Colgrass, Michael

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Colgrass, Michael

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Michael Colgrass was a composer and percussionist, born April 22, 1932 in Brookfield, Illinois, died July 2, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario. He began his musical career in Chicago as a jazz drummer (1944-1949) and graduated from the University of Illinois in 1954 with a Bachelor of Music degree in performance and composition. His teachers included Darius Milhaud at the Aspen Festival and Lukas Foss at Tanglewood.

After graduation, he was a timpanist with the Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra in Stuttgart, Germany, and then a free-lance percussionist in New York City (1956-1966), performing with the New York Philharmonic, American Ballet Theater, Dizzy Gillespie, the Modern Jazz Quartet, the original West Side Story orchestra on Broadway, the Columbia Recording Orchestra’s Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky series, and numerous ballet, opera and jazz ensembles. While in New York, he continued to study percussion with Wallingford Riegger (1958) and Ben Weber (1958-60).

He began to compose full-time in 1967 and moved to Toronto in 1974.

Colgrass received many commissions throughout his career from the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the orchestras of Minnesota, Detroit, San Francisco, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Washington, Toronto, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, The Canadian Broadcast Corporation, The Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society, the Manhattan and Muir String Quartets, The Brighton Festival in England, The Fromm and Ford Foundations, The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and numerous other orchestras, chamber groups, choral groups and soloists.

In 1978, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for Déjà vu, which was commissioned and premiered by the New York Philharmonic. He received an Emmy Award in 1982 for a PBS documentary “Soundings: The Music of Michael Colgrass.” He has been awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships, A Rockefeller Grant, First Prize in the Barlow and Sudler International Wind Ensemble Competitions, and the 1988 Jules Leger Prize for Chamber Music.

As an author, Colgrass wrote My Lessons With Kumi, a narrative/exercise book, outlining his techniques for performance and creativity, and MICHAEL COLGRASS: Adventures of an American Composer (2010).


Toronto, Ontario

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Michael Colgrass, website.

Hand, Mark and Nancy McGregor. "Michael Colgrass." The Canadian Encyclopedia. Last edited February 3, 2020.

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