At the time of his death in an plane crash in 2009, 34-year-old jazz guitarist Coleman Mellett was working on his first album as a singer-songwriter.
Mellett — who lived in East Brunswick with his wife, singer Jeanie Bryson — was playing in Chuck Mangione’s band at the time, and died in a Newark-to-Buffalo flight he was making in order to play a gig with Mangione. Saxophonist-flutist Gerry Niewood, another member of Mangione’s band, also died in the crash.
A computer in Mellett’s home contained files of demos for the songs he was working on, with his voice and guitar, as well as some keyboards. Bryson made the decision to get them finished, with the help of producer Barry Miles and various other musicians, including Mangione, James Taylor, drummer Steve Gadd, keyboardist Larry Goldings and bassist Will Lee.
“Sing you a Brand New Song: The Words and Music of Coleman Mellett,” a documentary that will be shown at the New Jersey Film Festival in New Brunswick on June 8, tells the story of Mellett’s life and the making of the album, which is titled Life Goes On and was obviously a labor of love for all involved.
Mellett’s songs are relaxed and soulful. Even in their unfinished stage, they have a fresh, joyful quality, and he clearly had a knack for writing memorable melodies. Most of the lyrics were inspired by his relationship with Bryson, which began when they met each other while participating in the 1996 Cape May Jazz Festival.
“It was really apparent what he wanted to say with these songs,” says Lee in the film, which is narrated by Michael McDonald. “So I thought my job was gonna be to try to add a little body and a little soul to it, but also, not get in the way of it. To try to help the message be the message.”
“It’s not just wonderful music anymore,” says Mellett’s mother-in-law, Connie Bryson, in the film. “It’s what we have left of him.”
I’m reminded of the way Eva Cassidy’s music found a large, appreciative after she died at a similarly young age (33). Mellett’s songs seem just as deserving to me, and I highly recommend seeing this film.
“Sing You a Brand New Song: The Words and Music of Coleman Mellett” and a short film, “The Reservoir,” will be shown at Voorhees Hall, #105 at Rutgers University in New Brunswick at 7 p.m. June 8, as part of the New Jersey International Film Festival Summer 2019. Jeanie Bryson will participate in a Q&A session after the screening. Visit njfilmfest.com.
For more on the film and the album, visit facebook.com/colemanmellettproject.
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