trumpet and violin. He returned to live performances in 1965.

Coleman is associated with free jazz and avant-garde, but he once stated in an interview, “Most people think of me only as a saxophonist and as a jazz artist, but I want to be considered as a composer who could cross over all the borders.”

His innovative spirit crossed over to the rock world when guitarist Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead played with him on his album “Virgin Beauty” (Portrait, 1988).

Coleman’s soloing inspired Lou Reed’s free-rock guitar work, as well as the post-funk bands Sonic Youth and Defunkt and Captain Beefheart’s album “Trout Mask Replica” (1969).

In 1972, Coleman wrote a concerto entitled “Skies of America,” which he recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra. In 1973, he traveled to the Rif Mountains of Morocco to collaborate with the musicians of Jajouka, which appeared on his album “Dancing in Your Head” in 1977.

In 1960, Coleman recorded “Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation,” a double quartet that featured the trumpeters Cherry and Freddie Hubbard, Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet, the bassists Charlie Haden and Scott LaFaro and drummers Billy Higgins and Ed Blackwell.

He collaborated with guitarist Pat Metheny for the album “Song X” in 1986. His band Prime Time was a reconnection to his R&B roots and his first electric band with two guitars.

In the late 1960s, as the loft scene became the rage, Coleman bought an industrial building in SoHo on Prince Street, which he named Artists House. There, he produced concerts and recorded albums.

In 1966, Coleman recorded “The Empty Foxhole,” with Haden on bass and Denardo, his young 10-year-old son, on drums. His son played with him intermittently throughout his career.

It’s obvious that over the past six decades the alto saxophonist has established himself as one of the most prolific musicians and composers in jazz history. His explicit, innovative self-expression was categorized as a “free style forum.”

Coleman pioneered a style he called “harmolodics,” in which he improvised off the melody rather than the chord changes. Like Parker, Coleman played with a bluesy flow and open rhythmic jaunt.

In the early 2000s, Coleman opened his Harlem recording studio, which he named “Harmolodics.” He recorded a few of his own works under the label.

Living in Harlem for more than 30 years, the saxophonist could often be seen walking down 125th Street, dressed in the hippest gear. No one dressed or played like Coleman.

Coleman had a mild, cool demeanor and was soft-spoken. He was a real Texas gentleman willing to speak with his fans on the street and offer advice when called for.

The pictorial history book “Forever Harlem” (Spotlight Press) was dedicated to many Harlemites, one of whom was Coleman. He was awarded a National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master fellowship in 1984. He was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship (genius grant) in 1994. In 2001, Coleman was awarded the Praemium Imperiale on behalf of the Japan Art Association.

He won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for his album “Sound Grammar,” being only the second jazz artist to win the prize. That same year, he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award and inducted into Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Nesuhi Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame in 2008.

In 2009, Coleman opened Jazz at Lincoln Center’s season. His band included the bassists Anthony Falanga and Al McDowell, with Denardo Coleman on drums.

That evening, Coleman played violin, trumpet and alto saxophone, with the band dancing between those small music crannies.

The conductor Leonard Bernstein referred to Coleman as an “innovative genius.”

Coleman is survived by his son Denardo and a grandson.