Steve began playing music just days before his 14th birthday as a freshman at South Shore High School on the south side of Chicago. His first instrument was violin but later that year he switched to the alto saxophone. For three years Steve studied the basics of music and saxophone technique, then decided that he wanted to learn how to improvise. Looking for the best improvising musicians to listen to is what brought Steve to the music of Charlie Parker, although it helped that his father listened to Parker all the time. Steve studied jazz tradition and especially the music of Bird in great detail. His analysis of Bird's playing is among the most perceptive writing on the subject.
Hitchhiking to New York and staying at a YMCA in Manhattan for a few months, he scuffled until he picked up a gig with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band, which led to stints with the Sam Rivers Big Band, Cecil Taylor's Big Band and others. Soon he begun cutting records as a sideman with those leaders as well as pivotal figures like David Murray, Doug Hammond, Dave Holland, Mike Brecker and Abbey Lincoln.
During four years Coleman spent a good deal of time playing in New York City's streets for small amounts of money with a street band that he put together with trumpeter Graham Haynes, the group that would evolve into the ensemble Steve Coleman and Five Elements. In time he immersed himself African traditions and European Art music, traveling and performing around the world.
Steve is a founding member of the M-Base Collective. These concepts subsequently attracted dozens of thoughtful musicians like Branford Marsalis, Cassandra Wilson, Ravi Coltrane, Jason Moran, Geri Allen, and many others. To quote Steve, "most of the ideas behind the M-Base conception involve using music to express life. Although this sounds vague, the only way to really understand music is to listen to it."
Learn more about Steve Coleman here.