Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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COLEMAN, George

(b 8 March 1935, Memphis TN) Tenor sax, bandleader, composer: a modernist admired by other musicians for technique and good taste. Toured with R&B combos including B.B. King, gigged in Chicago; to NYC mid-'50s: with Max Roach '57-9, Slide Hampton '59-61, Wild Bill Davis '62, Miles Davis '63-4, Newport Jazz Festival '65; worked with his wife, bassist/ vocalist/ organist Gloria Bell Coleman (her LPs included a quartet on Imperial '63, sextet Sings And Swings Organ '65 on Mainstream, two albums on Impulse; she d 18 February 2010). He played alto in the soundtrack of the Herbert Danska film Sweet Love, Bitter '66 (aka It Won't Rub Off, Baby) based on the life of Charlie Parker.

He wrote for groups of all sizes; received an NEA grant, played many gigs at colleges. He recorded with Roach, Miles Davis, Hampton; five LPs with Chet Baker quintet on Prestige '65; with Herbie Hancock on Maiden Voyage '65, other Blue Note LPs with Lee Morgan, Horace Silver, Elvin Jones, others; with Jones on Enja '73 (Live At The Village Vanguard); with Charles Mingus on Atlantic '77 (Three Or Four Shades Of Blues); etc. He led his own groups; an octet date at the Camden Jazz Festival in London '81 taped for UK TV included Sal Nistico, second tenor; Bobby Watson, alto (played on Art Blakey LPs on Concord); Danny Moore, trumpet (b Daniel William Moore, 6 January 1941, Waycross GA; d 16 February 2005: one of New York City's favourites, he also played flugelhorn with Coleman); Mario Rivera, baritone; Harold Mabern, piano; Clint Houston, bass; Billy Higgins, drums.

His own albums included Meditation '77 on Timeless (a duo with Tete Montoliu, reissued on CD with Dynamic Duo); Big George '77 on Affinity UK had an octet with Mabern, Rivera, Moore, Frank Strozier on alto (b 13 June '37, Memphis), Junior Cook on tenor (b 22 July 1934, Pensacola; d 3 February 1992), Idris Muhammad, drums (b Leo Morris, 13 November 1939, New Orleans; d 29 July 2014), Lisle Atkinson, bass; Amsterdam After Dark '78 on Timeless a quartet with Hilton Ruiz on piano, Sam Jones, Higgins; Live '79 on Pye became Playing Changes on Jazz House, made at Ronnie Scott's Club in London by a quartet with Ray Drummond replacing Jones (another track from these sessions on two-disc set from Debut records with booklet, celebrating the club's 25th anniversary). Mama Roots '81 on Muse was a sextet co-led by Charles Earland. Manhattan Panorama '85 was on Bob Theile's Theresa label, then on Evidence, as was At Yoshi's '87, half live and half studio, one of his best; My Horns Of Plenty '91 was on Verve, all three quartets with Mabern, his friend since high school. His son George Jr is a drummer.

An underrated musician with a beautiful tone, at home in the blues and at any tempo, his ability to play the changes at speed should have been an inspiration to younger players, yet his lack of greater fame may be due to his tent being pitched firmly in the post-bop camp instead of at a more avant-garde address. A Master Speaks in 2016 was his first date as a leader in 20 years.