M-Base founder, composer, and alto saxophonist Steve Coleman hails from Chicago. His earliest years were spent playing in R&B and funk bands in emulation of his first hero, Maceo Parker. Coleman had heard all the greats in his hometown and changed his focus from R&B to jazz, precipitating his move to New York. He gigged with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis big band, followed by Sam Rivers' All-Star Orchestra and, eventually, Cecil Taylor's big-band project. He began working with other leaders as well: David Murray, Abbey Lincoln, Michael Brecker. But Coleman was restless; he began listening to other music, particularly that of West Africa (he later traveled to Ghana to study). His music evolved and he continued to play side gigs, honing his sound and compositions -- he has a totally original alto tone -- by playing in the street.
Coleman's first band, the Five Elements, would be formed of street cats, including Graham Haynes. The band came up with the M-Base concept in 1985 ("macro-basic array of spontaneous extemporization") and signed with the European JMT label. Others in the M-Base crew include Gary Thomas, Geri Allen, Greg Osby, Robin Eubanks, and Cassandra Wilson. Coleman developed complex musical theories about integrating the rhythms of funk, soul, world music, and jazz. He eventually signed with BMG and started three other bands, Mystic Rhythm Society, Metrics, and Council of Balance. He also passed through Dave Holland's innovative trio and quartet. In the 21st century, Coleman has primarily concentrated on his own music as executed by several different bands he leads, though he has shown up occasionally as a sideman, most notably with Roy Hargrove's jazz-funk outfit RH Factor and with trombonist Craig Harris.
In addition to issuing over 20 records under his own name, he is a sought-after producer who has helmed dates for Geri Allen, Cassandra Wilson, Sam Rivers, and Ravi Coltrane. In 2010, he signed to Pi Recordings. His first three albums for the label -- including 2010's Harvesting Semblances and Affinities, 2011's The Mancy of Sound, and 2013's Functional Arrhythmias (all with the Five Elements) -- were widely acclaimed and preceded his 2014 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (the "genius" grant). (The award cannot be applied for; an individual has to be nominated by an existing Fellow.) Coleman utilized the 21-piece Council of Balance for 2015's Synovial Joints, and followed it two years later with the debut of the nonet Natal Eclipse on Morphogenesis. ~ Thom Jurek