Steve Coleman

Steve Coleman

Saxophonist, composer and recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship “genius grant” Steve Coleman taught Germantown Friends School students about jazz improvisation and performed a lunchtime concert for the GFS community on Thursday, October 15.

Coleman, with his ensemble, Five Elements, is in Philadelphia doing a two-week “community outreach” residency with the Ars Nova Workshop. Coleman grew up on the South Side of Chicago, and started playing the alto saxophone at 14 years old.

“I picked it because it looked cool,” he said with a hearty laugh, “I wasn’t thinking too deeply about it at the time.”

Today, he thinks quite deeply about music, jazz and improvisation. In a workshop with the Middle School jazz and orchestra students, he told them, “The first step in improvisation is to have an idea in your mind and then to play it.”

Demonstrating how musicians can learn from even the simplest song, he had the students deconstruct “Happy Birthday.” He pushed them to explore the elements of the song, including pitch, key and rhythm, and showed them how they, as “professional musicians,” can jazz up a song by building on the basics.