Steve Coleman: A Master of Creative Musical Improvisation


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In his classic 1973 book “The Anxiety of Influence," the prodigious literary critic Harold Bloom argues that great poets define themselves through an Oedipal struggle in which they misread the work of their predecessors to find their own distinctive voice.

Maybe the collaborative nature of jazz serves as an antidote to anxiety, because the most creative improvisers embrace and build on their influences rather than symbolically killing them. And no jazz artist better embodies the way a powerful musical personality can nourish widely divergent approaches than alto saxophonist Steve Coleman, who performs with his band Five Elements on Sunday at the Triple Door.

Few of the players inspired by Coleman sound anything like him, but his conceptual rigor connects with Cuban drummer Dafnis Prieto, pianist Vijay Iyer and altoist Miguel Zenon (who recently became the youngest jazz musician ever awarded a MacArthur “Genius" Fellowship).

“Musicians are looking at the people who have the more personal concepts and ideas, stuff you can't get off the shelf," says Coleman, 52, downplaying his role as a jazz guru. “What happens is there are a lot of private get-togethers that the public never sees. Miguel is one of those guys.

“Even though we've only ever done two gigs, we've gotten together a lot."

As Coleman sees it, he's just part of a process that's been going on in jazz since the beginning. Born and raised on Chicago's South Side, he started playing the alto in his midteens and grew up in thrall to the great Parker altoists, Charlie and Maceo.

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This story appears courtesy of Seattle Jazz Scene.
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