Why are we at KSDS so compelled to explore the vast reaches of the Coltrane universe? Because, like Everest, it’s there.
By Matt Silver
This February, KSDS Jazz 88.3 FM San Diego celebrates Black History Month by honoring the Coltrane Legacy. Though John Coltrane died at 40, the reach of his musical and spiritual influence was vast during his life and has become something approaching infinite since his death; like the universe, it touches more than we can perceive and comprehend and continues to grow.
His star is like one anchoring a planetary solar system, like our sun. Planets circumnavigate from regions near and far away. Some always orbiting at roughly the same distance; others coming real close for a time, drawing energy from the lodestar before slingshotting beyond anything known and not returning for quite some time. So many ways to orient the so many layers of this solar system, but age and physical proximity to the last version of Coltrane to draw earthly breath are good places to start. Consider the inner layer: Alice Coltrane and Ravi, their son (more about him below), Benny Golson, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Sonny Fortune, Pharaoh Sanders, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Archie Shepp, and Albert Ayler, who played at ’Trane’s funeral.
Then move outward, past the asteroid belt, and there’s a younger cluster of celestial bodies, possessed of their own satellite moons: Gary Bartz, Michael Brecker, Dave Liebman, Joe Lovano, Ernie Watts, Kenny Garrett, Bobby Watson, Bob Mintzer, Doug Webb.
And then those newer extensions of his legacy: Chris Potter, Joshua Redman, Wayne Escoffery, Walter Blanding, Victor Goines, Branford Marsalis, and beyond them still, the youngish ones: Lakecia Benjamin, Immanuel Wilkins, Gábor Bolla, Melissa Aldana, and, soon enough, one of the Young Lions studying at Gilbert Castellanos’s youth conservatory. These supernovi may take a longer, more elliptical path around the home star but prove the expansion of the Trane solar system to be constant with little evidence of slowing, let alone contracting.
Our mission at KSDS is to share our love of jazz — the music AND the stories and circumstances that have compelled its creation and continue to shape the contours of its legacy. During days, weeks, and, in this case, a month of special programming, we kick this into overdrive. By playing the music, of course, but also by providing our listeners with clarifying and edifying historical context that illuminates the past, the present, and the future of this music that, to us, is if not a giver of life then certainly a sustainer of it, not unlike the sun.
To the extent we have something like a credo at KSDS, it’s this: Enhanced Listening Experience.
So as we honor The Coltrane Legacy—that means Alice and Ravi, too — throughout Black History Month, we’ll dive deeply into the environments and experiences that made them and informed their ever-evolving musicality.
From John’s first recordings as an enlisted Navy man in July 1946 and the rhythm and blues dance bands he played with in postwar Philadelphia where he first became known as “The Train,” to his switch from alto to tenor and early career gigs with Jimmy Heath, Dizzy Gillespie, Johnny Hodges and, of course, Miles Davis.
From that point, he’d only live a dozen more years, but he’d make music that forever refined, elevated and redefined the form. With Davis, with Monk, with Ellington and, most notably, with McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, and Jimmy Garrison as the leader of the Classic Coltrane Quartet, a group celebrated English writer and novelist Geoff Dyer, author of But Beautiful, called “the greatest creative relationship between four men there has ever been.”
That, of course, would’ve been enough to secure Coltrane’s place in jazz history and the pantheon of 20th century American musicians writ large. But his spiritual vision-quest of a final chapter is so many things at once — mesmerizing, mind-expanding, disorienting, and decidedly debate inducing — that it begs the in-depth treatment our Coltrane Legacy programming will give it. Late stage Coltrane inspired one Christian denomination to literally venerate Him as a saint. And no doubt free-jazz musicians whose work he championed — Shepp, Ayler, Coleman — viewed him and wife Alice, whose work we’ll be celebrating with equal rigor and enthusiasm, as something close.
Throughout KSDS’s monthlong Coltrane Legacy, we’ll cover it all: every major period and album; every meaningful collaboration…and, of course, some of the rarities, too.
And, as has become our signature at KSDS, we’ll be supplementing with live events throughout the month.
On Feb. 14, we’re bringing RAVI COLTRANE— a son of legends and every bit a saxophonist whose bona fides speak for themselves — to the Saville Theatre to kick off the Spring 2024 season of Jazz Live, our flagship monthly live performance broadcast.
Then, on Tues., Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m., at the Saville Theatre, a Coltrane Legacy film screening. Archival footage — of rare Trane television appearances and Coltrane in concert filmed both here in the U.S. and abroad — that’s rarely, if ever, been seen by American audiences.
The very next night, Wed. Feb. 28, we’ll gather at Panama 66 in Balboa Park to hear GILBERT CASTELLANOS lead one of his classic quartets in a Coltrane-inspired program. And you can count on several of his students from the vaunted Young Lions Jazz Conservatory joining him on the bandstand; these kids are steeped in Coltrane and play their backsides off. You’ll be blown away.
And on the final night of this leap year February, an exclusive KSDS membership event worthy of the all-too-rare February 29th. We’ll converge on the beautiful outdoor patio at Lefty’s Chicago Pizzeria in Mission Hills and have a BEEFED UP “Jazz Across America: Chicago” listening party.
From 5 to 7 p.m., we’ll pipe in the incomparable Neil Tesser and "Jazz Across America: Chicago." Then, from 7-9 p.m., we’ll dovetail into the concert portion of the evening. Luther Hughes and his quintet, aptly named The Cannonball-Coltrane Project, will be paying live musical tribute to The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in Chicago, the landmark 1959 Mercury label recording ’Ball and ’Trane collaborated on in Chicago just a month before recording began on Kind of Blue. And if that’s not inducement enough, there will be a robust buffet of all the Chicago delicacies you can eat. In other words, the best Chicago dogs, Italian beef, and Chicago-style pizza this side of The Loop.
On the air, our experts will be digging in. Expect erudition, depth and breadth of knowledge, love for the subject matter, and soul — direct from the artists, writers, educators and broadcasters who’ve devoted their lives and livelihoods to this music. If Coltrane is a religion (and he literally is!), these guys are the ones who’ve been chosen by St. Coltrane himself to bring the stone tablets — all the Coltrane holy of holies, if you will — down from the jazz Mt. Sinai to enlighten and edify the rest of us.
This is what makes our on-air programming an Enhanced Listening Experience. This month, it will include but not be limited to:
The Jazz Maniac and master drummer Kenny Washington on Coltrane’s New York City and the drummer he met there, Elvin Jones;
Jim Gallert, host of “Jazz Across America: Detroit” on Jones’s Detroit roots and his coming of age in the Motor City’s first family of jazz, with brothers Thad (trumpet) and Hank Jones (piano);
Will Friedwald with a singularly Friedwaldian treatment of Coltrane’s iconic collaboration with vocalist Johnny Hartman;
Neil Tesser, winner of a Grammy for the liner notes he wrote for Coltrane’s Afro Blue Impressions, on ‘Trane’s relationship with Miles Davis Sextet bandmate Cannonball Adderley and why their 1959 collaboration for Mercury in Chicago was so excellent and so curiously overlooked today.
A journey of spiritual awakening with our guru and resident free jazz aficionado, the host of “Loosely Knit,” Chad Fox, who will meditate on Coltrane’s lasting contributions to the avant-garde;
and Loren Schoenberg, our swiss army knife of jazz erudition, and his on the triumph and tumult of his working relationship with Miles Davis, and the infinitely expansive legacy of Coltrane’s Classic Quartet, maybe the greatest small ensemble of its kind to ever be.
It will be overwhelming in all the ways you’ve always wanted a Coltrane retrospective to be; it will be comprehensive; it will be exhaustive, but not exhausting (at least not for listeners; KSDS personnel may need some R&R at month’s end).
More details on ALL OF THIS, including pricing for special in-person events where applicable, in the coming days, so keep your FM dial set to KSDS Jazz 88.3 in San Diego or catch the 24-hour live stream at jazz88.org or via the KSDS mobile app wherever you may be in the internet/WIFI connected universe. And be sure to keep refreshing jazz88.org for writing and digital content that will serve as a handy supplementary guide to the on-air programming you’ll hear all month long.
The Trane leaves the station Monday morning Feb. 5, and there’s room for everyone to hop on. Consider this your ticket to ride. It will be locomotive travel of the type you’ve yet to experience.