A new defamation lawsuit has exposed disputed claims that famed jazz musician Steve Coleman preyed on a teen protégé and sexually harassed her during a tortured five-year relationship.
The complaint, filed by Coleman in New York, denies the allegations and says the woman spread the “intentionally misleading” claims about the saxophone star after she helped start a #MeToo group for musicians.
Coleman, 61, included in his paperwork a lengthy letter he says the woman, 26, wrote about her experience with him, starting with their May 2009 meeting at the Jazz Gallery in Manhattan.
The woman was 17 at the time, while Coleman was 52 and a rising star in the music world who would go on to win a MacArthur genius grant in 2014.
He said the woman sent the letter filled with “false” allegations to several of their colleagues, causing some fellow musicians to turn their backs on him.
“(Her) actions were malicious in nature, taken solely to damage (Coleman’s) reputation and career,” his lawsuit states.
An aspiring saxophonist herself, the woman recalled in the letter that she was a fan who was “eager” to meet Coleman and learn more about his renowned improvisational style.
She said Coleman first hit on her during their second lesson together.
“(He) told me straight up that he wanted to have sex with me. I was shocked. I had idea someone who’s in their fifties and who’s widely considered a great musician can say something like that to a 17-year old girl,” she wrote.
According to her letter, the woman rebuffed Coleman at first but continued to seek his tutelage as they fell into a flirtatious dynamic. She claimed he once took pictures of her sleeping and showed them to her, causing her to feel uneasy.
She described one particularly disturbing interaction in which Coleman allegedly asked for a chest massage, after she turned 18.
“When I refused he got really angry with me, telling me again that I was uptight, that I was brainwashed into thinking that society had rules. He said many times that people like Charlie Parker knew not to follow these rules,” she wrote.
She claimed Coleman told her she had to become more “relaxed” and “break social norms” if she wanted to ever become a great improviser.
The woman wrote in the letter that she eventually ended up sleeping with Coleman and at one point felt she was in love with him. But she said she later came to see their on-again-off-again relationship as unhealthy and now believes Coleman abused his power as a mentor and music industry gatekeeper.
She said Coleman would hire her for gigs, tours and jobs and then suggest she was obligated to sleep with him.
“On tour I would have to sleep with him at the end of the day lest (he) be absolutely angry and sometimes refuse to rehearse the band the next day,” she wrote. “He would relentlessly ask me to have sex with him and told me that was the reason I was there, even though I had been hired like everyone else.”
The woman said she eventually became suicidal and decided to quit working with Coleman after a tour in late 2016.
“Many times as women we feel we have to accept behaviors we don’t want, in order to be accepted, to be successful, to please, to not lose a job, to not be completely broke, to not be kicked out of a band,” she wrote.
In 2017, she became a founding member of the We Have Voice Collective, and two months after that, she allegedly made “veiled threats” against Coleman on Facebook, his 11-page lawsuit says.
Coleman vehemently denies manipulating the woman and is seeking at least $1 million in damages.
He describes the prior relationship as “mutually consensual” and suggests the woman was upset that he did not leave his wife for her.
He even claims that on April 4, 2012, the woman proposed in an email that they engage in a “three way sexual relationship” with Coleman’s wife.
He says that the woman made a similar suggestion a year earlier she allegedly wrote in an Aug. 22, 2011 text that she was interested in a three-way sexual relationship with Coleman and another woman who was Coleman’s friend.
Coleman claims in his suit that the former protégé initiated their final sexual encountered and later “threatened to expose (him) in order to generate leverage over him.”
Attempts to reach the woman were not immediately successful Thursday. She remains a working musician in New York who has received glowing reviews on her solo projects over the last two years.
In her letter attached to Coleman’s lawsuit, the woman said she almost “lost faith in music at large” during her time with Coleman.
“The strangest thing is that (Coleman has) told many people about my ability and my talent; but to me, he would say that I would’ve never gotten to where I was if it wasn’t for him and for his attraction for me,” she wrote.