IT’S ALL ABOUT THAT BASS – AND KEEPING THE FUNK ALIVE AND FLOWING – FOR MITCHELL COLEMAN, JR. ON HIS EXPLOSIVE FULL-LENGTH URBAN JAZZ DEBUT ‘SOUL SEARCHING’
Scoring Big Out of the Box on The Smooth Jazz Charts – His Latest Single “Flow” Was #1 Most Added On The Groove Jazz Music Chart – The SoCal Based Composer/Musician’s Eclectic Set Features Session Greats Deron Johnson (Miles Davis, Alanis Morrisette) And Kayta Matsuno (Natalie Cole, David Foster)
Throughout 2014, Meghan Trainor’s Grammy nominated #1 mega-hit got the world up, dancing and thinking “All About That Bass,” but Mitchell Coleman Jr. (www.mitchellcolemanjr.com) didn’t need a high-energy pop smash to get him obsessed with the groove. It’s been there since he was 12, when his neighbor Greg, the bass prodigy “monster on the block” in Bloomfield, Conn., taught him how to play Grover Washington, Jr. and Bill Withers’ R&B classic “Just The Two Of Us.”
Now a few decades later, after years of behind the scenes session work for numerous indie artists in his adopted hometown of L.A., Coleman breaks free for some serious and dynamic Soul Searching on his long awaited, highly-anticipated debut full-length set on his own Soul Revelation label.
The clever 40-second “Prelude” that opens the 12-track, two-interlude set frames his mission brilliantly. With police sirens chasing him, the out of breath composer and musician says, “Yo, Hollywood, man, you gotta protect this funk!” He’s talking about more than Tinseltown – he’s seeking the guidance of his main producer and co-writer Herman “Hollywood” Dawkins, one of L.A.’s most renowned indie studio soundmen.
They get right to work drawing on the funk-meets-jazz mastery of two of Coleman’s legendary chief influences Marcus Miller and Stanley Clarke by stamping a fun and fiery “Passport” to what SmoothJazz.com calls “a hotspot filled with buoyant R&B fusion.” As the lead single for Soul Searching, the track got Coleman out there with a bang, receiving substantial Billboard Airplay.
The brand new high energy single “Flow,” helmed by veteran Motown producer Michael B. Sutton, is off to a powerful start as well, hitting the SmoothJazz.com Radar Chart and becoming the #1 Most Added track on the Groove Jazz Music Chart.
Ronald Jackson of The Smooth Jazz Ride sang Coleman Jr.’s praises in a recent review: “There is nothing even remotely boring about this strong and energetic set of tracks that clearly mark the beginning of good things to come for this artist and his followers. Many come to this and other genres with a skill set but not much vision. Coleman’s vision is definitely 20/20, and this effort is a solid A+ one.”
Sutton also produced one of Soul Searching’s most poignant tracks, a cover of the Joe Sample/Lalah Hathaway song “When Your Life Was Low,” which features young upstart vocalist Dionyza Sutton. The cover was fashioned as a loving tribute to Sample, the legendary Crusaders keyboardist and jazz pianist who passed away in 2014 – but it’s also reflective of Coleman’s unique abilities as a “Giver.” He’s a selfless person who is always there to help people in their time of need – a role not always appreciated as it should be. “It’s a song that touched my life personally,” the bassist says.
Coleman’s definitely giving urban jazz fans his all throughout the album, searching and finding wildly rhythmic soul cool on up-tempo gems like “Overload” (featuring a playful mini vocal chorus that is just begging for listeners to chant along), the lush and playful “Come Up,” the jangling and punchy “Genesis” and the exotic, simmering “Ethiopia Love” (produced by Sutton). There’s also a dreamy, sensual cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s iconic ballad “That’s The Way of the World.”
For Coleman, writing and recording Soul Searching is nothing short of a lifelong dream come true – something he’s been thinking about since his mind was blown as a kid by the otherworldly harmonic bass lines of the late great Jaco Pastorius of the band Weather Report. Other major influences were ‘70s R&B icons Louis Johnson, Larry Graham and Mark Adams of the Ohio funk band Slave.
“In all the years I’ve been playing bass, I never considered it a profession, it was always just something I enjoyed,” he says. “I would put my chin on the wood and feel the vibration of it and just play when opportunities arose. The whole time I had been playing for other artists, they and the musicians I worked with were telling me I had something special, something I need to let go. They saw me as a diamond in the rough. I liken the life of a studio musician to being a sparring partner for Mike Tyson. You’re just there supporting the star, not trying to beat him up. You learn to fight, but you don’t ever reveal who you really are.
“As I developed my bass sound,” he adds, “I grew more confident but I wasn’t hearing quite what I wanted to. I was holding back. Those who hired me had me play the way they wanted me to, and I couldn’t funk it up too much. Soul Searching allows me to do everything I have always wanted to. Working many times in the past with Hollywood, I knew he was the guy to give some foundational basslines to and start the process. When I heard some of the chords he was putting on them, I knew this was going to be the perfect partnership.”
Having played more than 60 studio sessions for other artists over the years, Coleman is a solid team player who stands out here leading a powerful ensemble of some of L.A.’s most renowned and funkiest players. With Hollywood Dawkins pulling triple duty on piano and vocals, their lineup includes keyboardist Deron Johnson, who played in Miles Davis’ final band and has also worked with Alanis Morissette, Larry Carlton, Seal and Stanley Clarke; and Kayta Matsuno, whose resume includes Babyface, Natalie Cole, David Foster and Colby O’Donis. Rounding out the band are guitarist Sean Fabian and saxophonists Tim Anderson and Sal Avila. Adding some classic, old school soul flair on backing vocals are sisters Pam and Joyce Vincent (from Tony Orlando and Dawn) and Jim Gilstrap, most famous for his vocals on the gospel flavored “Good Times” TV theme song.
Coleman’s geographically scattershot childhood allowed him to soak in a wide array of unique musical inspirations. Born in Meridian, Mississippi, he lived in Connecticut (where he began playing bass) until his parents’ divorce when he was 14. He then moved to Alabama to be raised by his aunt and grandparents. When he was very young, he would lip synch in front of the mirror to the pop music of the day, and his mother bought him a sax; he played tenor sax and baritone horn in the school band, which helped him develop a sense for strong melodies. Later, his aunt introduced him to even more saxophone music and he got hooked on jazz, which complemented his love for “thumpin’ and poppin’” R&B via bands like Slave.
“Moving to so many different locations meant I was always the new kid at school, and I spent a lot of time alone,” Coleman says. “Rather than be upset about this, I used the time to practice and develop my skills on the bass and find my own distinctive style.”
He joined the U.S. Air Force for a four year term, during which time he was based at Griffith AFB in Rome, New York. After winning talent contests playing his bass, he traveled extensively in touring variety show competitions. He later took several semesters of music theory at Onandaga Community College in Syracuse before moving to L.A. to pursue his musical goals. He was hoping to enroll at the Bass Institute of Technology at Musicians Institute (MI), but got sidetracked by other financial obligations. Trained as an engineer in the Air Force, he has worked in the medical imaging equipment field while pursuing and playing his bass for a wide variety of artists.
“I’ll tell you how fate works,” Coleman says. “After I went to live with my aunt, I met a guy named Terry Weeks. Long before I met him, I would enjoy lip synching to Peabo Bryson’s song ‘You,’ which was an obscure album cut. When I met Terry, someone told me I needed to hear him sing. The first thing out of his mouth was that same song! Like me, he later joined the Air Force. Then when I moved to L.A., I asked him to come and join me there. Just two days in town, we were walking down Hollywood Blvd. and ran into Otis Williams, the founder of The Temptations, coming out of a shoe store. I told Otis, ‘Listen to Terry sing.’ Terry started singing a Donny Hathaway song and, long story short, he’s been singing with Temptations for almost 20 years!
“With Soul Searching,” he adds, “it’s now my turn to turn up the funk and make things happen the way I’ve always wanted to. So much about the world can numb and dull you, and it’s easy to settle and think some regular job is what you’re meant to do. But music is the magic in life to me that allows me to get up with a smile on my face every morning. I’ll always be searching for who I am, but I definitely like where I’m headed.”