Steve Coleman was born on born September 20, 1956 in Chicago, Illinois and grew up in the musically rich Southside. As a child, he was in little singing groups, imitating the Jackson 5, singing in church and he started playing alto saxophone at the age of 14. About three years later he began to study the music of Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane and other masters.
He spent two years at Illinois Wesleyan University, transferred to Roosevelt University to concentrate on Chicago’s musical nightlife, having been introduced to Chicago premier saxophonists Von Freeman, Bunky Green and Sonny Stitt are just a few names from whom he learned.
Moving to New York in 1978 he joined the big bands of Thad Jones/Mel Lewis, Slide Hampton, Sam Rivers, and Cecil Taylor and was soon recording as a sideman with David Murray, Doug Hammond, Dave Holland, Mike Brecker and Abbey Lincoln. During this period he was playing the club circuit and putting a band together that would evolve into the Five Elements. He would go on to cofound the M Base movement with Cassandra Wilson and Greg Osby.
Influenced by Parker and Coltrane, gleaning improvisation from Von Freeman, composition from Sam Rivers and conceptual thinking from Doug Hammond, the alto saxophonist has added to his arsenal West African music, non-western cultures, Black American rhythm and blues and even nature by studying the flight patterns of bees. Steve Coleman continues to perform, record and tour and compose within the construct of contemporary jazz.
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Oliver Lake was born in Marianna, Arkansas on September 14, 1942 but was raised in St. Louis, Missouri. He began playing percussion followed by alto saxophone. His piercing, bluesy, biting sound is his trademark and his explosive unpredictable solos are akin to Eric Dolphy.
During the 1960s Oliver taught school, worked in several contexts around St. Louis and led along with Julius Hemphill and Charles “Bobo” Shaw, BAG, the Black Artists Group.
In 1972 Lake moved to Paris for two years working with his colleagues from BAG, returned to New York and immersed himself into the then burgeoning jazz loft scene.
By 1977 he co-founded the World Saxophone Quartet with David Murray, Julius Hemphill and Hamiet Bluiett. Over the next two decades the group crossed over to new audiences, in part, due to their late 80s albums of Ellington and popular R&B tunes. Lake has recorded for Freedom, Black Saint, and Black Lion, Novus, Gramavision, Blue Heron Gazell, Soul Note and other record labels.
Oliver Lake, alto and soprano saxophonist, flutist whose mainstay in the avant-garde and free jazz realm continues to create, perform, record and tour as a member of the WSQ and as a leader.
Chu Berry was born Leon Brown Berry on September 13, 1908 in Wheeling, West Virginia. Following in his piano playing stepsister’s footprints, Chu became interested in music at an early age, playing alto saxophone at first with local bands. It wasn’t until he heard Coleman Hawkins was he inspired to take up the tenor.
Most of Berry’s abbreviated career was spent in the sax sections of major swing bands of Sammy Stewart, Benny Carter, Teddy Hill, Fletcher Henderson and Cab Calloway. He recorded with Count Basie, Bessie Smith, Mildred Bailey, The Chocolate Dandies, Teddy Wilson, Billie Holiday and Lionel Hampton among others.
Although Berry based his style on Hawkins’ playing, the older man regarded Berry as his equal, saying, “‘Chu’ was about the best.” His mastery of advanced harmony and his smoothly-flowing solos on up-tempo tunes influenced such young innovators as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker and Chu was one of the jazz musicians who took part in the jam sessions at Minton’s Playhouse in New York that led to the development of bebop.
Collaborating with lyricist Andy Razaf, he composed “Christopher Columbus”, a tune that was the last important hit recording of the Fletcher Henderson orchestra. From 1937 to 1941 he would be associated with Cab Calloway until his death from complications stemming from a car accident. On October 30, 1941, tenor saxophonist Chu Berry passed away. He was just 33 years old. Author Jack Kerouac immortalized him in the beginning of his novella “The Subterraneans”.
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George Mraz was born Jiří Mráz on September 9, 1944 in Pisek Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, now the Czech Republic. He began his musical studies on violin at age seven and started playing jazz in high school on alto saxophone. He attended the Prague Conservatory in 1961 studying bass violin and graduating in 1966. During that time he was performing with the top jazz groups in Prague.
His first introduction to jazz was through the Voice Of America radio and Louis Armstrong which opened him to a vast new world of possibilities across the ocean. After finishing his studies George moved to Munich and played clubs and concerts throughout Germany and Middle Europe with Benny Bailey, Carmel Jones, Leo Wright, Mal Waldron, Hampton Hawes, Jan Hammer and others.
Mraz was greatly influenced by Ray Brown, Scott LaFaro, Paul Chambers, and Ron Carter. In 1968 he ventured to Boston on a scholarship to the Berklee School of Music and played at Lennie’s on the Turnpike and the Jazz Workshop with such artists as Clark Terry, Herbie Hancock, Joe Williams and Carmen McRae. By ’69 he was playing with Dizzy Gillespie and then on the road with Oscar Peterson for two years followed by a six- year residency with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra.
From the late seventies on he worked with Stan Getz, New York Jazz Quartet, Chet Baker, Hank Jones, Paul Motian, Zoot Sims, Bill Evans, John Abercrombie, Joe Lovano, Carmen McRae, Joe Henderson, Tommy Flanagan and the list of jazz luminaries is to long to elaborate. He was a member of the New York Jazz Quartet and Quest. Bassist and alto saxophonist George Mraz continues to perform, record and tour.
James Earl Clay was born on Sept. 8, 1935 in Dallas, Texas. While in school Clay played alto saxophone, became a professional musician, and played with Booker Ervin and other local Dallas bands. An early associate of Ornette Coleman, he also played with Don Cherry and David “Fathead” Newman.
He later went to California where he played in 1957 in Red Mitchell’s quartet and on recordings with Lawrence Marable but by the end of the year was back in Dallas. Clay served in the Army in 1959.
As a leader he recorded for the Antilles, Jazz West, Fresh Sounds, Polygram and OJC record labels. Jazz flautist, tenor and alto saxophonist James Clay, known for his appealing tone and bop style passed away in Dallas on January 1, 1994.