A masterful improviser with an ear for both blues-informed lyricism and adventurous harmonics, saxophonist, composer, arranger, and educator George Coleman is one of the most respected musicians to emerge out of the hard-bop era. A Memphis native known for his adept speed and big, warm tone, Coleman first came to prominence playing with drummer Max Roach's quintet. Later, he achieved fame as a member of Miles Davis' quintet in the early '60s. After ceding his place in Davis' group to Wayne Shorter, Coleman carved out his own distinctive place in the jazz pantheon, and as a bandleader in his own right.
Around this time, Coleman caught the ear of drummer Roach, who invited him to join his ensemble. Coleman moved to New York, as did Little, who soon became part of the group as well, replacing trumpeter Kenny Dorham. Together, the Memphis pair appeared on several of Roach's albums including Max Roach + 4 at Newport (1958), Award-Winning Drummer (1958), and The Many Sides of Max (1959). In 1959, Coleman left Roach to join trombonist Slide Hampton's octet. He spent two years with Hampton, touring Europe and developing his composing and arranging skills, a formative period that would later influence the sound of his own octet.
In the '80s, Coleman kept a busy live schedule, often appearing with a small group featuring his longtime collaborator pianist Harold Mabern or with his larger octet. He released several more albums including Manhattan Panorama (1985) and At Yoshi's (1987). Also in the '80s, he started teaching more regularly, both privately and on the university level, where he began leading workshops and masterclasses around the country.
In 2000, he re-formed his octet for Danger High Voltage. Two years later, he joined several Davis band alumni, including bassist Ron Carter, for the concert tribute album Four Generations of Miles. Arriving in 2014, Down for the Count found him paired with guitarist John Webber. The following year, Coleman's many achievements as a performer and educator were recognized when he was named an NEA Jazz Master along with longtime Memphis cohort Charles Lloyd. In 2016, he delivered A Master Speaks, recorded live at Smoke in N.Y.C. ~ Matt Collar