George Coleman Junior was born to jazz royalty. At the age of 18 his father, George Sr., was touring with B.B. King and went on to play with a long list of jazz greats, from Miles Davis to Herbie Hancock. His mother started off playing the bass and then became an organist, pianist, singer and composer, working with the likes of Duke Ellington. These are the people George Jr. grew up around, “many of whom became my teachers,” he notes.
It became immediately clear that George Jr. had the family penchant for music. As young as 3 years old, “I would bang on my mothers pots and pans. She’d put them away, and I’d find them and start again. At some point, they said, ‘We’ve gotta get this kid a drum set.’”
George Jr. displayed the kind of talent you’d expect, and by his early teens was playing with noted jazz figures. But, like so many kids, he didn’t want to just follow in his parents’ footsteps. He went to college and studied chemical engineering, and went into the business side of tech. But the pull of music was strong. George Jr. kept playing drums in his own time and formed his own band. Finally, that pull was too much, and he decided to return to music full time.
He was preparing for a weeklong comeback gig at the jazz standard, playing with his father and a group of jazz luminaries, when disaster struck. While working out at his gym, suddenly his bicep gave out. He had no strength at all. George Jr. went to see Dr. Lisa Callahan, co-director of the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at HSS, who had helped him with some other problems. Dr. Callahan had him get an MRI, and informed him that his bicep issue was actually because of severe spine problems. She referred him to Dr. James Farmer, a spine surgeon at HSS. Dr. Farmer told him that he needed surgery as soon as possible. “I told Dr. Farmer that I had a really important gig at the Jazz Standard in eight weeks, and asked if I’d make it. He said that he didn’t want me doing anything for six weeks after surgery other than physical therapy. That would leave me two weeks. If I could get ready in that time then yes, he said I could make the gig. I said, okay then, let’s do this.”
George Jr.’s surgery went flawlessly thanks to the skills of Dr. Farmer, and he followed the physical therapy regimen to the letter. At six weeks, he picked up his drumsticks. “I started really simply, then gradually added more and more. After a week, I saw that I was going to get it all back. I was going to make the gig.” The performances went exceptionally well, and were a special moment for the jazz community, as well as George Jr. and his father. George Jr. has gone on to play more engagements with George Sr., in addition to playing and recording with his own band, The Rivington Project. He is incredibly grateful to Dr. Callahan, Dr. Farmer, and the entire HSS team that worked with him.
“Being able to play together, and share music, has meant a lot for the relationship between my dad and I, and is making this time we have together at this point more special.” George Jr. is back, which makes him very happy. And makes jazz lovers very happy as well.