More About Coley: The Musical Healing

More about my friend, Coley.

Coleman Mellett – an accomplished jazz guitarist, Mellett was a touring member of trumpeter Chuck Mangione’s band for the last several years. The group was scheduled to perform this past Friday night at the Kleinhans Music Hall with the Buffalo Philharmonic.

Mellett who friends referred to as "Coley", grew up near Washington, D.C. and graduated from DeMatha Catholic High School in 1992. He moved to New Jersey to study at William Paterson University. After graduating he moved to New York and earned a master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music in 1998. Mellett, 33, lived in East Brunswick, N.J., with his wife, singer Jeanie Bryson –the daughter of famed jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie.  DeMatha Catholic High School band director, John Mitchell tells 9 News Now, "he had a passion for what he was doing. He did all the right things. He took lessons. He practiced a lot, listened to all the great guitar players at the time and was just one of those people that was a joy to teach."

Speaking of our time with Mr. Mitchell, I happened across a video of the DeMatha Wind Ensemble performing a piece that Coley and I played together when we were students there.  It made me a little nostalgic and I remembered the time when Coley was the premier musician in that storied program.  Coleman won recognition for all of his achievements in music at DeMatha after he received the John Phillip Sousa award in our senior year.  Instead of using his award as a personal platform though, Coley urged five other section leaders in the band to deliver the addresses before the major performances.  Of course, I was one of those five other students, but I can’t stress this enough as an example of the kind of person Coleman was.  Coleman Mellett was insatiably interested in spreading success.

For Coleman, it wasn’t enough just to achieve greatness in music.  He was clearly destined for all of that at an early age.  His proficiency on the clarinet was equal to his business acumen and he set the wheels in motion to motivate the entire Wind Ensemble to be the absolute best that we could have been.  It was not really a surprise when DeMatha was voted the best concert band in the country for the 11th time in 13 years our senior year.  (The organizers of the national competition have since asked DeMatha to stop competing in order to give other schools a chance to win.)  What was a surprise was the fact that our best musician wasn’t a self-serving, egotistical bastard.  I know musicians pretty well, and let’s just say that the man was a rare breed of extraordinary talent and humility. 



Somewhere close to the end of our junior year in 1991 Coleman took the reigns from within the bourgeoning music program of DeMatha and subtly began to exert the influence of an heir apparent.  Slowly, Coleman assembled a core group of senior section leaders to maintain the focus and ultimately unite the band.  We called ourselves The Six of Us.  Bottom row: Sean Cawley, french horn section leader; Daniel Cooper, tuba section leader; Frank Pesci, tenor saxophone section leader.  Top row: Chad Bickel, trumpet section leader; Coleman Mellett, clarinet section leader; Joe Polowczuk, alto saxophone section leader.  Out of all of my musical selections, including being named to a first chair at All State or playing with the Prince Georges Philharmonic, I would still have to say that it was more important for me to have Coley’s trust and confidence to be included in that elite of the elites group. 

With one decision made by one of my own peers, I enjoyed the buoyed self-esteem that has propelled me to this day.  (Contrary to popular belief, the DeMatha swagger that some mistake for arrogance can take a little while to set in.)  Before all of that, I believe I was holding myself back because I thought that my best wasn’t good enough.  I think that each of The Six of Us toyed with the idea of making a career out of music if only because we were so thoroughly engrossed in upholding the DeMatha standard.  Coleman was the only one to actually follow through with that from our class, however, and that is not to say that music was his only option.  Coleman was a talented student, to the point where I would have many conversations with him about why he chose to take such hard courses.  I couldn’t understand in my youth why someone so talented and so sure of his chosen profession would volunteer to take Calculus with Mr. Coughlin.  We suffered through it together, though.  That was Coley: his success was not only transferable, but it was commutative. 

The Mellett family is holding a memorial service for Coley on March 7, 2009 at St. Peter’s Catholic Church on Capitol Hill located at 313 Second Street, SE Washington, DC 202.547.1430.  Service will begin at 11:00am EST and will be followed by a reception downstairs at the church.

The Mellett family has set up a Scholarship Fund at DeMatha in Coley’s name for aspiring jazz musicians.  To give, make a check payable to DeMatha and mail to Mellett Scholarship Fund c/0 DeMatha HS  4313 Madison Street Hyattsville, MD  20781.


One Response to “More About Coley: The Musical Healing”

  1. Valerie Says:

    Beautiful. Coley was quiet in his successes..and I thoroughly have enjoyed reading about how many lives he had touched in his (all too) short life. Coley was my cousin. We are all blessed to have had him in our lives. Peace to you. ~ Valerie

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