Michael Colgrass (b. 1932) began his musical career in Chicago where his first professional experiences were as a jazz drummer (1944-49). He graduated from the University of Illinois in 1954 with a degree in performance and composition and his studies included training with Darius Milhaud at the Aspen Festival and Lukas Foss at Tanglewood. He served two years as timpanist in the Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra in Stuttgart, Germany and then spent eleven years supporting his composing as a free-lance percussionist in New York City where his wide-ranging performance venues included 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. He organized the percussion sections for Gunther Schuller's recordings and concerts, as well as for premieres of new works by John Cage, Elliott Carter, Edgard Varese, and many others. During this New York period he continued to study composition with Wallingford Riegger (1958) and Ben Weber (1958-60). Colgrass has received commissions from the New York Philharmonic, The Boston Symphony (twice), The Minnesota Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (twice), the National Arts Centre Orchestra (twice), 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.
He won 1978 Pulitzer Prize for Music for Déjà vu, which was commissioned and premiered by the New York Philharmonic. In addition, 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 Rockerfeller Grant, First Prize in the Barlow and Sudler International Wind Ensemble Competitions, and the 1988 Jules Leger Prize for Chamber Music.
Among his most recent works are Ghosts of Pangea (2000) for orchestra, commissioned by the University of Miami in Oxford, Ohio, for their millennium celebration, Dream Dancer (2001) for alto saxophone and wind orchestra, commissioned by the World-Wide Concurrent Premieres & Commissioning Fund, Inc. for 25 wind ensembles, and Crossworlds (2002) for flute piano and orchestra commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and premiered with soloists Marina Piccinini and Andreas Heafliger.
As an author, Colgrass recently published his first book, My Lessons With Kumi, a teaching tale and exercise book, outlining his techniques for performance and creativity. He also gives workshops throughout the world on the psychology and technique of performance, drawing on his extensive American and European studies in a wide spectrum of performing arts.
He lives in Toronto and makes his living internationally as a composer. His wife, Ulla, is a journalist and editor who writes about music and art.