M-Base Pioneer Saxophonist: The Genius Steve Coleman

Written By Sonny Akbar Sembada

Hi, my name is Sonny Akbar Sembada and I welcome you to my blog, The Uncle Jazz. The main topic of my blog is everything related to jazz music.. 

M-Base pioneer saxophonist Steve Coleman‘s musical journey didn’t kick off with the saxophone. Nope, he initially dabbled in the violin, but in the same year, he made a rebellious switch to the alto saxophone.

Three years of mastering the basics and saxophone tricks, and then he decided he wanted in on the improvisation action.

M-Base Pioneer Saxophonist Steve Coleman

So, what sparked Steve’s love for improvisation? It all began with his quest to find the coolest cats in the improvisation game. Charlie Parker was his main jam, with a little nudge from his dad, a die-hard Parker fan. After a couple of years at Illinois Wesleyan University, Steve said, “Later, gator!” and headed to Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago. Why? To soak in the musical goodness of Chicago’s nightlife, of course.

Early Days and Chicago Vibes

He hung out with Chicago’s saxophone legends – Von Freeman, Bunky Green, Gido Sinclair, Sonny Greer, and the crew. Learning the ropes and chilling with these jazz OGs was all in a day’s work.

Early Days and Chicago Vibes
image source: facebook.com/mbaseconcepts

Big Apple Dreams and M-Base Movement

Fast forward to ’78, and Steve packed his bags for New York. Crashing at the YMCA in Manhattan for a bit, he snagged a gig with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band. That opened doors to playing with the Sam Rivers Big Band, Cecil Taylor’s Big Band, and more.

But here’s the cool part – M-Base Pioneer Saxophonist Steve didn’t just want to play with the big shots; he wanted to soak up the vibes of the city. He dug the sounds of Max Roach, Art Blakey, Woody Shaw, and other New York jazz legends. He knew that’s where the magic happened, musically speaking.

Youtube video by M-Base Concepts

Street Beats and M-Base Grooves

Now, paying the bills was no joke. For the next four years, Steve hit the streets of New York, playing with a small change in his pocket. He teamed up with trumpeter Graham Haynes, and that crew became known as Steve Coleman and Five Elements.

In this crew, they cooked up a unique improvisational style with looping patterns. Steve joined forces with other cool cats like Cassandra Wilson and Greg Osby, and boom! M-Base was born.

M-Base? It’s short for “macro-basic array of structured extemporization.” Fancy, huh? But basically, it’s all about structured jamming without the jazz clichés. No “neo-classical jazz,” no random fusion, just pure, unadulterated musical creativity.

Read also: Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers Alumni: Geoffrey Keezer

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