Bass player Prof. Ira Coleman is as comfortable playing Jamaican rhythms as he is accompanying a gospel choir or performing in a Jazz trio. With decades of experience, he has built an international reputation for versatility, working having worked with numerous well-known figures from the jazz, classical, pop music worlds. Beyond practical instruction and Jazz Combo coaching, Schulich students will get a chance to discover Music from Mali through a Special Project/Seminar in Performance which Prof. Coleman will be leading in Fall 2021. Winter 2022 will have both graduate and undergraduate students be able to take a Jazz Improvisation/Musicianship class that he will be teaching.
Prof. Coleman has said that, “The bass fits my character. In most musical genres the bass is the pivotal center piece, the instrument which provides a discrete and clear foundation, and I enjoy the many challenges its function poses.” Noting that the primary role of the bass is to support, Coleman echoes this in his thoughtful and focused manner as educator. Nuanced and deliberate, he strives for students to fully understand why and how the music they play comes alive.
In advance of the coming semester, we spoke with Prof. Coleman over email to discuss what he's looking forward to at Schulich, his teaching philosophy, and what’s on his “must” list for Montreal.
What are you most looking forward to in your new position at the Schulich School of Music?
I am excited to meet and collaborate with all students who have chosen to learn and speak the language of jazz, a language that leaves much room for creative individuality. The Schulich School’s bold initiatives and the Jazz Area’s Equity and Diversity Statements are incredibly encouraging and inspiring. I look forward to working, teaching, and learning from colleagues and students alike in an ambiance of inclusion and openness.
What are some elements that are important to your teaching philosophy?
Building an extensive vocabulary is advantageous for improvisation; it facilitates divergent thinking. Furthermore, musicians improvising together are an embodiment of cognitive diversity, therefore listening to each other is essential. I attempt to apply these principles to conversation, teaching, and exchange of ideas.
What do you want your students to leave Schulich knowing?
In music, we are lifelong learners. When we embarked on our musical journeys, we marvelled at and were intrigued by the magic of music.
When students leave McGill, equipped with more tools to analyze and comprehend and execute music, I wish everyone to retain joy in playing and enthusiasm and excitement in learning.
What is the advantage of being able to share your expertise in an academic environment?
I want to share what I have learned performing with my musical heroes. I like to assist young musicians in keeping the music alive. An academic setting enables students to experiment and personalize the application of learned material. It is an ideal and safe place to try out many different styles and discover new affinities. Contacts and friendships forged in college are building blocks of our professional family. The academic community enables and encourages students’ aspirations and dreams. I see, and I respect my students as colleagues at the beginning of their careers.
If you had a mantra/philosophy/phrase for where you are right now, what would it be?
When we look beyond ourselves, we are more open to others.
What is a key feature in enabling to best kind of music-making and music-learning experience?
Communication. The best kind of music-making and music-learning experience comes from listening to each other, knowing what to suggest and what to say, and getting to know the people with whom you play.
What does mentorship mean to you?
Commitment, developing a connection, endorsement, sincerity, and trust.
What’s on your “Must” list for Montreal?
Explore Montreal's international cuisine.
Is there a song you could listen to on repeat for an entire weekend?
John Coltrane - One Down, One Up (Live At Newport Jazz Festival/1965). Pure expression and life force!
Is there a tune you would be happy to play at every concert?
Enzirado: Dado Moroni, Ira Coleman, Enzo Zirilli, Edgardo Moroni | The Mighty Bobcat
AQUI Y AJAZZ, Dominique Eade & Ira Coleman | Tea For Two
Laurent De Wilde, Ira Coleman, Jack Dejohnette | How Deep Is the Ocean
Herbie Hancock with Tony Williams and Ira Coleman Part 1