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Steve Coleman, Saxophonist
Saxophonist Steve Coleman, according to many of his musical peers, is central to the modern development and evolution of music today. In a similar manner as Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, Coleman's musical journey is a constant search for revelation of the continuity of sound, music, culture, and spirituality.
From the age of 14-17, in his native south side of Chicago, he studied the basics of music and saxophone technique, and then decided that he wanted to learn to improvise. Charlie Parker, whom his dad listened to all the time, was a key early influence, as were premier Chicago saxophonists the caliber of Von Freeman, Bunky Green, Gido Sinclair and Sonny Greer.
After hearing groups from New York led by masters like Max Roach, Art Blakey, Woody Shaw, The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, Sonny Rollins, and other legends come through Chicago with bands that featured excellent players with advanced musical conceptions, Steve knew where he wanted to go next. He felt he needed to be around this kind of atmosphere in order to grow musically. After hitchhiking to New York and staying at a YMCA in Manhattan for a few months, he eventually gigged with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band, which led to stints with the Sam Rivers Big Band, Cecil Taylor's Big Band and others. Soon he began cutting records as a sideman with those leaders as well as pivotal figures like David Murray, Doug Hammond, Dave Holland, Michael Brecker and Abbey Lincoln. The most important influences on his music at this time were listening to tenor saxophonist Von Freeman (who primarily influenced Coleman as an improviser), saxophonist Sam Rivers (who influenced Steve compositionally) and drummer/composer Doug Hammond (who was especially important in Steve's conceptual thinking). In this period, he also listened intensely to the music of West African masters sparking what became a diasporic journey into the artistic and spiritual continuum beginning in Africa and extending to all parts of the globe.
For the next several years Coleman spent a good deal of time playing in New York City's streets for small amounts of money with a street band that he put together with trumpeter Graham Haynes, the group that would evolve into the ensemble Steve Coleman and Five Elements. It is this group that would serve as the flagship ensemble for most of Steve's activities.
Within a short time the group began finding a niche in tiny, out-of-the-way clubs in Harlem and Brooklyn where they continued to hone their developing concept of improvisation within nested looping structures. These ideas were based on ideas about how to create music from one's experiences which became the foundation which Coleman and friends call the M-Base concept. However, unlike what most critics wrote this concept was philosophical, Coleman did not call the music itself M-Base. His travels to Egypt, India, Ghana, Cuba, Senegal, Paris and other parts of Europe—perhaps philosophical and historical explorations as much as musical—have impacted the soundscapes he creates with his various ensembles, the technological resources he taps into to create and present his music, and even the concepts he captures in writing, as with a profound analysis of the music and styling of Charlie Parker featured on the website, Jazz.com.
The discussion was a profound and revelatory insight of the mind and voice of one of the most influential artists of our current age.