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Steve Coleman: - Music is a sonic expression of who we are

Musicians' Corner meets Steve Coleman

Steve Coleman

An article with Steve Coleman Photo: Tracy Collins

Music is just a sonic expression of me – of us – who are playing it. I usually play in a group, and then music is a sonic expression of us in the group. It’s an expression of what we are interested in, and of what we like and don’t like – cosmically, spiritually politically, nutritionally etc. It’s an expression of what’s going on. Everything that we are – that’s what music is to me. It’s the same way that Charlie Parker would describe it. I have heard that generation express this the same way: Music is an expression of what we see. Someone from Germany doesn’t see the same things as someone from Mississippi. And even with modern technology actually being somewhere physically is going to be a lot different to having international contacts on your phone.

I was born in Chicago, and so that’s a part of what I see that I can’t escape. I had no choice there – I have my roots there. It has had a huge influence on my life. It has a strong blues scene, a strong rhythm and blues scene, a strong jazz scene, and it’s a very segregated town. I didn’t know anybody white until I was 18, and I didn’t realize how segregated Chicago was until I left.

Steve Coleman and Five Elements

I have traveled a lot, and it was something that I always wanted to do. I wanted to travel from the beginning, but I had no resources then. I got into music professionally in 1977-78, and in 1993 I was able to travel the way I wanted to. Traveling isn’t about places to me, but about cultures. It’s about how people interact with music in different cultures and express their ideas. My travels were not about doing gigs in these places. They usually didn’t have the infrastructure to set a tour up.

We are not trying to recreate music from the past or from other places. That is not what it is about ever. We are trying to express our culture today and our problems today, but we have a tradition and a history doing that.

People tend to hear things from the past a lot. They want to hear what they are familiar with. This has always been true, and I was told about this early on in my career: - If you want to be creative you will be underground.

On my path I have played with top big bands. For that you have to read music well, blend well, and play different instruments. I didn’t want to play different instruments. Then they ask you if you want the job or not, and you want the job. I learnt a lot working with big bands, and with Thad Jones especially. I also for example worked with David Murray’s big band, and with Murray’s octet too. Murray is a very strong individual with strong opinions, and I learnt confidence from him.

I worked a lot with computer software, but there are many ways of using computers, and even though computers are present everywhere in music now, nobody is doing the same thing as me yet. I programmed software to improvise. It was a form of AI you could say. I learnt a lot from George Lewis in this area.

Steve Coleman and boxer Sadam Ali

I am about to embark on a tour of Europe with a new version of my band, including alto, trumpet and an MC – who is not your normal MC. We do not play hip hop, even though the media sometimes says so. We recently did a recording at the Village Vanguard, which will be released next year, as the second volume in a series of recording from the Village Vanguard. The first one, recorded last year, is about to be released in 2018.  We will be touring Europe several times this year, as well as South America and the US.

Steve Coleman is a saxophonist, band leader and composer, who is also known for his musical software work. On his path he has been a member of big bands, such as the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, and collaborated with  artists such as Cassandra Wilson and David Murray. He and his band Five Elements have an extensive catalogue to their names.


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How it first began...

   How do people first connect with music? Discover how. This is what a few of the contributors to this site said on this topic.

   When you read it you might realize that two of the most important people in this perspective could very well be our parents... And it may just be some food for thought to those out there who are parents to young children now, when music might have taken a back seat to other things that go on in their homes.

T.K. Blue

TK Blue:
 - There were several factors that influenced my early attraction to the saxophone. I used to listen to James Brown as a teenager and I love Maceo Parker on alto sax. I used to pretend that I was playing those sax solos with “The Godfather of Soul”.

Kris Bowers

Kris Bowers:
 - My parents got me started in music. They aren’t musicians, but they put me in lessons when I was 4 or 5. They let me try other things as well besides music.

Lige Curry

Lige Curry:
 - When you are a kid you are trying to figure it out. I had relatives who thought that I should get into sports and others who thought I should be a doctor. But my auntie, one of my mother’s sisters, got me a toy guitar and she was right. I started playing with it like I did with the rest of my toys, but the guitar was more interesting.

Joey DeFrancesco

Joey DeFrancesco:
 - It definitely meant a lot that I grew up in a musical family – it’s why I play music! It is also why I play the organ. I got the love for it at home. If I hadn’t been around it I wouldn’t have known about it.

Jennifer Johns

Jennifer Johns:
 - My parents say that I was singing before I could speak. As a child I sang with my dad, who was my first voice-coach.

Steven Kroon

Steven Kroon:
 - At a very early age I became paralized by the music on the radio. My older brother Bobby started playing before me, and I chose to follow in his footsteps. He was a great inspiration to me and my first mentor.
When our parents discovered that we wanted to play musical instruments, they went and bought us our first drums, and were happy to let us practice in the basement.
I often tell people that music chose me. I felt like lightening struck me the first time I heard music coming out of the radio. From then on it was love at first sight.

David Murray

David Murray:
 - Music was always in front if me.  My mother was a pianist and the director of music in a church, where she played the organ and piano, and directed the choir. My father played the guitar. I started taking piano lessons at five years old, for a local piano teacher. I started playing saxophone at nine. My brother played the clarinet by then.

Bria Skonberg

Bria Skonberg:
 - My family were supporters of music, and there were musical instruments around the house. My brother played the fiddle. I picked up the trumpet in 7th grade, and then I joined the school band.

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The top 15 most liked articles on Musicians' Corner - to date !

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Find out which articles were the most popular to date

Here at Musicians' Corner we normally keep the "Like"-buttons static. But they are getting a lot of clicks, and today it is time to lift the veil on the 15 articles that got the most clicks to date! David Murray remembering Butch Morris made the list. Check out which other articles did! And we really want to thank our readers for your many visits and your awesome music-love!
















The story continues...!

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David Murray: - These days perhaps five percent of the artists have talent

David Murray with his saxophone

Music was always in front if me.  My mother was a pianist and the director of music in a church, where she played the organ and piano, and directed the choir. My father played the guitar. I started taking piano lessons at five years old, for a local piano teacher. I started playing saxophone at nine. My brother played the clarinet by then.

I always knew that music was going to be my profession. It was a matter of getting sports out of my system. My friends played sports, so I did too, and I let it run its course. My special friend was the saxophone, and some of my friends were jealous and wanted to be musicians too. It lead me to college, it got me a state scholarship because I was gifted, it lead me to New York for independent studies. I didn’t graduate, but forty years later I was awarded a doctor’s degree in music. My kids joke about it, joke about how it took me forty years to finish my education.
I am preparing to go back to New York after many years in Paris. It’s not a change, it’s an expansion. I have accomplished what I can over here in Europe.

David Murray Infinity Quartet featuring Saul Williams

I will be working with a trio with Terri Lyne Carrington and Geri Allen, and also with my quartet. The big band is on hold until I’m back in the flow, but I’ll be playing Mondays in the clubs. I’ll be coming back to the big band. I have done it for decades. I played in Cuba and Japan with the big band. And people want the big band but they don’t want to pay for it. They start economizing with cheap flights and cheap hotels.

David Murray

There are so many types of great artists, but many people don’t have any talent at all. These days it’s perhaps five percent of the artists who have talent. Anybody can imitate a musician. If you say “Meet me at twelve, bring your score and I’ll bring mine”, they want you to listen to tapes. Very few are talented. It’s riff raffers all around. People used to hand out business cards, then they started handing out CDs. It’s why I left New York. You were chosen to make a record, now you choose yourself. I am glad that music picked me. I have made two hundred records. I was given the Guggenheim Award and many other accolades. I can’t live on them, but I am proud over what I have accomplished. However I’m only as good as my latest solo.

David Murray Big Band featuring Macy Gray

There is a duplicity in music. People say “We don’t want to play jazz anymore” and then they loop a jazz record and kid around. In twenty years it’s going to sound pretty crap. You walk into a store and there is a loop of something going around in there, and long after you left it’s still going around like a bat in your head. And everybody plays gigs with a funky tune at the end so that the crowd goes home happy.

David Murray is a Grammy Award-winning artist, who has had a successful career in Music since the 70'ies. Find out more HERE.

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David Murray remembers Butch Morris

David Murray

I met Butch when I was 17, in Pomona California. I was about to go to college. I think that he had been in the service and had come back. At that time he was playing the cornet. Not sure that he was conducting yet. We played together several times but my career was largely separate from his.

When he started conducting it opened up a new world for him. He really got his presence in the music through conducting. He used a lot of different hand signals. It was a very creative way of treating big band music. He would take a riff out of a solo and make the band play it. He would lift out a certain rhythm, designate certain notes to players, etc. It all went on in the air, he made an arrangement there, and he kept the music fresh.


Lawrence D. "Butch" Morris' "Conduction No 192 Possible Universe" at Sant'Anna Arresi Jazz Festival 2010


Sant'Anna Arresi Jazz Festival has released (2015) a limited edition (1000 copies) recording of the performance ''Possible Universe conducition 192 August 29th 2010'' by Lawrence D. "Butch" Morris, featuring David Murray, Evan Parker, Pasquale Innarella, Greg Ward, Joe Bowie, Tony Cattano, Meg Montgomery, Riccardo Pittau, Jean-Paul Bourelly, On Ka'a Davis, Harrison Bankhead, Silvia Bolognesi, Chad Taylor, Hamid Drake and Alan Silva.

 'Possible Universe' at Sant'Anna Arresi Jazz Festival

 'Possible Universe' at Sant'Anna Arresi Jazz Festival

Find out more about David Murray HERE.
Find out more about Lawrence D. "Butch" Morris, February 10, 1947 - January 29, 2013, HERE.

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