Anthony Coleman's Simplistic Big Band project brings together a collection of music and musicians that is anything but simple. The consortium of players and vocalists involved likely won't all be together until some point Sunday night when they all are on stage at Harlow's.
That will be between 18 and 30 people who could jam the stage performing various aspects of the leader's musical personality.
"It's crazy, I don't know what I'm thinking," Coleman said of his big band. "I do it once or twice a year. It's so stressful even though the end result is always great."
For the show, Coleman brings together mainstream players like pianist Joe Gilman and alto saxophonist Patrick Langham, along with hip-hop MCs group Live Manikins, Gerald Pease of the new-school funk band Bucho and neo-soul vocalist LaKeisha Mondy.
Gilman and Langham are mentors and teachers from Coleman's time at the University of the Pacific's Brubeck Institute. Gilman has been a longtime instructing artist there, and Langham is the director of jazz studies.
"I owe all my musicianship to Joe Gilman," Coleman said of the Sacramento-based pianist. "He taught me so much while I was there."
The 29-year-old, Oak Park-born-and-raised Coleman was selected to attend the Brubeck Institute through an ultra-competitive audition process. It was part of an ongoing broad-based musical education that Coleman has pushed himself through. From the time he first started playing in high school, he's gravitated toward the best players, who in turn inspired him into raising his game.
"My sophomore year in high school (Sacramento High), I was thinking about what people were going to be doing. And I thought, 'Nobody listens to jazz. It's probably an easy career to get into,' " Coleman said, laughing.
"Then the next year I met kids my age from Berkeley High School who were just ridiculous and I asked them 'How do you play so good?' They said, 'Practice.' So I started practicing a lot more, hanging with guys who were taking it seriously. I jumped in with the right crowd."
Coleman continued with the right crowd at UOP, where he worked with jazz school namesake and legendary pianist Dave Brubeck. Great musicians like saxophonist Bennie Maupin and Christian McBride taught there, and field trips took Coleman to the Carmel home of jazz enthusiast Clint Eastwood.
When Coleman's friends from UOP, including drummer Justin Brown, moved to New York, Coleman moved, too, with the help of a scholarship to the prestigious jazz program at Manhattan's New School.
Coleman said that just living in New York made him a stronger musician.
"The scene there and the area made me grow the most. I'm not knocking the New School because it was great, but I learned more on the street, playing in clubs, finding gigs, practicing with the guys."
At the New School, Coleman met drummer Vanessa Cruz and the two now have a 2 1/2-year-old son, Anthony Coleman III. Wanting young Anthony to know his Sacramento roots, Coleman and his family moved back here, and he's been making as much music as possible until they ultimately return to the East Coast.
Coleman serves as musical director of the Table United Methodist Church and also gigs with various performers such as singer-songwriters Mondy and Emily Kollars. Coleman also leads several jazz bands including a New Orleans-style brass band and an Afrobeat-influenced group called Sankofa.
As for the Harlow's gig, the Simplistic Big Band brings it all together with a mainly jazz first set followed by a more free-flowing, hip-hop-influenced second set.
"There's a lot of brass, a lot of horns being played," Coleman said. "Every song is different so don't expect the same style all night. If you feel like dancing, go ahead and dance."
SIMPLISTIC BIG BAND
What: Anthony Coleman's brassy cadre of musicians and vocalists brings several styles of music to the intimate Harlow's stage.
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Harlow's, 2708 J St., Sacramento
Information: (916) 441-4693 or harlows.com