posted by Robert J. Carmack #blues2jazzguy
Subtitle; A Hipster’s perspective on Trane at 90. Its been a long 49 years ago that John William Coltrane was announced transitioned. This writer remembers that summer day as if it was only yesterday.
I was just starting to settle into the summer as any teenager would, with mine being a little bit different. That difference being, I was a young working musician playing saxophone in a Jazz band. Actually getting more gigs for Dance music or “Soul Music”, so we did both. So on top of playing “Motown” for a set, we always ended a set or opened a set with popular jazz of the era. Bumpin’ on Sunset with Wes Montgomery or Song for my Father by Horace Silver.
One of the most popular of Trane’s music at the time was Equinox and My Favorite Things. In order for me to become a big fan goes all the way back to when I first arrived in Los Angeles with my parents in July 1960. Quite excited to have moved away from the Deep south and the whole new environment to play, learn and live a better Life away from Jim Crow South. As a 10 year old boy, I had an affinity for advanced music beyond my years . One day I heard a song on the radio station my Dad listened to at the time called the Jazz KNOB , a Long Beach California station for all Jazz format. The song was Cousin Mary by Lambert, Hendricks and Bavan, a jazz vocalese group. The lyrics begin by the members of the group rhythmically chanting “John Coltrane..John Coltrane..John Coltrane. In my very young mind hearing this ,I thought I heard them saying, Jungle Train..Jungle Train..(Lol) .
I had no idea who this group was until about 3-4 years later, when I had many albums that my father had bought to refer to for further study. I was now a budding saxophone student who had a thirst for Jazz music and its history and all that relates to it. I immersed myself into the backs of albums where I got to learn not just about the leader, but all his sidemen. Coltrane had a distinct sound that differed from most of the other saxophonists I listened to in the mid 1960s.
As I progressed in my study of Jazz and its history. This led me back to the legacy of who and what were influences on John Coltrane’s life and music . I found that he was born in North Carolina to a mother and father who loved him very much and fully supported his dreams and goals. They purchased an alto saxophone for young John in 1938, where he became very proficient on sax and clarinet. the church was a big part of the Coltrane clan in High Point North Carolina. You could hear in many of Coltrane’s music in the mid 60’s leading up to a harvest of great recordings such as Spiritual,Alabama, Dear Lord and many others. The other thread that ran through Trane’s music in my opinion was the Blues, an essential ingredient for great jazz. The “Bird Factor” was a big factor in almost all of Trane’s Bop tunes, straight “12-bar blues” songs, , another stylized approach by Trane was to max-out on the chords, by inverting them ,creating new scales based on the tones in the present scales. One of the reasons John fit in really well with Miles Davis experiments with Modal chords, fewer restrictions from the “Traditional BeBop” block-chord structure. His classic recordings with Miles Davis are well known, Classic groups that featured some of the best in Jazz of the time, like Red Garland, Philly Joe Jones,Paul Chambers or Bill Evans with Cannonball Adderley.
For me, my favorite saxophonists during this period of time were Trane, Dexter Gordon,Cannonball Adderley,Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins,Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter. To further illustrate the feelings regarding Coltrane’s status in the Jazz community. Whereas the young Turks were starting to expand the music into what was called at the time so-called “Avant Garde” or “Free Jazz” .
nothing in my mind spoke to this new style of jazz more so than the album “A Love Supreme”. I had a bunch of young friends,14-18 years old, that would come together at a selected spot to bring our albums for listening and spirited discussions, anecdotes of personal experiences at concerts,etc. This was a big part of my jazz education . Hearing about the musicians, especially “cats’ I had no music by, or had never seen before. Being so young then, it was almost impossible to see a lot of jazz live because, they were in lounges or night clubs that sold alcohol and no food.
The saving grace for me and my buddies was a club out near the beach in L.A. called The Lighthouse Jazz Cafe. This venue had opened up in late 1949 as a restaurant/bar for mostly military audiences and local beach folks. but by mid-1950s under new management by local jazz bassist Howard Rumsey, he developed a policy of under 21 could come inside because they served food ( an ABC rule that allowed minors inside a place where alcohol is served) Me and my friends took full advantage of this policy. the other plus factor was that, even if you did not have any money to get in, you could stand outside on the sidewall and look into the club with those french windows.
The day Coltrane died, I got a lot of phone calls to inform me or If I had heard. You would have thought a president had died..well. in my circle of friends it was. I took out a few albums and began playing them. Crescent, Live at the Village Vanguard,Coltrane Sounds, My Favorite Things to name a few. As I recall whenever I had school projects in college where I produced a slide presentations/documentaries on socio-economic or sociopolitical topics. I used John Coltrane’s music as my soundtrack to narrate by. Years later as a mature adult, some 30 years later I would hear his music via over-head systems in stores, schools, cafes, jukeboxes or even at Bar B Ques on Boom Boxes by Baby-Boomers instead of Motown or R&B dance music. Even today, as I listen with fresh ears on some of his oldest music from the Prestige days with Donald Byrd and Red Garland or Art Taylor groups. even the early days with Miles Davis still have MAGIC in those eclectic solos. those beacons of light when I’m feeling a little dark or unsettled. I consider myself a jazz historian, but I’m more of a student of jazz and its legacy.
Some background on Coltrane…
Coltrane was born in Hamlet, North Carolina on September 23, 1926. His father was John R. Coltrane and his mother was Alice Blair.He grew up in High Point, North Carolina. His mother bought him his first saxophone, an alto in 1938. Coltrane played the clarinet and the alto horn in a community band before taking up the alto saxophone during high school. He had his first professional gigs in early to mid-1945 – a “cocktail lounge trio”, with piano and guitar.
Coltrane’s musical talent was quickly recognized. though, he became one of the few Navy men to serve as a musician without having been granted musicians rating when he joined the Melody Masters, the base swing band. By the end of his service, he had assumed a leadership role in the band. Many believed his first recording session included an arrangement of the BeBop classic Hot House.
After being discharged from his duties in the Navy, as a seaman first class in August 1946, Coltrane returned to Philadelphia. He then jumped into the excitement of the new music, BeBop and the blossoming “bop scene.” Coltrane was a member of groups led by Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Bostic and Johnny Hodges in the early to mid-1950s.
The Miles & Monk Years 1955-1957
The rivalry, tension, and mutual respect between Coltrane and bandleader Miles Davis was formative for both of their careers.
In the summer of 1955, Coltrane was freelancing in Philadelphia while studying with guitarist Dennis Sandole when he received a call from Davis. The trumpeter, whose success during the late forties had been followed by several years of decline in activity and reputation, due in part to his struggles with heroin. He was again active and about to form a quintet. Coltrane was with this edition of the Davis band (known as the “First Great Quintet”—along with Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums) from October 1955 to April 1957. During this period Davis released several influential recordings that revealed the first signs of Coltrane’s growing ability. This quintet, represented by two marathon recording sessions for Prestige in 1956, resulted in the albums Cookin’, Relaxin’, Workin’, and Steamin’. The “First Great Quintet” disbanded due in part to Coltrane’s heroin addiction.
Coltrane rejoined Davis in January 1958. In October of that year, jazz critic, Ira Gitler coined the term “sheets of sound” to describe the style Coltrane developed during his stint with Monk and was perfecting in Davis’ group, now a sextet. His playing was compressed, with rapid runs cascading in hundreds of notes per minute. He stayed with Davis until April 1960, working with alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley; pianists Red Garland, Bill Evans, and Wynton Kelly; bassist Paul Chambers; and drummers Philly Joe Jones and Jimmy Cobb. During this time he participated in the Davis sessions Milestones and Kind of Blue, and the concert recordings Miles & Monk at Newport and Jazz at the Plaza. At the end of this period Coltrane recorded his first album as leader for Atlantic Records, Giant Steps (1959), which contained only his compositions. The album’s title track is generally considered to have the most complex and difficult chord progression of any widely played jazz composition. Giant Steps utilizes Coltrane changes. His development of these altered chord progression cycles led to further experimentation with improvised melody and harmony that he continued throughout his career.
Prior to Trane’s death, I did not know about Alice McLeod(Coltrane)his pianist wife. Her name popped up in a conversation one night with a bunch of my Jazz group sessions , That was when I first heard the Live session at the Vanguard with Alice Coltrane now on piano instead of McCoy Tyner and Rashied Ali-drums, instead of Elvin Jones. the group was not only changing personnel, but the direction the music was beginning to take a new form inside a more philosophical, “Outside”(mainstream jazz) more eastern in style thats mixed with East Indian,North African and Asian influences and less once harmonic and melodic theories.
Today as I look back over at all the Coltrane Tributes I’ve attended, created, and performed in, I never get tired of hearing a Coltrane tune or “Trane influenced music”, to me it’s like getting inside a time machine and going for a short ride into the 1950s or 1960s jazz scene.
I support live jazz for the youth in jazz too, somebody has to keep this thing going.. since we barely have radio stations, NO instruments in public schools, the worse crime is the distorted madness being called jazz today. I guess I’m still old school where you got to “swing” the circle of Fifths, know all your scales in every key and show up on the gig like you done this before(Dress).
I interviewed the great Joe Henderson who once told me, “You work on your craft in the Lab” (woodshed) so when you get to the gig ,You know your stuff.”
I never got to see Coltrane in-person, because I was too young and unlucky. 1966 he came to UCLA, but I could not get a ride to the Westwood campus about 30 miles from my house, He had just released the Impulse album, Kulu Se Mama . I saw many Trane influenced musicians from the 1970s to today. Many of today’s musicians are just getting around to checking out the Trane Prestige years, still trying to understand the Impulse and Atlantic records years too.
The longer I live, the more opportunities I get to honor this great man through words, or music and verse. Today, I’m a big fan of Ravi Coltrane(Son) tenor saxophonist with his own sound and group. a daughter Michelle , who sings like an angel locally here in LA. and his old pianist, McCoy Tyner, Who’s still performing on the circuit whenever he feels it. LIfe is Grand! #traneat90, #MilesandTrane90