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Jazz Artists Among Dead in Crash of Flight 3407

Members of the New York jazz community were among those shocked and dismayed by news of a fatal plane accident when they learned that two of their number were among the fatalities in the February 12th crash of Continental Flight 3407. Reed player Gerry Niewood and guitarist Coleman Mellett, en route to a performance with Chuck Mangione and the Buffalo Symphony, were among the 49 people who boarded the flight in Newark, NJ, all of whom perished when the aircraft crashed into a Buffalo house. Reached for comment Mangione could only say "I'm in shock over the horrible, heartbreaking tragedy."

Both of these casualties of this tragedy were highly regarded musicians. Their obituaries appear in two separate articles.

Along with veteran performer Niewood, the jazz world lost an up and coming talent on February 12th. Guitarist Coleman Mellett was from the Washington D.C. area where he was first exposed to jazz as a student of Maryland guitar guru, Paul Wingo, and later from the University of Maryland's Chris Vadala, himself an alumnus of the Mangione group. Coleman's talent was evident early on and he became a member of the Blues Alley Youth Orchestra. He then received the Emily Remler Jazz guitar scholarship to Duquesne University, where he spent a year learning from the great guitarist Joe Negri.

Desiring to be closer to New York City, Mellett transfered to the jazz program at William Paterson University where he studied with such jazz greats as Rufus Reid, Kenny Burrell, Norman Simmons, Steve Turre, and Harold Mabern. From William Paterson, Mellett enroled in the Master's degree in Jazz Performance at the Manhattan School of Music, graduating in 1998. At the same time, he became integrated into the New York scene, where he worked with musicians like Joe Williams, James Spaulding, Frank Wess, Doug Lawrence, Etta Jones, Christian McBride, and others. Eventually, Mellett caught the eye of Chuck Mangione who was looking for a guitar player at the time. Mellett was invited to audition for Mangione, and was hired on the spot to be the substitute for Grant Giessman, who had been playing with Chuck since the mid 1970's. After two years, Chuck invited Mellett to be a permanent member of the group, since when he toured the world with the Mangione band.

It was a big break for Mellett, allowing him the time to develop his own music. In 2007 he issued a solo recording Natural High in which he demonstrated his command of several different guitar styles -- as well as seven different guitars -- including bebop, samba, fusion, and flamenco. The CD culminates in a 10 minute medley of songs by Chuck Mangione. As Vadala told me "His career was just beginning to take off."

I also spoke with Paul Wingo. News of the tragedy reached him abruptly when he was called for comment by a local NBC station. He was obviously deeply affected by the news, but willing to share his thoughts about his friend and student:

"He was such a beautiful, warm, intelligent young man. He was an incredible musician; anything I threw at him he could handle. He entered the scholarship competition at the East Coast Jazz Festival while he was still in high school. It was just for the experience really --- people come in from all over for that -- but he came in second. I was amazed. And I was amazed the last time I heard him. He was playing with [his wife, vocalist] Jeanie Bryson and he was just playing up a storm, with all the different keys that singers use, he had it all down. I like to have a chart in front of me for that but he had it all memorized, and he sounded great. . . I am just devastated."

Memorial services are planned for both Niewood and Mellett.

Further information and music samples on both artists can be found at MySpace Music

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Coleman Mellett
  • Subtitle: Part Two - Coleman Mellett
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