music clip of the day


Tag: Steve Coleman

Monday, November 2nd

Hop on this train; you won’t want to get off.

Steve Coleman and Five Elements (Steve Coleman, alto saxophone; Jen Shyu, vocals; Jonathan Finlayson, trumpet; Tim Albright, trombone; Reggie Washington, bass; Tyshawn Sorey, drums), live (performance begins at 2:10), France (Amiens), 2005




random sights

other day, Oak Park, Ill.


reading table

gathering dewdrops—
each one
the life of a daughter

—Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), translated from Japanese by David G. Lanoue

Wednesday, April 11th

what’s new

Dafnis Prieto Big Band (DP [drums, compositions], Peter Apfelbaum [saxophones, melodica], et al.), Back to the Sunset (with guests Henry Threadgill [alto saxophone; MCOTD Hall of Fame], Steve Coleman [alto saxophone], Brian Lynch [trumpet]), released 4/6/18




random sights

yesterday, Oak Park, Ill.

Thursday, September 18th

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.”

Chicago Tribune, 9/16/14

*SC (1957-), alto saxophone; Jonathan Finlayson, trumpet; Anthony Tidd, bass; Sean Rickman, drums.

Thursday, 8/30/12

playing this weekend at the Chicago Jazz Festival

Matt Wilson’s Arts & Crafts* (Sunday, 3:30 p.m.)
“We See” (T. Monk), live, New York, 2011

(Paul Motian, this guy—drummers seem to have a particular feeling for Monk.)


Steve Coleman and Five Elements** (Sunday, 7:10 p.m.)
Live, New York, 2010


Ken Vandermark’s Made To Break Quartet*** (Sunday, 2:20 p.m.)
Live, Barcelona, 2011


*MW, drums; Terell Stafford, trumpet; Gary Versace, piano; Martin Wind, bass.

**SC, alto saxophone; Jonathan Finlayson, trumpet; Tim Albright, trombone; Miles Okazaki, guitar; David Virelles, piano; Thomas Morgan, bass; Marcus Gilmore, drums.

***KV, reeds; Christof Kurzmann, electronics; Devin Hoff, bass; Tim Daisy, drums.

Monday, 2/6/12

A lot of trumpet players try to bowl you over. This guy, whose last album appeared on many year-end top-10 lists (When the Heart Emerges Glistening, Blue Note), does something different. He gets under your skin.

Ambrose Akinmusire (ah-kin-MOO-sir-ee) Quintet (AA, trumpet; Walter Smith III, tenor saxophone; Fabian Almazan, piano; Harish Ragavan, bass; Justin Brown, drums); live, New York (Jazz Standard), 2011

Part 1


Part 2


Part 3


Part 4



musical thoughts

Everything you don’t love, make sure that’s not in your playing.

Steve Coleman (saxophonist, composer, bandleader) to Ambrose Akinmusire



Wislawa Szymborska (vees-WAH-vah shim-BOR-ska), poet
July 2, 1923-February 1, 2012

The world—whatever we might think when terrified by its vastness and our own impotence, or embittered by its indifference to individual suffering, of people, animals, and perhaps even plants, for why are we so sure that plants feel no pain; whatever we might think of its expanses pierced by the rays of stars surrounded by planets we’ve just begun to discover, planets already dead? still dead? we just don’t know; whatever we might think of this measureless theater to which we’ve got reserved tickets, but tickets whose lifespan is laughably short, bounded as it is by two arbitrary dates; whatever else we might think of this world—it is astonishing.

But “astonishing” is an epithet concealing a logical trap. We’re astonished, after all, by things that deviate from some well-known and universally acknowledged norm, from an obviousness we’ve grown accustomed to. Now the point is, there is no such obvious world. Our astonishment exists per se and isn’t based on comparison with something else.

Granted, in daily speech, where we don’t stop to consider every word, we all use phrases like “the ordinary world,” “ordinary life,” “the ordinary course of events” . . . But in the language of poetry, where every word is weighed, nothing is usual or normal. Not a single stone and not a single cloud above it. Not a single day and not a single night after it. And above all, not a single existence, not anyone’s existence in this world.

—Wislawa Szymborska, Nobel Lecture (excerpt, translated from Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh), 12/7/96

More Szymborska? Here. And here. And here. And here.

Until 1996, when she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, I’d never heard of her. Since then I’ve read virtually everything of hers that’s appeared in translation. How much does she mean to me? Well, she’s one of two charter members (the other’s saxophonist Von Freemanof the ultra-exclusive MCOTD Hall of Fame.

Tuesday, 3/1/11

More Von

The other night, during a performance and interview at the University of Chicago, he seemed, at times, a bit frail. He’s nearing 90 and was recently in the hospital. But what I said a while back still holds true: no tenor player moves me more.

Von Freeman (tenor saxophone, with Mike Allemena, guitar; Matt Ferguson, bass; Michael Raynor, drums), “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” live, Chicago (Mandel Hall, University of Chicago), 2/24/11

Vodpod videos no longer available.

More? Here. And here. And here.



better late, etc.

The University of Chicago recently awarded Von the Rosenberger Medal, which “was established in 1917 . . . [and recognizes] achievement through research, in authorship, in invention, for discovery, for unusual public service, or for anything deemed of great benefit to humanity.” Past recipients include Toni Morrison, Pierre Boulez, and Frederick Wiseman.


musical thoughts

It takes years to explain those vibrational things in verbal language. And it still might not work. One time I asked Von Freeman about his voice-leading in harmony, he’s the master of that shit. I asked him, “How did you learn that shit? You’re so fluent at it.” And he said, “Well, you know, I sat down one day and I said, let me look at this thing.” He said, “I began with one tone. I studied one tone. And I studied all that I could study about one tone.” When these old guys talk, you don’t ask too many questions. You pretty much just listen to what they say. And so, I didn’t know what he meant, but I just listened. And he said, “I worked on that for a long time, you know, for months. Just seeing what could be done with one tone. When I felt pretty good about that, I moved on to two tones. That was a bit harder. I worked a lot longer, but I worked and saw all that I could do with two tones. Then I moved to three tones, and so on. After I went on for a while I realized that you can pretty much do everything that you need to do with two tones.” That’s what he told me. I spent years thinking about this shit. Years. I’m still thinking about it, you know. I feel like I have a better handle on knowing what he meant now than then, although it is not a simple thing to explain. And when I tell the story to somebody playing in my group or something, and they ask me, “What did he mean?” it takes me literally years to explain what I think he means. And I’m sure I only have part of what he means. What it means to me. Some things, you have to explain them with a million examples over a period of time. The meaning dawns on a person and when they have to explain it it’s funny. We live in this McDonald’s type society where everybody thinks everything is just quick. It’s not like that. You have to actually build the understanding, slowly over time. So this thing that Von Freeman explained to me, it sounds like a very simple thing, but it really doesn’t make any sense at all without the experience. It’s maybe fifteen years ago that he told me, and I found it to be absolutely true. I could never explain it in one day, or in a lecture over an hour.

Steve Coleman (whose latest album was named one of the year’s ten best in the 2010 Village Voice Jazz Critics’ Poll)


my back pages

No other musician, in any genre, has meant so much to me in so many ways for so many years. I first heard Von in the mid-70s, when I was in my twenties (and working for Alligator Records) and he was in his fifties. The setting, coincidentally, was the University of Chicago; he opened for Cecil Taylor. I got to know him and booked a few shows for him. In 1977, when I got married, he and pianist John Young played at our wedding ceremony. Later, when I was reviewing live jazz, I wrote a piece about him for the Chicago Reader. Over the last three decades, I’ve listened, avidly, to his growing catalog of albums and seen him live more times than I could count. He is now an old man. And I am getting there.

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