Steve Coleman

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Steve Coleman in Paris, July 2004

Stephen "Steve" Coleman (born September 20, 1956 in Chicago , Illinois ) is an American jazz musician, alto saxophonist , band leader and composer .

Origin, influences, activities

Steve Coleman grew up on the South Side of Chicago in an African-American environment where music played an important, everyday role. At first he sang a little in church and in the then current small groups that mimicked the Jackson 5 , and began playing alto saxophone at the age of 14 . At the age of 17 or 18, his preoccupation with music became very serious. His efforts to learn to improvise led him to Charlie Parker's music, which his father listened to constantly and which became essential for his further development. He was also influenced by the music of Sonny Rollins , John Coltrane and others during this period . Among the musicians with whom he had personal contact, he was primarily influenced in the beginning: Von Freeman with regard to improvisation , Sam Rivers with regard to composition and Doug Hammond with regard to conceptual understanding. West African music was also very important to him early on.

Steve Coleman moved to New York in the late 1970s . He was soon hired by a number of well-known band leaders, including Thad Jones and Mel Lewis , Sam Rivers, Cecil Taylor , David Murray , Doug Hammond and Dave Holland . However, he spent a large part of his first time in New York earning a little money in a street music band he had put together with trumpeter Graham Haynes . This group became the first "Steve Coleman and Five Elements" band, in which he developed his improvisational style and in which the foundations for the M-Base concept propagated by Coleman were laid. The name Five Elements refers to a kung fu punch .

Steve Coleman has been intensively concerned with understanding the world of ancient cultures, especially that of ancient Egypt, since the 1980s . According to his own statement, he was inspired by studying the music of John Coltrane. In order to get to know the musical forms that still exist today and are closely related to ancient cultures, he made numerous trips to Ghana , Cuba , Senegal , Egypt , India , Indonesia and Brazil .

In 1985 Coleman recorded his first CD as a band leader on the German label JMT and has since made a number of very different recordings with a core line-up that changed several times and many other musicians (in the 1990s with the large company RCA / BMG, since 2001 with the small French company Label Bleu ). Coleman makes CDs that are no longer commercially available as free downloads on his website. He made the album Alternate Dimension Series I available only through non-commercial channels on the Internet.

As a band leader, he integrates the creativity of the individual fellow musicians into his concepts and, on the other hand, develops the music in accordance with the personal stylistics of his fellow players. In the 1990s he developed an improvising computer program with the help of programmers at the Paris Research Center for Computer Music IRCAM, which was then used as a "band member" at a performance by the Coleman group on June 11, 1999 in Paris. In 1994 he took part in the recording of Do You Want More? !!! ??! of the hip-hop band The Roots .

Coleman has repeatedly worked as a workshop leader and teacher (including from 2000 to 2002 as a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley ). In 2014 he received a MacArthur Fellowship .


The intensity and complexity of Steve Coleman's music, its independence, the ongoing development and expansion require a wide range of different, even contradicting, evaluations by listeners, musicians and critics. Coleman's improvisational playing appears virtuoso and cool , which is promoted by a clear and slender tone formation on the saxophone and elegant, extremely flexible lines. The clarinetist Don Byron described him as "an exceptional figure in American music history". Pianist Vijay Iyer said in 2010: “In my eyes, Steve Coleman is as important as John Coltrane. He has made an equally large contribution to music history. He deserves to be included in the pantheon of pioneering artists. "

Discographic notes

title admission Release year Label Remarks
Motherland Pulse 03/1985 1985 JMT Republished at Winter & Winter
On the Edge of Tomorrow 01-02 / 1986 1986 JMT Republished at Winter & Winter
World expansion 11/1986 1987 JMT Republished at Winter & Winter
Sine Die 12/1987 - 01/1988 1988 Pangea
Rhythm People 02/1990 1990 RCA / Novus
Black Science 12/1990 1991 RCA / Novus
Phase Space (with Dave Holland) 01/1991 1991 DIW
Rhythm In Mind 04/1991 1991 RCA / Novus
Drop kick 01/1992 1992 RCA / Novus
The Tao of Mad Phat (Fringe Zones) 05/1993 1993 RCA / Novus Live in the studio
A Tale of 3 Cities (with Metrics) k. A. 1994 RCA / Novus
Def Trance Beat (Modalities of Rhythm) 06/1994 1995 RCA / Novus
Myths, Modes & Means:
Live at Hot Brass
03/1995 1995 BMG / RCA also as part of the Box Set
Live in Paris at the Hot Brass
Way of the Cipher:
Live at Hot Brass
(with Metrics)
03/1995 1995 BMG / RCA also as part of the Box Set
Live in Paris at the Hot Brass
Curves of Life:
Live at Hot Brass
03/1995 1995 BMG / RCA also as part of the Box Set
Live in Paris at the Hot Brass
The Sign and the Seal:
Transmissions of the Metaphysics of a Culture
02/1996 1996 BMG / RCA
Genesis / The Opening Of The Way 11/1996 - 06/1997 1997 BMG / RCA Double CD
The Sonic Language of Myth:
Believing, Learning, Knowing
04/1998 1998 BMG / RCA
The Ascension To Light 04-06 / 1999 2001 BMG / RCA
Resistance is futile 07/2001 2002 Label Bleu Double CD
Alternate Dimension Series I 03/2002 2002 As a free download
On the Rising of the 64 Paths 03-04 / 2002 2003 Label Bleu
Lucidarium 05/2003 2004 Label Bleu
Weaving Symbolics 04/2004 - 05/2005 2006 Label Bleu Double CD, each with DVD-Video
on the back
Invisible Paths: First Scattering March 28, 2007, April 10, 2007 2007 Tzadik Records Solo album
Harvesting Semblances and Affinities 2006/2007 2013 pi
The Mancy of Sound 2007 2013 pi
Functional arrhythmias 2012 2013 pi
Synovial Joints 2014 2015 pi
Morphogenesis 2016 2017 pi
Live at the Village Vanguard, Vol. 1 (The Embedded Sets) 2017 2018 pi

Recording dates exclusive of mix, as this is not always specified.

Many (no longer available) albums are offered by Steve Coleman himself on his homepage in MP3 format for free download.


The documentary “Elements of One” by Eve-Marie Breglia, available on DVD, shows Coleman encountering various influences (including Cuban, African and Indian musicians). The individual scenes of the film, which was released in 2005, were recorded between 1996 and 2003. The DVD contains the 98-minute documentary and additional 60-minute scenes.

Web links


  1. Wolf Kampmann (ed.), With the assistance of Ekkehard Jost : Reclams Jazzlexikon . 2nd, expanded and updated edition. Reclam, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-15-010731-7 , p. 111.
  2. ^ Christian Broecking: The Marsalis factor . Oreos-Verlag, 1995, p. 120 .