Harold Mabern and George Coleman in an homage to Memphis Jazz on October 16th 2012.
Coleman taught himself to play the alto saxophone in his teens, inspired (like many jazz musicians of his generation) by Charlie Parker. Among his schoolmates were Harold Mabern, Booker Little, Frank Strozier, Hank Crawford and Charles Lloyd. [Vladimir, Bogdanov. "All Music Guide to the Blues: The Definitive Guide to the Blues", Backbeat Books, page 133, (2003) - ISBN 0879307366] After working with Ray Charles, B.B. King hired Coleman in 1953-1955. In 1956 George moved to Chicago, along with Booker Little, where he worked with Gene Ammons and Johnny Griffin before joining Max Roach Quintet 1958-1959. Coleman recorded with organist Jimmy Smith's "Houseparty" (1957), with Curtis Fuller, Eddie McFadden, Kenny Burrell, and Donald Bailey. Moving to New York with Max Roach in that year, he went on to play with Slide Hampton (1959-1962), Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb, and Wild Bill Davis (1962), before joining Miles Davis Quintet in 1963-1964.
No tenor saxophonist better epitomizes the robust muscularity of that heavyweight instrument of jazz expression than George Coleman. With brilliant technique and a deeply soulful tone firmly rooted in his hometown of Memphis, George has performed with many of jazz’ most legendary figures and influenced countless saxophonists during his half century in music.
A winner of numerous honors and awards, Coleman has twice been presented the Key to the City in his hometown, and in 1997 received the Jazz Foundation of America’s Life Achievement Award.
Despite his seemingly overwhelming schedule and commitments in jazz, Coleman has amassed formidable credits outside that scene as well.
Working briefly in the ‘60s with the outspoken and courageous actor/activist couple, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis marked an area of interest that would remain with him in the ensuing years. George performed on the soundtrack and appeared in Sweet Love, Bitter – the intriguing and disturbing 1967 film featuring Dick Gregory, based somewhat on the life of the idol of George’s youth, Charlie Parker. And he also appeared in Freejack, the 1992 science-fiction film with Emilio Estevez, Mick Jagger and Anthony Hopkins; and 1996’s Preacher’s Wife with Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston. He was also featured on the soundtrack of Spike Lee’s first film Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads.