Steve Coleman

Steve started playing music as a freshman at South Shore High School, on the south side in Chicago, just days before his fourteenth birthday. He started out with the violin, but he later switched to the alto and tenor saxophones. After studying the basics of music and saxophone technique for three years, Steve decided that he wanted learn to improvise. Steve discovered Charlie Parker’s music through his search for the best improvising musicians. His father was a huge fan of Parker. Steve moved to Chicago Music College (Chicago Wesleyan University) to focus on Chicago’s music scene. In particular, Coleman was exposed to the improvisations by Chicago’s premier saxophonists Von Freeman and Bunky Green, Gido, Sinclair, and Sonny Greer. He wanted to learn from them. He was working a decent job at the New Apartment Lounge as a drummer, writing music and playing Parker classics. He was growing dissatisfied by what he saw as a dead end in Chicago’s creative scene. After listening to groups from New York, led by artists like Max Roach and Art Blakey, Woody Shaw (The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra), Sonny Rollins, and others, he was inspired. Steve was able to see the great musicians and musical ideas of Chicago bands, and he knew exactly where he wanted his career to take him. This type of environment was what he felt was necessary to develop musically. After hitchhiking to New York, he stayed at a YMCA for a while before he was offered a gig with Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band. This led to stints in the Sam Rivers Big Band, Cecil Taylor’s Big Band and other bands. He began to record records with these leaders, as well as key figures such as Dave Holland, Doug Hammond and Mike Brecker. It was actually the influence of Von Freeman, Bunky Green, Thad Jones and Sam Rivers in Chicago, Doug Hammond, New York, and listening to recordings from past improvising masters as well as music from West Africa, that made Coleman’s musical career possible. . His most significant influences were Von Freeman, tenor saxophonist (who influenced Coleman primarily as an improviser), Sam Rivers, saxophonist (who influenced Steve compositionally), and Doug Hammond, drummer/composer (who was particularly important in Steve’s conceptual thinking). Coleman was able to pay rent by playing with these masters, but he also spent time on the streets of New York City with a small band he formed with Graham Haynes. This group would become the Steve Coleman and Five Elements. This group would be the main ensemble for all of Steve’s activities. The group found a niche in small, out-of the-way clubs in Harlem or Brooklyn. They continued to refine their improvisational skills within nested looping structures. These ideas were based on the idea of creating music from one’s own experiences. This was the basis for Coleman and his friends calling the M-Base concept. Coleman didn’t call the music M-Base, contrary to what many critics believed. Steve and his coworkers were able to record their emerging ideas on three Coleman-led recordings, including Motherland Pulse and On The Edge Of Tomorrow. This was after they had reached an agreement with West German JMT in 1985. In the late 1980s, Coleman began to codify his ideas with the help of Five Elements and Coleman. He also worked with the M-Base Collective collective of musicians. His ideas developed and he learned to use various research methods to increase his awareness. These techniques included learning how to program computers as tools to help him develop his concepts. He created computer software he called The Improviser. It was capable of spontaneously developing improvisations, harmonic structures, and drum rhythms by using artificial intelligence. This software was built on musical theories Steve had developed over time. Coleman also became interested in the philosophy of ancient culture. In the late 1970s, Coleman began listening to West African music and learning about the African Diaspora. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that he began to read and study the meanings behind the music. He realized that there was an underlying sensibility that linked what he was passionate about today and the ancient cultures of the future. These ideas are recorded on his recordings as a sonic symbol language. These concepts were later documented on Steve’s albums Sine Die (1987-88 on the Pangaea Label), Rhythm People (90), Black Science (1990), Drop Kick(92), The Tao of Mad Phat (933) and Anatomy of a Groove (1991-1992). Sine Die is on BMG Records. These recordings marked the beginning of Steve’s mature period (1987-1990). Coleman was not content with listening to and reading recordings. He began a series of research trips to Ghana from December 1993 to January 1994 in order to understand the relationship between music and language. He visited Yendi, a small village in the Dagbon region of Ghana to study the culture of the Dagbon people. They have a long tradition of using drums to communicate their thoughts. Steve had some ideas about music and information transmission in ancient times. He wanted to confirm his theories. Coleman’s music, and his philosophy were greatly influenced by this trip. After returning to the United States, Steve recorded Def Trance Beat (and A Tale of 3 Cities) on BMG Records. However, the effects of the ideas he had in Ghana wouldn’t be fully expressed until 1994 when he met the Kemetic (i.e. Thomas Goodwin (a philosopher from ancient Egypt), was a significant influence on Steve’s work. Steve Coleman and Greg Osby were the alto saxophone players, Joe Lovano, Craig Handy and Yoron Israeli on the tenor saxophones. Kenny Davis was on bass, and YoronIsrael on drums. The group did their first European tour in August 1995, with Bunky Green as Greg’s alto and Ralph Peterson as Yoron on the drums. The group later consisted of Steve Coleman, Greg Osby, Gary Thomas, Ravi Coltrane, and Sean Rickman, on alto saxophones. However, this group has never released a commercially-released CD. The three CD box set Steve Coleman’s music – Live at Hot Brass, which was released by BMG France, is both a summary of the previous phase and a beginning of a new phase. Each CD was recorded in Paris in March 1995 and features one of Coleman’s groups, Curves of Life, Five Elements and The Way of the Cipher. Also, Metrics and Myths as well as Modes and Means from Steve Coleman and The Mystic Rhythm Society. The last CD was directly inspired by Steve’s trip to Ghana. This, along with Thomas Goodwin’s philosophical studies, was what occupied Steve for most of the 1990s. Steve Coleman’s experimental ensemble, The Secret Doctrine and Steve Coleman made five group projects. 1995 was a significant year for Steve. Steve began his journey by organizing a trip that would have a profound effect on his music. Steve started to explore an idea he’d been considering for 7 years while pursuing philosophical studies. In an effort to follow the development of certain philosophical and spiritual ideas obtained by studying ancient cultures (primarily ancient Egypt) and following up on the 1993-94 research trip to Ghana, Africa, Steve wanted to meet and collaborate in a creative way with musicians who were involved in certain ancient philosophical/musical traditions which come out of West Africa. He was particularly interested in the Yoruba culture, which comes primarily from western Nigeria. It is one of the Ancient African Religions that underlies Santeria (Cuba, Puerto Rico), Candomble [Bahia and Brazil] and Vodun (“Haiti). Steve set out to explore the ways these traditions were passed down through music. Cuba was our first stop! Steve discovered that Cuba was much more complicated than he thought. The Cuban people had preserved many African cultures and they were combined under the general title Santeria. There are the Abakua societies, the Arara cults (Dahomey), and Congo traditions like nganga mayombe, palo monte, and mayombe. AfroCuba de Matanzas, a group that specialized in Rumba preservation, was what he found. Steve went to Matanzas in January 1996 to learn the music, and to contact AfroCuba de Matanzas to arrange a meeting. Minini was also enthusiastic about the project. It was decided that the collaboration would be held in February during the Havana Jazz Festival to allow the expanded group to perform in front of the Cuban public. Steve rented a house in Havana in February 1996. He was joined by a group that included 10 musicians and dancers, as well as a film crew of three and AfroCuba de Matanzas, who had been bused from Matanzas. This collaboration was launched. The two groups met for 12 days to work, practice, and plan together in order achieve their goal. The musicians recorded their collaboration in an Egrem Studio in Havana after they performed at the Havana Jazz Festival. The recording of their efforts is preserved on a recording that was made by Steve Coleman and The Mystic Rhythm Society, in collaboration with AfroCuba de Matanzas. Coleman saw this project as an important step in his journey. Although it was another step in his musical evolution, Steve believes that being on the right path is what is most important. It also shows there is more to the connection between today’s creative music and the vibrant musical traditions of African peoples from different parts of the world. In June-July 1997, the combined group of Steve Coleman and AfroCuba de Matanzas toured extensively in Europe. Steve also formed a large band (or big band) called The Council of Balance and Steve Coleman. The group recorded a CD called Genesis, which was part of the two-CD set Genesis and The Opening of The Way that BMG France released. It featured Steve Coleman and Five Elements. The projects that involved cultural exchange with musicians from around the globe continued in 1997-1999. Partially funded through Arts International’s 1997 grant, Steve brought a group of musicians from America to Senegal to participate in cultural and musical exchanges with musicians from the local Senegalese band Sing Sing Rhythm. He also took his Five Elements group to India to participate in cultural exchanges with musicians from the Carnatic music traditions using his own funds. Steve and his group also participated in workshops at the Brahavadhi Centre, which was headed by Dr. K. Subramanian, a renowned musicologist. The knowledge that Steve gained on his trip to India, along with the research trip to Egypt in the previous month, helped to confirm the ancient systems that Steve had been studying. These trips provided the necessary information for Steve to continue his research, which he plans to use to create his own music. These studies are the direct result of two of Steve’s Five Elements recordings, The Sonic Language of Myth (1999), and The Ascension to Light (2000). This work was brought to the attention by IRCAM (the world-renowned computer-music research centre in Paris France), which led to Coleman being awarded a major commission by IRCAM to develop his ideas in interactive computer software at the IRCAM facilities, Paris, with the assistance of programmers Sukandar Kartadinata and Takahiko Suzuki as well as Gilbert Nouno, IRCAM technology, and Gilbert Nouno. This commission resulted in a premier concert featuring Steve Coleman and Five Elements interfacing with his Rameses 2000 computer program. Steve stopped performing and recording in 2000-2001, and began a sabbatical. During this period, he traveled extensively to India and Indonesia, Cuba, Cuba, and Brazil. He also continued his research at CNMAT (the Center for New Music and Technology) and at the University of California at Berkeley. He also restructured his business and signed with Label Bleu, a French record company. Coleman released a live CD set entitled Resistance Is Futile (2001), on Label Bleu Records after he returned to performing. Steve Coleman and Five Elements recorded Alternate Dimension Series I in 2002. It is free to download from Steve’s website On The Rising Of The 64 Paths, also recorded by Five Elements in 2002, is available on Steve’s website ( Lucidarium, also on Label Bleu Records, was recorded in 2003. Steve and his team explore the possibilities of an alternative tonal system and rhythmic system. This CD continues the spirit of experimentation and research that has characterized all his projects. Weaving symbolics, which was recorded in 2005, explores the worlds of form. Many of the most important parts of this activity, which began in January 1996, have been preserved in a documentary film by Eve-Marie Breglia. It is based on Steve’s music and the theme cultural transference. The film was scheduled to be released in 2004-05. Invisible Paths, Steve’s first solo saxophone album (on the Tzadik record label), was released in 2006. Harvesting Semblances and Affinities and The Mancy of Sound were also recorded at this time. However, these recordings were not released until 2010, and 2011, respectively, after Steve had signed a distribution agreement with Pi Recordings. These recordings are conceptually connected because they all deal with expanded orchestration and tonal concepts. This coincided with Steve’s 2006 meeting Per Norgard, a great Danish composer who had a significant influence on Steve’s orchestration ideas. Steve changed his approach in 2012 to create completely spontaneous compositions and then orchestrating them. Functional Arrhythmias, which was the first recording to employ this approach, involved spontaneously writing in a state of near-trance. This recording was also the first to use the cyclical movements of the human body. It was inspired by Steve’s conversations with Milford Graves, a percussionist, polymath, and modern shaman in 2011. Steve was on a 2013 study sabbatical and had a vision. He began to work on a 2-year project which culminated in Synovial Joints, a large ensemble recording (released April 28, 2015). The spontaneous composition approach was continued, but this time there was more orchestration. This approach was further developed in 2017’s Morphogenesis recording by Steve Coleman’s Natal Eclipse. A forthcoming recording by Steve Coleman and Five Elements is scheduled for release. It was recorded live at Village Vanguard in May 2017. Steve doesn’t view these concepts, groups and projects as distinct events. He views them as one continuous learning experience. Through his non-profit, M-Base Concepts, Inc., Steve has held a number of educational and performance residencies in the United States, as well as other countries (Cuba, India, Senegal, Brazil, France, Senegal, Senegal, Senegal, Senegal, Senegal, Senegal, Brazil, and Cuba) since 1994. The non-profit also hosts an online community site for music, which promotes education through interactive media events and multimedia formats. Visit

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