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Interviews

George Coleman: This Gentleman can PLAY

By Published: March 13, 2004
"When I go to Europe and observe their appreciation and how well it's received over there and Japan and places like that, all over the world, rather than here in the United States...When I see that, I realize and I know jazz is alive and well and will always be. It's a very special music. It's for special people," he said. "People who have hip-hop minds and hip-hop ears and rap ears, they aren't suitable to listen to this music. They don't even deserve to listen to it. They don't. The people who are interested in great music, nice sounding music, and creative, slow ballads and up-tempo and waltzes. Jazz covers all of those facets. There's some kind of jazz that everybody can appreciate."

"Even if they listen to the guys like – and I like this man, he was great – Grover Washington and Stanley Turrentine. These guys are considered commercial players. But both of them could play. But they play the money music. They're money players, Grover and Gerald Albright, you know. And my good friend Dave Sanborn. Dave studied with me too. He's another money player, but he's a good player."

Sanborn is one of the many Coleman has influenced and it makes him happy to see the funky alto player's success.

"We had some great times together. I gave him some insight on harmony and how to get through changes. And he made an album after we worked together, and a lot of people noticed. They said, ‘Wow, man. You're playing some different stuff. Less funky than you used to play.' He attributed it to my instruction, and the time we spent together," said Coleman.

"There are some people I've influenced, maybe never actually taught for any long period of time. Like Eric Alexander. He's a great player and a good friend of mine. Some people said we have similar styles. But he's been by my house, but we didn't get into any long drawn-out lessons. This young man, he was just able, with his musical intelligence, to conceive different things that I do and apply them to his style of playing. But we play differently. There's a been a few others, all over the world. I get a chance to hear from them sometimes.

"There was this one kid from Iceland. He was very talented. No more than 20 years old. Good technique and everything. And we worked together. He had four or five lessons with me. The next thing I know, he was on the bill with me in London with one of his bands from Iceland. So it was a really rewarding experience to see him. I've heard from other people too. They call me up and say, ‘That one lesson I took from you was really great and I really appreciate it.' From all over.

"The rewards of my career a lot of people don't know about. But I feel good within myself. I don't publicize it," he said. He was particularly pleased by a mention that David Sanborn gave him in a People magazine interview, "because artists of his caliber would not want the world to know that they had studied with anybody. Like Kenny G. He ain't never had nobody to teach him nothing," said Coleman chuckling softly. "He learned everything himself. Those kind of guys. David Sanborn deserves all his recognition and his wealth because he is a sweetheart of a guy."

As for Coleman, pleasure isn't derived just in music. It's his life's work, but it's been work. And there are quieter times ahead that the kindly gentleman is looking forward to.

"I thank the creator every time I return home, touch down at JFK. My wife's OK and the children are fine and my friends are doing well. That's a blessing within itself. I'm in reasonably good health. When I get home I go to my health spa and hang out there. Do some walking. Sit down at the piano. I can find some diversion in retirement. I don't just sit around with nothing to do. There's a lot of things I can do without being out on the road, busting my proverbial balls."

Indeed. More power too him, but here's hoping he keeps an ear out from time to time for that saxophone calling out from the closet.


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