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George Coleman

George Coleman is an NEA Jazz Master 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.

Growing up in Memphis’ rich musical environment of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, alongside such notables as Booker Little, Harold Mabern, Frank Strozier, Jamil Nasser, Hank Crawford, Phineas Newborn Jr., and blues immortal B.B. King, Coleman began to teach himself to play the alto saxophone in 1950, upon being profoundly affected by the music of Charlie Parker.

So prodigious was his talent that George was soon performing locally and in 1952, at the age of 17, was invited to tour with B.B. King after the guitarist heard him in a local club. Coleman spent three more years on the vibrant Memphis scene, expanding his musical knowledge through his associations and influences, and writing for popular artists including the Moonglows and Ray Charles.

In 1955 he rejoined B.B.’s band, but this time on tenor sax, which would become his primary horn from that point on.

In 1956 George moved to Chicago, along with Booker Little. The bustling jazz scene brought him together with local heavyweights like Gene Ammons, Johnny Griffin, John Gilmore and Ira Sullivan, and he joined Walter Perkins’ group, The MJT + 3. When Max Roach heard George with this unit in 1958, he invited him to join his own quartet featuring Kenny Dorham on trumpet.

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