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Music Scores Big Hit with Hiring of Visionary Jazz Figure
Saxophonist and Musical Renaissance Man Steve Coleman Will Teach, Conduct Research

By Kathleen Maclay, Public Affairs
Posted February 16, 2000

Music has transported saxophonist Steve Coleman from Chicago to Ghana, Paris to Havana, Senegal to Brazil, Oakland to India. His latest stop: Berkeley, where this month he began teaching and conducting research.

Although Coleman, 42, teaches music improvisation and often is described as a jazz musician, he said in an interview from his new Oakland home that such labels are too limiting. He has broad musical interests and talents, which shine in his work as a cutting-edge performer, band leader, record producer and ethnomusicologist.

Coleman has performed with music greats such as Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Holland, Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Abbey Lincoln, Sam Rivers, Sarah Vaughn, Thad Jones, McCoy Tyner, Bobby McFerrin and Ray Brown. His reputation is especially strong in France and Germany.

And while he enjoys performing as a soloist, he also is a collaborator who thrives on working with people from many countries and cultures as he researches areas such as aboriginal music.

"Steve Coleman is an outstanding artist who is constantly expanding his aesthetic horizons," said Berkeley Music Professor Olly Wilson.

Wye Allanbrooke, chairman of the music department, praised Coleman when announcing his appointment to the tenure-track position after a lengthy, national search.

"Steve is just a thrilling teacher," she said. "He's also very much a visionary and a real believer in collaboration. He works with his group."

Coleman is dividing his time between the music department, where he does teaching and research, and his research at the Center for New Music and Audio Technology. The center is an interdisciplinary music department satellite program that explores links between music and technology.

Coleman said he repeatedly declined teaching offers at East Coast institutions, and that Berkeley's open approach to teaching and the opportunity to continue his research lured him West.

"I already have tons of writings on my computer," Coleman said. He said his research "involves a creative music from the perspective of my experiences. Ultimately, it involves mankind's relationship to the universe and who and what we are."

Coleman's rÈsumÈ reflects a wide and deep range of musical talents, interests and commitments:

  • Trained first to play the violin, he switched to the alto saxophone and later began to study improvisation.

  • He spent five weeks in Ghana studying the relationship of language to music and recorded "Def Trance Beat" and "A Tale of 3 Cities" when he returned to the United States.

  • In Cuba, Coleman explored the ways information from ancient African cultures is transmitted through music. He then performed at the Havana Jazz Festival with his own group in collaboration with the folkloric group AfroCuba de Matanzas.

  • With partial funding from Arts International, Coleman took a group of musicians from America and Cuba to Senegal in 1997 for a musical and cultural exchange with a Senegalese group called "Sing Sing Rhythm."

  • Coleman likes to participate in community outreach such as providing workshops, clinics and low-cost performances. He's offered free programs for musicians and rapper/lyricists in the Bay Area.

  • Some of Coleman's latest work centers around computer music and creation of computer models of ancestral memory and music.
"I'm not one of those people who shies away from technology," Coleman said. "A piano is a tool, a machine, as is the saxophone and the computer."


February 16 - 22, 2000 (Volume 28, Number 22)
Copyright 2000, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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