Steve Coleman And The Invention Of New Languages The saxophonist is known for his unique compositions. In a dark corner of the Newport Jazz Festival, he and his band gave us a little demonstration of how this musical dialect is forged.

Field Recordings

Steve Coleman And The Invention Of New LanguagesWBGO

The Asian-American singer Jen Shyu speaks several languages, among them English, Spanish, Portuguese and various East Asian tongues from China, Taiwan and East Timor. But then she started performing with saxophonist Steve Coleman. None of her native tongues would serve for his knotty tunes; "doo-bop-a-da" scat singing wasn't going to cut it, either. So she had to devise her own sound and fury — perhaps signifying nothing formally, but full of intense personal feeling.

Steve Coleman has long been known as an inventor of language — a composer who draws equally from rigorous examination of music theory, esoteric natural science and myth, and Charlie Parker. But you don't have to speak his language to be entranced by it. There's flow, and pulse, and delightful chord changes. And, yes, it's a little disorienting, which seems like part of the point. "What human energy could have inspired this sound?" you wonder. Exactly.

Coleman's vision was on display when his band Five Elements played the Newport Jazz Festival last year. But we wanted to know more. So we brought him, Shyu and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson into the ruins of Fort Adams for a more intimate, stripped-down look at his music. We also asked him for a translation into the English language: "If anything, that's what this music is," he later told us from The Jazz Gallery in New York City. "It's a lot of different influences, coming from different places — plus, whatever's coming from inside you, which is the main thing."

Set List
  • "Ritual" (Coleman)
Credits

Producers: Mito Habe-Evans, Patrick Jarenwattananon; Additional Videography: Erik Jacobs; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; Production Assistance: Caleb Curtis; Special thanks to: Newport Jazz Festival, Josh Jackson, Tim Wilkins, Michael Downes, David Tallacksen/WBGO, The Jazz Gallery; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann, Keith Jenkins

[+] read more[-] less

More From Jazz

Courtesy of the artist.

Holly Hofmann On Piano Jazz

Hear the classically trained flutist bring her bluesy style to this 2002 episode, featuring a performance with Marian McPartland.

Holly Hofmann On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/556075820/556075849" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Robert Birnbach/2017 San Jose Jazz Summer Fest

Cyrille Aimée and Daymé Arocena Perform At 2017 San Jose Jazz Summer Fest

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

The vocalists brought '30s gypsy swing and modern Afro-Cuban influences to their 2017 San Jose Jazz Summer Fest performances.

Cyrille Aimée And Daymé Arocena Make Jazz Their Own

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/553485977/553488458" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Ernie Andrews Courtesy of HighNote Records hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of HighNote Records

Ernie Andrews On Piano Jazz

Hear the vocalist bring his own special mix of energy, drama and humor to this 1998 episode with host Marian McPartland.

Ernie Andrews On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/549414757/549414978" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Patrice Rushen Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Patrice Rushen On Piano Jazz

Hear the songwriter and master keyboardist perform with host Marian McPartland on this 1987 episode.

Patrice Rushen On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/545865051/545871170" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Dennis Manuel/Courtesy of the artist

Aww Yeah, Summertime — With The Robert Glasper Experiment

This special summer festival episode features a clever synthesis of hip-hop, R&B and soul, recorded live across two music festivals in New York City.

Aww Yeah, Summertime — With The Robert Glasper Experiment

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/542780066/542781768" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Bill Charlap and his mother, Sandy Stewart. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Sandy Stewart And Bill Charlap On Piano Jazz

Hear the cabaret singer and her pianist son bring a rare combination of swing and sophistication to a session with host Marian McPartland.

Sandy Stewart And Bill Charlap On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/535960111/535960769" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Marian McPartland and Eddie Gomez in 1993. R.J. Capak/Piano Jazz Archives hide caption

toggle caption R.J. Capak/Piano Jazz Archives

Eddie Gomez On Piano Jazz

The Grammy-winning bassist's sense of swing shines through on this session with Marian McPartland, who joins in on "My Foolish Heart" and "All Of You."

Eddie Gomez On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/533993916/533995152" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Back To Top