Bill Coleman, 77, a prominent American jazz trumpeter who had lived and worked in France since the late 1940s and had performed with the leading figures in the jazz world, died Monday in a hospital here. He had cardiac and respiratory ailments.
Like many black American jazz musicians, Mr. Coleman's first wide following came in Europe. He came to Europe in the 1930s and later played extensive engagements in Egypt and India. He gained a reputation as a musician's musician but never obtained major commercial success in this country. He developed an agile and feather-toned trumpet style that first made its mark in a 1934 recording of "Dream Man" made with Fats Waller.
Mr. Coleman spent two years in Europe touring with Lucky Millinder. He said later he fell in love with Paris and spent much of his time there playing on street corners, in the subway stations, cafes and nightclubs.
He returned to the United States in 1940 and continued his career with small groups.In 1948 he moved to France, describing himself to an interviewer as "one of numerous black musicians here as refugees from segregation." He still was drawing large crowds to nightclubs and music festivals until shortly before his death.
He played alongside many of the great names of jazz, including Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins and guitarist Django Reinhardt. He also was well known for his vocal renditions of such classic spirituals as "Down by the Riverside" and "Jericho," and "When the Saints Go Marching In."
Mr. Coleman, the son of a laborer, was born in Paris, Ky. He made his way to New York as a young man where he played with Benny Carter and Charlie Johnson. He played with many top bands in the 1920s.
For the past three years, Mr. Coleman had lived in the village of Cadeillan in southwestern France. He had been in poor health in recent years and was hospitalized once before this year for cardiac and respiratory problems.
Despite his illnesses, friends said Mr. Coleman was practically never separated from his trumpet in his last months. They said he played for the last time with friends on July 25, although he was so weak he had to play while seated.
Mr. Coleman's survivors include his wife, Lily.