Posts Tagged ‘ John Coltrane ’

Coltrane at 90

If you live to be old enough, it will happen to you. One day, you will find out that someone you spend nearly every day with turns out to have a 90th anniversary, and you are not ready to celebrate it. That happened today: John Coltrane (September 23, 1926 – July 17, 1967) turned 90 before I was ready. I can only promise that 10 years from now I’ll have a proper tribute for the big one. Until then, let me curate a sample without commentary:

With Dizzy Gillespie:

“A Night in Tunesia”

Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet) John Coltrane (tenor sax) Milt Jackson (vibes) Billy Taylor (piano) Percy Heath (bass) Art Blakey (drums)

With Miles Davis:

“It Could Happen to You”

Miles Davis (trumpet) John Coltrane (tenor sax) Red Garland (piano) Paul Chambers (bass) Philly Joe Jones (drums); May 11, 1956:

With Thelonious Monk:

“Well, You Needn’t”

Ray Copeland (trumpet) Gigi Gryce (alto sax) John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins (tenor sax) Thelonious Monk (piano) Wilbur Ware (bass) Art Blakey (drums); June 26, 1957

With Lee Morgan:

“Blue Train”

Lee Morgan (trumpet) Curtis Fuller (trombone) John Coltrane (tenor sax) Kenny Drew (piano) Paul Chambers (bass) Philly Joe Jones (drums); September 15, 1957

With Tommy Flanagan:

“Giant Steps”

John Coltrane (tenor sax) Tommy Flanagan (piano) Paul Chambers (bass) Art Taylor (drums); May 5, 1959

With Miles Davis:

“Round Midnight”

Miles Davis (trumpet) John Coltrane (tenor sax) Wynton Kelly (piano) Paul Chambers (bass) Jimmy Cobb (drums); April 8, 1960

With Don Cherry:

“Bemsha Swing”

Don Cherry (cornet) John Coltrane (soprano, tenor sax) Percy Heath (bass) Ed Blackwell (drums); July 8, 1960

With the original quartet:

“Central Park West”

John Coltrane (soprano, tenor sax) McCoy Tyner (piano) Steve Davis (bass) Elvin Jones (drums); October 24, 1960

“Every Time We Say Goodbye”

(same personnel); October 26, 1960

With Eric Dolphy:

“India”

Eric Dolphy (bass clarinet) John Coltrane (soprano sax) McCoy Tyner (piano) Jimmy Garrison, Reggie Workman (bass) Elvin Jones (drums) Ahmed Abdul-Malik (oud)

“Chasin’ Another Trane”

Eric Dolphy (alto sax) John Coltrane (tenor sax) Reggie Workman (bass) Roy Haynes (drums) on the first two choruses only: McCoy Tyner (piano)’: November 2, 1961

“I Want to Talk About You”

John Coltrane (soprano, tenor sax) Eric Dolphy (alto sax, bass clarinet, flute) McCoy Tyner (piano) Reggie Workman (bass) Elvin Jones (drums); November 18, 1961

With the “classic” quartet:

“Soul Eyes”

John Coltrane (soprano sax) McCoy Tyner (piano) Jimmy Garrison (bass) Elvin Jones (drums); April 11, 1962

With Duke Ellington:

“In a Sentimental Mood”:

John Coltrane (tenor, soprano sax) Duke Ellington (piano) Jimmy Garrison (bass) Sam Woodyard (drums); September 26, 1962

With the “new” quartet:

:”After the Rain”

John Coltrane (soprano, tenor sax) McCoy Tyner (piano) Jimmy Garrison (bass) Roy Haynes (drums); April 29, 1963

With Johnny Hartman:

“My One and Only Love”

John Coltrane (tenor sax) McCoy Tyner (piano) Jimmy Garrison (bass) Elvin Jones (drums) Johnny Hartman (vocals); March 7, 1963

A Love Supreme:

“Psalm”

John Coltrane (tenor sax) McCoy Tyner (piano) Jimmy Garrison (bass) Elvin Jones (drums); December 9, 1964

With Pharoah Sanders:

“Evolution”

Donald Garrett (bass clarinet, bass) Pharoah Sanders (tenor sax) John Coltrane (tenor, soprano sax) McCoy Tyner (piano) Jimmy Garrison (bass) Elvin Jones (drums); September 30, 1965

“Kulu Se Mama”

John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders (tenor sax) McCoy Tyner (piano) Jimmy Garrison (bass) Donald Garrett (bass, bass clarinet) Frank Butler, Elvin Jones (drums) Juno Lewis (vocals, percussion); October 14, 1065

If you would like to celebrate this birthday all day, listen to WKCR’s birthday celebration on iTunes.

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Herbie Nichols: “It Didn’t Happen”

One of the great unsung composers and pianists of mid-twentieth century, Herbie Nichols is probably best known for composing “Lady Sings the Blues,” a piece to which Billie Holiday added the lyrics, and it became one of her signature pieces. But Nichols was perhaps even more astonishing when he improvised on the piano. Here is a take of his composition “It Didn’t Happen” with bassist Al McKibbon and drummer Art Blakey. It was recorded May 6, 1955 at Rudy Van Geller’s studio in New Jersey.

While McKibbon propels the piece with his driving, walking bass, Nichols left hand explores remarkable melodic and intricate harmonic variations of a witty melody while his right finds the right spots to land skeletons of chords to anchor the piece, seemingly to keep the whole thing from flying into the netherworld. Blakey shows both precise time-keeping and remarkable ambidexterity, providing a percussive drive in the precisely appropriate timbre.

The period from the death of Charlie Parker to the death of John Coltrane was one of extraordinary inventiveness, harmonically and rhythmically. Both of those experiments join fluently here.

Greensleeves by Coltrane

When Coltrane entered the Van Gelder studio in New Jersey on May 23, 1961, he had not yet recorded with the “classic” quartet. Two parts, McCoy Tyner (piano) and Elvin Jones (drums) had payed in the stunning version of “My Favorite Things” just seven months before. But bassist Reggie Workman would record with Coltrane for the first time in this Africa/Brass session.

This session was a big band set. Among the musicians were Freddie Hubbard and Booker Little on trumpets and Little’s then front-line partner Eric Dolphy on various reeds. Plus five french horns! including, of course, Julius Watkins.

“Greensleeves” didn’t display the full force of the big band or the brilliant arrangements by Dolphy, Tyner and Cal Massey. But it’s 3/4 time and the block chords of Tyner and the ability of Coltrane to alchemize a well-known ditty into an existential cry (all harkening back to “Favorite Things”), is a treat, especially at this time of year.

Personel: Freddie Hubbard, Booker Little (trumpet); Jim Buffington, Donald Carrado, Bob Northern, Robert Swisshelm, Julius Watkins (French horn); Charles Greenlee, Julian Priester (euphonium); Bill Barber (tuba); John Coltrane (soprano,tenor saxophone); Eric Dolphy (alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute); Pat Patrick (baritone saxophone); Garvin Bushell (reeds); McCoy Tyner (piano); Reggie Workman (bass); Elvin Jones (drums).

America’s Greatest Composer

In a few days it will be 40 years since Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington passed. (He died on May 24, 1974. He didn’t get to live to see Nixon resign.)

There is nothing magical about these anniversaries, of course. It only occurred to me because I have been thinking about the state of American music for a couple of days. I won’t reveal my thoughts here, for fear of being dismissed as an old crank. But I can suggest that it would be difficult for anyone to make the case that someone other than the Duke can claim the title of America’s greatest composer.

There’s no doubt that Carter, Wuorinen, Babbit, Varese and Ives made important music that we will study for years to come. But America has never produced art music, in the European tradition, as a natural matter. In terms of vital, organic and innovative music, America has only produced jazz and blue grass. Blue grass, however, has never been written in a wide enough variety of forms to be considered a serious art form. Jazz, however, has had quite a number of original composers, something of a perceived anomaly for a music mostly known for improvisation covering pop music. It is true that it is difficult to isolate a jazz “composer” (such as, for example, Monk, Gillespie, Mingus and Coltrane) from an “arranger” (such as Henderson, Basie and Evans). But there is no doubt where Duke Ellington stands on that divide. For more than forty years he produced one marvel after another, which he not only wrote, but arranged and conducted.

It’s difficult to pick a period that best displays his genius. But “periods” he certainly has, as assuredly as Picasso did. From the “Jungle Music” of his Cotton Club days, to the “classicist” of the 30s and 40s (with the Carnegie Hall music), during which time he had the outstanding performers Ben Webster on sax and Jimmy Blanton on bass, which RCA Victor used to sell its compilation of Ellington recordings. The ’50s were a difficult time for Big Bands but Ellington used it to write one of his most startling pieces, “Satin Doll,” which was never better interpreted than by his own quirky original piano treatment. The 60s saw him attempt “serious” compositions/arrangements with suites (including a version of the “Nutcracker”) that did not stack up to his earlier efforts. But at the same time he was exploring the avant-garde. Possibly the best of these efforts was Money Jungle with Coltrane and Mingus. The efforts of the 60s paid off with a renaissance in the 70s, when he himself was in his 70s. And it was listening to an album from that period that got me thinking in this vein. The album was Afro-Eurasian Eclipse.

That album ostensibly offers a “fusion” with what Ellington calls “oriental” music. You can safely ignore the Duke’s explanation; in fact it’s somewhat embarrassing to listen to. I have never understood the thinking of the A&R flacks at Columbia Records, who seemed to relish self-indulgent and often patronizing blather. But once you get past the first 10 seconds or so of this album, you will find the music undeniably superb. Admittedly, the effects are largely owing to block orchestral forces and the open voicings of the brass at climaxes. But pitting block forces was the mainstay of someone as orthodox in Germanic art music as Bruckner. And if you object to open voicings, then you probably have no interest in big band jazz anyway.

That said, if you have a half hour, it could be spent in many worse ways than listening to Afro-Eurasian Eclipse:

September 15, 1963: 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama

A mere fifty years ago today America awoke to the deep and virulent hatred that smoldered in the breast of this country. It was born in an inhumanity that was present long before the founding at the country, acknowledged in the Constitution (an imperfect temporizing which is overly revered today), nurtured with legal, economic and social injustice that still is not eradicated, despite the act of reactionary terrorism that took place on that day.

The victims were as unlikely as the place the massacre took place—at a church on a Sunday morning. None of the victims would be 65 yet, if they had survived. Twenty two others were injured (one girl lost an eye), as the dynamite was timed to go off at the moment that 26 children assembled to hear a sermon on Christian forgiveness. The martyrs were:

Addie Mae Collins (age 14), Denise McNair (age 11), Carole Robertson (age 14), and Cynthia Wesley (age 14).

Addie Mae Collins (age 14) [top left], Denise McNair (age 11) [top right], Cynthia Wesley (age 11) [bottom left] and Carole Robertson (age 14) [bottom right].

Words could not then formulate a civilized response to the craven act of barbarism.

John Coltrane’s elegy on the event, “Alabama,” gives one response:

All history is filled with overwhelming grief, and even the smallest steps forward must be paid for in buckets of innocent blood. And yet that is not enough.  Necessity then requires the innocents to bear their sorrow publicly to let the world judge whether reason exists to deny justice.

Mr. and Mrs. Alvin C. Robertson arrive for funeral services for their daughter Carol, Sept. 17, 1963. [Photo: Bettmann/Corbis.]

Mr. and Mrs. Alvin C. Robertson arrive for funeral services for their daughter Carol, Sept. 17, 1963. [Photo: Bettmann/Corbis.]

At the funeral Martin Luther King said that life was as hard as crucible steel. And though all the mourners over the world played their meek part, justice was still denied. Neither the state nor the federal government filed charges in the 1960s. It wasn’t until 1977 that the first conspirator was charged. He was sentenced to life in prison, but death shortened his sentence eight years later. Another died in 1994, never charged. A third was charged in 2001 and sentenced to life in prison. The fourth was sentenced in 2002 and died two years later. In all, the four assassins enjoyed a total of 122 years before they were charged or 72 years more than the total length their victims lived on earth.

Once it was said that these victims could count the passing of the Voting Rights Act as a memorial. But this year, despite the repeated reenactment by Congress, the Supreme Court, now filled with soulless reactionaries, struck down a key portion of the act as being outdated and not supported by the fact-finding of Congress. Justice Antonin Scalia was secure enough in his own arrogance to say that the Act, which was simply a modest and long-belated form of political justice, “embedded” a form of “racial preferment.” He said this not in a court of law, because to him laws are simply the expression of power which emanates from money, but at a private gathering at the University of California Washington Center.

Within minutes of the Court’s decision, several formerly confederates states began to draw up legislation (and in one case voted on a bill) that would restrict voting access by African-Americans, as well as other groups disfavored by the powers that be. It is therefore clear that although the victims of 50 years ago did not die in vain, America’s original sin has never been expiated. In fact, all signs suggest that buckets of blood will again be required before the rising tide of injustice and malice can be stemmed.