Passed over, again, for a MacArthur “genius” grant? Me, too. This guy, though, has reason—625,000 reasons—to celebrate.
Steve Coleman and Five Elements,* live, Switzerland (Cully Jazz Festival), 2013
Steve Coleman took up the alto saxophone when he was a freshman at South Shore High School and within a few years inevitably was drawn into the orbit of one of Chicago’s greatest jazzmen: Von Freeman.
It was Freeman, a tenor saxophone giant who died two years ago at age 88, who welcomed Coleman into the rigors of the jazz life, setting him on a course that has led to Coleman winning one of America’s most prestigious and lucrative arts awards, a MacArthur Fellowship. Like each recipient, Coleman will receive a total of $625,000, dispensed quarterly over the next five years, from the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
“I realized that (Freeman) is a major player, and he’s right here in the neighborhood,” recalls Coleman, who lives in Allentown, Pa., but always has considered himself a product of musical Chicago.
“He’s somebody I consider one of my mentors, but the rest of the city too. There were a lot of local players I was into,” adds Coleman, citing especially altoist Bunky Green. “Even the blues scene. I’d go to Theresa’s and the Checkerboard — everything about the city influenced me, but mainly the South Side.”
*SC (1957-), alto saxophone; Jonathan Finlayson, trumpet; Anthony Tidd, bass; Sean Rickman, drums.