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Adegoke Steve Colson

Steinway Artist, ADEGOKE STEVE COLSON is a Grammy® nominated pianist and composer – a native of East Orange, NJ - who has performed internationally as a leader of jazz ensembles ranging from trios to orchestras. His work has been recorded on labels that include Columbia/Sony, Evidence, and Black Saint. His Solo Piano recording Tones For, reflecting on the lives and work of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, was his most recent release on his label, Silver Sphinx. The liner notes were written by fellow pianist and MacArthur Fellow, Vijay Iyer. Among the various accolades received internationally, the CD was picked as The Jazz Times Editor’s Choice. Steve also received high praise for his recordings as leader including The Untarnished Dream – with Jazz Legends Andrew Cyrille and Reggie Workman, and wife and musical partner Iqua Colson – which was voted into the top 10 % of the Jazz Critics Poll. His work as an artist has been discussed/reviewed in many languages and can be found in countless magazines, newspapers, periodicals, and in several books.

Steve auditioned into the Northwestern University School of Music and left for Evanston and Chicago in September 1967. After receiving his degree he lived in Chicago for a decade before returning to the East Coast. While in Chicago he became an early member of The Association for Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) in the 70s, a renowned musicians’ collective that has influenced music internationally in the 20th and 21st Century. The Colsons released Triumph! their first recording on their Silver Sphinx record label in 1979. Years later in November 2011, Soul Jazz Records of London, UK, included the album cover and a track in their prestigious Freedom, Rhythm and Sound Book and the CD-LP compilation, placing their work with music icons including Maurice White, John Coltrane, Sun Ra, and Mary Lou Williams. This collection/retrospective documented the influential and independent musicians of the years 1965-83 who took control of their music – they are credited as the early roots of the “indie” movement. The acclaimed exhibition, Soul of a Nation, featured the album cover and liner notes of Triumph! The exhibit opened 2017 at The Tate Modern in London and has toured extensively, including stops in the United States.

Steve’s ensembles have performed on some of the world’s leading stages and featured artists such as David Murray, Rachelle Farrell, Joseph Jarman, Tyshawn Sorey, Oliver Lake, and Pulitzer Prize winners Anthony Davis and Henry Threadgill, who is fellow member of the AACM. As headliner Steve has shared billing and stage with artists that include Muhal Richard Abrams, Pharoah Sanders, Hannibal, Max Roach, T.S. Monk, James “Blood” Ulmer, Tito Puente, Dizzy Gillespie, Dr. Billy Taylor, Ray Charles, Art Blakey, Sun Ra, Oscar Peterson and Freddie Hubbard. He has collaborated with artists in other disciplines including celebrated visual artists Don Miller and Willie Cole, acclaimed screenwriter and playwright Richard Wesley, legendary dancer Carmen de Lavallade, and most frequently with Master Poets and activists, Amiri and Amina Baraka.

A critically acclaimed figure, Steve’s compositions have found their way into the “jazz standard” repertoire and are being performed and recorded by some of today’s jazz greats as well as by his own groups. Most recently Andrew Cyrille’s ECM release “The News” included Ade’s Leaving East of Java. His music has been compared to that of Monk, Mingus, and Ellington as well as Ives, Berio, and Stravinsky. Steve has received several commissions and awards for music composition and authored more than one hundred pieces for ensemble and six major works for Jazz orchestra. Those major works include his multi-media work, Greens, Rice, and a Rope written with the support of The National Endowment for the Arts and premiered at Newark Symphony Hall on the day City of Newark proclaimed “Adegoke Steve Colson Day” during the national celebration of New Music America; Treasure the New City written at the request of the East Orange Historical Society in honor of the 150th Anniversary of The City of East Orange; New Jersey Chamber Music Society commission “…as in a Cultural Reminiscence…” a work in which he included literary masters Amiri Baraka and Richard Wesley that premiered during opening season of New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) - performed again in Paris France where it was recorded live for Mezzo Channel. He also collaborated with Amiri Baraka for the national Lost Jazz Shrines project, an outgrowth of a United States Congressional Resolution declaring Jazz a “national treasure.” He arranged, orchestrated and conducted the music of stride master Willie “The Lion” Smith, also performing the role of “The Lion” in Baraka’s play for this celebration. The performance was aired on PBS. Other examples of TV or film presentations of Steve’s work include a cameo appearance in Retourner a Goree, the Documentary Film (winner, PAFF) by Youssou N’Dour, of Senegal and the role of the Piano Player in the HBO’s series, Vinyl, produced by Mick Jagger and directed by Martin Scorsese.

Steve was honored May 2018 by Northwestern University in observance of the 50th Anniversary of The 1968 Takeover of the Bursar’s Office. As one of the small number of strategists/leaders of what is called the most successful takeover of a major American University, Steve is featured in the documentary, The Takeover – The Revolution of the Black Experience at Northwestern University.

Steve was commissioned by NJPAC to compose a work dedicated to the 350th Anniversary of The City of Newark. Here Is The Place, Our City – for 20 voice male chorus, oboe, harp, two pianos and a Jazz quintet – premiered at NJPAC April 7, 2017 to a standing ovation. Honorable Ras Baraka, Mayor of The City of Newark, NJ, recognized Steve by City Proclamation on the occasion of the premiere. Steve completed another commission, Incandescence, in 2020 selected and funded by American Composers Forum to mark the 55th Anniversary of the AACM. Steve conducted the premiere, a six book composition reflecting on the 6 decades of the AACM, at The University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts October 30, 2021. He is recipient of South Arts 2021 Jazz Road Creative Residencies, funded by Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, to work as artist in residence with Harlem School of the Arts (HSA) jazz program– and to compose and premiere a new work in honor of HSA. Suite Harlem premiered June 11th during the A-Train Festival. The piece was met with a standing ovation and stellar review in the New York Times (June 12 web & June 13,2022 print edition. Steve was notified in December he is one of the recipients of the 2022 Harvard Fromm Commission.

Always involved in education, Steve was one of 21 artist-educators selected from around the country by the National Endowment of the Arts to pilot the concept of Artist Residencies in the 1980s. He is currently artist in residence in Jazz Studies at Cicely L. Tyson School of Performing & Fine Arts; lectures internationally; and is a professor in the Bloomfield College Creative Arts & Technology Department, where he helped shape the vision and concept over 30 years ago as part of an initiative led by The Office of the President.

Steve was honored by his home town November 2018 when he was inducted into The East Orange Hall of Fame, joining several other distinguished E.O. natives in all fields including Althea Gibson, Dionne Warwick, Naughty by Nature, John Amos, and Whitney Houston.

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