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.