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Unsung Women of Jazz # 4 – Gloria Coleman

Posted in Unsung Women of Jazz with tags , , , , on July 4, 2011 by curtjazz

Gloria Coleman (1931 – 2010)

“It was told that there was a version of this tune that had driven this man to tears, beyond his trivial dogma to a true understanding of the music.” – Jazz critic Eugene Chadbourne discussing Gloria Coleman’s rendition of Blue Bossa (on her Sings and Swings Organ album)

For many, the history of women on the jazz organ begins and ends with Shirley Scott. Though no other woman matched Ms. Scott’s prominence, there were others who deserved a piece of that small spotlight. One such woman was Gloria Coleman.

Ms. Coleman was a New York native, who as a child studied the piano, violin and bass.  In fact, she began her career in 1952 as a bassist, playing with pianists in the Philadelphia and Chicago areas.  As her interest in the piano and organ grew, her work as a bassist decreased. She got tips from organ legends “Wild Bill” Davis and Jimmy Smith, which helped her develop her foot pedal technique, allowing her to work without a bassist; something Ms. Scott rarely did.   

Like Shirley Scott, Gloria Coleman married a well-known tenor saxophonist: in Ms. Coleman’s case it was George Coleman, a strong player in his own right, who gained most fame for being the “transitional tenor” between Coltrane and Shorter in Miles Davis’ quintet. Their union was musically fruitful, as they would work together, on and off, for the rest of Ms. Coleman’s life.

[From Soul Sisters – Gloria Coleman’s “My Lady’s Waltz”]

Like most of the women in our series, Gloria Coleman recorded sporadically.  Her most well-known recording is her first as a leader; Soul Sisters which she made for Impulse in 1963, with Grant Green on guitar, Leo Wright on alto sax and a female drummer named Pola Roberts, who slipped back into obscurity right after this record, in spite of her capable performance.  Critics have called Soul Sisters an “underappreciated gem”. It certainly holds its own alongside the work that Scott, Smith, McDuff and others were doing at that time in the soul jazz idiom.  Green and Wright sound inspired on their solos and Ms. Coleman’s compositions are catchy. She also recorded a gem of an album in 1971, called Sings and Swings Organ, with trumpeter Ray Copeland, guitarist Ted Dunbar and others. 

[From Sings and Swings Organ – Gloria sings “Love Nest”]

Gloria returned the favor to Wright, sitting in on his Soul Talk album and composing the minor hit, “State Trooper”.  In more recent years, she recorded some memorable sides with Bobbi Humphrey (City Beat), Nat Simpkins (Cookin’ with Some Barbeque) and Hank Crawford (Groove Master).

Her finest album IMO, also proved to be her last. 2008’s Sweet Missy was a sort of family affair, with George Coleman featured on tenor and her son, George Jr. on drums.  “Dr.” Lonnie Smith also makes a memorable guest appearance, playing piano alongside Gloria’s organ, on “Put ‘em in a Box, Tie ‘em with a Ribbon”.  It’s a very relaxed, but joyous album. The soloists are universally terrific (especially Ms. Coleman, who had grown exponentially over the years) and the band is tight and swinging. Her vocals on the album are frayed but ingratiating with a quality reminiscent of the great Etta Jones. 

Gloria Coleman died on February 10, 2010. She left us a musical legacy that is definitely worth exploring.

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