George Coleman | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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George Coleman


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Recording infrequently and devoting much of his energy to private teaching, saxophonist George Coleman dropped below most jazz fans' radar for much of the 80s and 90s--despite the fact that so many younger musicians during that period concerned themselves with lionizing the elders who'd laid the groundwork for the hard-bop mainstream of the 60s. For a short stretch in 1963 and '64, Coleman's fluttery yet virile tenor played the foil to Miles Davis's laconic, hypersensitized horn in the trumpeter's legendary quintet--but he was in the unenviable position of following John Coltrane and preceding Wayne Shorter in that role, and those two extraordinary musical forces have greatly overshadowed him in jazz history. Coleman appears on two of Davis's great albums from that period, however: Four and More and a live recording from the '63 Antibes Jazz Festival, released under various titles. And he authored the iconic and indelible solos on Herbie Hancock's 1964 classic Maiden Voyage--solos that, along with important recordings by Shorter and Joe Henderson, came to define the post-Coltrane school of mainstream tenor playing. With his unimpeachable technique and breath control, Coleman could create impossibly fluid slipstream melodies, which influenced the work of better-known players like George Adams and Charles Lloyd. And he still can: recent evidence includes his playing with his long-running octet on the 2000 album Danger High Voltage (Two and Four), his guest appearances with pianist Ahmad Jamal, and his 1991 release My Horns of Plenty (Verve). That last title refers to Coleman's impressive expertise on alto and soprano saxes, but at heart--and to my ears--he's a tenor player first and foremost, completely at home with the instrument's swaggering image and in full command of its throaty power and intimidating range. Friday and Saturday, July 19 and 20, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, July 21, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.

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