Steve Coleman, born September 20, 1956 (1956-09-20) (age 54), is an African American saxophone player, spontaneous composer, composer and band leader. His music and concepts have been a heavy influence on contemporary jazz.
Steve Coleman grew up in one of the large African American neighbourhoods of the northern American big cities, the South Side of Chicago, where music (African American music) was „around all the time“, just „part of the community“ and „the sound of everything else“. As a child, he was „in these little singing groups, imitating the Jackson 5, singing in church or something like that“ and he started playing Alto-saxophone at the age of 14. About three years later he began to study the music of Charlie Parker (of whom his father was a fan), Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and other masters of this music tradition. After spending two years at Illinois Wesleyan University, Coleman transferred to Roosevelt University (Chicago Music College) in downtown Chicago in order to concentrate on Chicago's musical nightlife. Specifically Coleman had been introduced to Chicago premier saxophonists Von Freeman, Bunky Green and others from whom he learned. He told: „When I was growing up and playing in Von Freeman's sessions, there were certain things that were important: Your sound, your groove, and how you express yourself. … There was always this criticism for not having a sound, not having a good groove, a lot of criticism on rhythm: This cat can't swing, he has no feel, etc. So, it's … a matter of learning this particular idiom from these masters who came before you. You have to get with what it is they're good at expressing. How to make it feel a certain way, how to blend, how to swing? You get cats talking about floating the rhythm, swinging the rhythm, and all these different terms“. - Steve Coleman also was in contact with Sonny Stitt whom he regards as one of the „cats like Sonny Rollins, Coltrane, Bird … on that same level“. In addition to Freeman and others, Stitt was Coleman’s connection to the era of great players like Charlie Parker.
In order to open up new opportunities for further developments, Coleman moved to New York in 1978 where he got, among other things, the experience of playing in big bands (in Thad Jones/Mel Lewis big band, Slide Hampton's big band, Sam Rivers’ Studio Rivbea Orchestra, briefly in Cecil Taylor's big band, and in several other big bands). He found out that „there is a certain discipline that you get, especially a phrasing thing and learning how to play with large groups of people in a group. That carries over to what you do with a smaller group“. Soon he began cutting records as a sideman with well known figures like David Murray, Doug Hammond, Dave Holland, Mike Brecker, and Abbey Lincoln. For the first four years in New York Coleman spent a good deal of time playing in the streets and in tiny clubs with a band that he put together with trumpeter Graham Haynes, the group that would evolve into the ensemble Steve Coleman and Five Elements that would serve as the main ensemble for Coleman's activities. In this group, he developed his concept of improvisation within nested looping structures. Coleman joined some other young African American musicians like Cassandra Wilson and Greg Osby and they found the so-called M-Base movement.