NEA Jazz Masters: George Coleman

Tenor saxophonist George Coleman is one of four 2015 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters named this George Colemanweek. He, Carla Bley, Charles Lloyd and Chicago’s Jazz Showcase impresario Joe Segal will be inducted in a ceremony next spring in New York. In our previous post, Rifftides presented Ms. Bley in performance.

As a 17-year-old alto saxophonist in 1952, Coleman launched his professional career impressively in his native Memphis, Tennessee, landing a gig with bluesman B.B. King. While with King, he converted to tenor sax. He moved to Chicago in 1956 and was soon playing with John Gilmore, Ira Sullivan and drummer Walter Perkins’s MJT+3. Before the end of the decade Coleman had moved to New York, toured with Max Roach’s quintet and gone to work for trombonist Slide Hampton. Following a couple of years with Hampton he spent time with the organist Wild Bill Davis, then joined Miles Davis in the quintet that also included Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Formidable for his drive, imagination and capacious tone, Coleman became a jazz insiders’ favorite, though he never achieved the general popularity of John Coltrane, Stan Getz or Sonny Rollins. His recording career has included work with Lionel Hampton, Chet Baker, Elvin Jones and Charles Mingus and with his own octet. A dedicated educator, he teaches at The New School, New York University, Long Island University and other institutions in the New York area

Coleman’s latterday albums frequently find him in the company of pianist Harold Mabern, with whom he grew up in Memphis. Here are Coleman and Mabern, still together after all these years, featured earlier this month with drummer Joe Farnsworth’s Prime Time Band at a Linda’s Jazz Nights event at the An Beal Bocht Café in the Bronx, New York. Phil Palombi is the bassist. Tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander makes an impromptu guest appearance toward the end of a leisurely exploration of “I Cover the Waterfront.”

For an NEA biography of Coleman, go here.

The Rifftides survey of newly-named NEA Jazz Masters continues next time with Charles Lloyd.

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  1. valerie bishop says

    I could not be happier for George as he is so deserving! I’d also like to see Harold Mabern & Terry Gibbs honored in 2016!

  2. Charlton Price says

    Only a happy few of us, including the Jimmy Cobbs, attended a memorable evening with Clark Terry’s Big Bad Band at Carnegie Hall in the early 70s. We had stumbled through a terrible blizzard to get there. Terry featured George Coleman, particularly on Ernie Wilkin’ arrangement of “Ferde Grofé’s “On the Trail.”

  3. Don Conner says

    Wow! George Coleman at his best; age hasn’t diminished any of his skills. Harold Mabern sounds wonderful,as well. Eric ‘s appearance was a nice gesture. Great post, Doug.