The drummer Oliver Coleman had a huge influence on the Chicago music scene. Like many players from the Windy City, he had one drumstick in swing mode and the other hovering over the type of solid backbeat only found in Chicago blues. Several generations of drum students that tutored under him had the choice of learning either style, or both. Coleman, a native Texan, gigged in important bands led by trumpeter, violinist, and vocalist Ray Nance, pianist Earl Hines, and the tremendous vocalist Dinah Washington. He also worked with bandleaders Horace Henderson and Erskine Tate and was a regular session drummer for the Chess label in the '50s, including playing on classic sides by Eddie Johnson.
Coleman seems to have shined most in the context of jazz, however. He was given many solo spots in the Henderson band, to the point where some of the horn players up front griped that they were losing out on precious showcase time. He worked with Nance in 1940 prior to that performer's move over to fame and glory in the Duke Ellington band. Especially obscure but worth finding are the drummer's recordings with the Chicago-based Marl Young & His Orchestra such as "We're Off." This track, also originating in the '40s with the Sunbeam label, demonstrates Coleman's flair with the sort of beat associated with the great Jo Jones as well as some colorful bass drum "bombs": this is the type of "shock and awe" campaign that Americans can really be proud of. Coleman himself was proud of his many students, including drummers Hillard Brown and Charles Walton.