George Coleman, Kenny Barron
January 1, 1970The main item this week was yesterday's profile of saxophonist George Coleman, though there was also a Calendar item on Kenny Barron — who'd had a full-fledged profile in the Arts section of the Globe the Friday before.
My apologies for the large number of typos in last weekend's martini-fueled newsletter, which have since been cleaned up in the archive. Those, needless to say, cannot be blamed on my mother-in-law.
There is not a lot of bonus material to add to this week's newsletter beyond the fact that Kenny Barron and his band were terrific at Regattabar last night, and that I'll be catching George Coleman at Scullers tonight.
One amusing anecdote did get snipped from the Coleman story in the Globe for space reasons, though, so I may as well recount it here. During Coleman's year or so in Miles Davis's quintet, Davis was suffering from hip problems that frequently caused him to skip a set and have Coleman front the band alone. This sometimes led to confusion, according to Coleman.
"There would be instances," he told me, "where I would be at the club and people would be coming to me and saying, 'Oh, Mr. Davis, you're so wonderful.' They didn't know that Miles Davis was a diminutive guy who played trumpet, not a 240-pound saxophone player. This used to happen quite frequently at the Vanguard."
The rest of the Coleman story follows.
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After a decade, a bebop master returns to Boston
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | January 14, 2005
George Coleman is a meat-and-potatoes type of bebop master and an unsung hero of the tenor saxophone. He has always thrived staying within a composition's harmonic structure, preferring to explore a song's chord progressions rather than play outside them. It's a stance that shortened the highest-profile gig of his career four decades ago, but one he has stubbornly stuck to nonetheless.
Two superb opportunities to witness that approach are coming up over the next couple of weeks. Coleman, who turns 70 in March and considers himself semiretired, will perform in Boston for the first time in well over a decade when he brings a quartet rounded out by pianist Harold Mabern, bassist John Webber, and drummer Joe Farnsworth to Scullers tonight and tomorrow. And on Feb. 1, Sony/Columbia will rerelease the classic 1964 album "My Funny Valentine: Miles Davis in Concert."
Coleman has had a quietly distinguished career fronting his own bands since leaving Davis's quintet. In fact, he'd already been making good progress by the time Davis hired him in early 1963. (He'd hit the road with B.B. King as a teenager, switching from alto to tenor sax in the process.)
But the time Coleman logged with Davis (just over a year) remains the saxophonist's most visible stretch in the limelight. Sometimes a little too visible for Coleman's taste, another factor precipitating his departure from what would soon evolve into Davis's second great quintet.
Davis had a bad hip in those days, and whenever the pain caused him to skip a set, Coleman would find himself fronting that soon-to-be legendary rhythm section of Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Tony Williams on drums.
Coleman disliked the pressure, which largely involved keeping his younger, more experimentally minded bandmates from straying too far from the Davis songbook. That role led the others to dismiss him as insufficiently hip.
Coleman was in his late 20s by this time, several years older than the others (the youngest, Williams, was then 18), and he was far less enamored of the freer approaches to improvisation of saxophonists such as Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy. Eventually, he got tired of the "snotty-nosed kids" in the rhythm section mocking him, and he decided to do something about it at a club date in San Francisco.
Davis played the melody and his solo on a "fast blues in F," probably "Walking," says Coleman, "and then he got off the stand and went to the bar to have his champagne, which he had basically every night. When it came time for me to play, I stepped out, man, and I played some stuff that was so strange. 'Strange' because it was uncharacteristic of the way I played, because I was always playing changes and playing right on the beat, and playing with good time and good harmony. But this time I started playing some real out stuff.
"So after I finished playing my solo, [Davis] rushed up to the bandstand and said, 'Man, what the hell was that?' And all the other guys that had been turning up their noses, they looked at me and said, 'Yeah. Yeaaah.' Including old stiff Ron Carter. All of them. Tony, who was supposedly my nemesis, even he said, "Yeaaah."
But, adds Coleman, it was the one and only time he played that way. "I went right back to playing old bebop with the changes and everything," he says. "But I had stressed the point to them [that I could play that way]. And after that they kind of left me alone."
More than that, Hancock hired Coleman for Hancock's great album "Maiden Voyage" the next year. Much later, says Coleman, "Herbie came to me one night and said, 'You know, Miles used to say, "Man, why don't you play those same changes behind me that you play behind George?"' So he [Davis] was really interested in that basic stuff, too."
Coleman remains so. "I play a little bit of outside stuff now that I've become seasoned," he says, "because I figure that I have the credentials to be able to do it."
Mabern says Coleman's improvising still surprises him nonetheless, even after a half-century of their adhering to bebop basics together.
"Avant-garde is the easiest thing to play," says Mabern. "I'm not knocking the cats [who play it], but believe me, [a] 2-5-1 [chord progression] is the hardest thing to play. See, that's Charlie Parker. And when you can play 2-5-1 and hook up and play on top of that, hey, that's hard to do."
George Coleman will perform tonight and tomorrow at Scullers, two sets nightly at 8 and 10:30. $18. Call 617-562-4111.
Business as usual: There is no need to worry that last week's announced purchase of the DoubleTree Guest Suites Hotel by Harvard University will spell a quick end to Scullers, the 200-seat jazz club housed by the hotel.
"It's continuing business as usual for the foreseeable future," says Fred Taylor, who has booked the music at Scullers throughout the club's 15-year existence. "We'll just continue what we're doing until we hear otherwise. I would say it's probably going to be several years before any kind of news or plans come down."
Until then, the hotel itself will continue to be managed by Hilton Hotels, and Taylor will continue booking acts with a free hand. "I'm looking at stuff in the fall right now," he says. Taylor, who ran the Boylston Street clubs Paul's Mall and Jazz Workshop between 1963 and 1978, says he's not sure whether he'll look for a new venue for Scullers if and when Harvard does decide to tell it to move on.
"You know, I don't even like thinking about it," he says, "because there's nothing you can do about it now anyway. And I find it's better off to make plans when you have specific information. Who knows what the future is going to be a few years from now."
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Calendar Jazz Picks
Kenny Barron Quintet featuring Stefon Harris
Regattabar, Charles Hotel, One Bennett St., Cambridge. 617-395-7757. 7:30 and 10 p.m. $25. Repeats Saturday.
Kenny Barron (left) is one of those quietly masterful musicians. Like his elders Hank Jones and the late Tommy Flanagan, or the younger Bill Charlap, Barron's brilliance calls less attention to itself than that of, say, McCoy Tyner or Keith Jarrett. This weekend he brings a quintet of young protégés to the Regattabar. Vibraphonist Stefon Harris has already made a name for himself as a composer and soloist via his CDs "Grand Unification Theory" and "Evolution." Bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa has served ably as a sideman to Jimmy Heath, Makoto Ozone, Andy Bey, and others. And newcomers Anne Drummond and Kim Thompson, both recent graduates of Manhattan School of Music (one of two schools where Barron himself teaches, the other being Juilliard), are fast-rising talents on flute and drums, respectively. The group's 2004 CD, "Images," is worth checking out, too, in part for that pleasingly unconventional front line of flute and vibes.
1/14 & 1/15: George Coleman He held the tenor sax chair in Miles Davis's quintet until Wayne Shorter replaced him, and Coleman remains a great player in his own right. Scullers, DoubleTree Hotels Guest Suites, 400 Soldiers Road, Boston. 617-562-4111. 8 and 10:30 p.m. Ticket only, $18; dinner/show, $56.