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Bob Boss: 1952-2024

Blog Name:Home Page News

Blog Author:San Diego's Jazz 88.3

Posted on:February 27, 2024

The San Diego jazz community lost a beloved family member when guitarist Bob Boss died unexpectedly on Sunday, Feb. 18, in Idyllwild, after performing what would be his last concert. Within hours, tributes began to flood social media from fellow artists, former students, and loving family members and friends who never wanted the music to end. He was 71.

Read full article at: Bob Boss: 1952-2024

Looking for a Contemporary Album that Celebrates Alice Coltrane as Well as John?

Try Lakecia Benjamin's "Pursuance: The Coltranes"

By Matt Silver

Trained in jazz and forged in funk, alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin grew up hooked on Coltrane — Alice Coltrane. A friend introduced her to the music of John’s second wife, and she became enthralled. It wasn’t until some time later that Benjamin learned who John Coltrane was and that he could play a little, too.

Benjamin’s Pursuance: The Coltranes is a celebration of both Coltranes’ individual careers and also the union that drove both artists both musically and spiritually. There are 13 tunes here, seven from John’s canon, six from Alice’s.

Benjamin, interesting because she made what might be seen as the reverse commute to John Coltrane’s music (i.e. arriving there via Alice), manages eclecticism without affectation and dresses up older tunes in modern garments without being overly clever about it. This is a tough line for young musicians to straddle and should be applauded.

Though Benjamin had some help here.

Pursuance is like a giant jazz family reunion, with representatives from every generation that could still produce them (at the time the album was being made in 2019 and 2020). Bassists Ron Carter and Reggie Workman (also a co-producer) are two of the few still around to have played with both John and Alice; they both appear here. As do about 40 others — vets like Gary Bartz (alto sax), Dee Dee Bridgewater (vocals), Marc Cary (piano) and Regina Carter (violin) and younger lions and lionesses like Keyon Harrold (trumpet), Bruce Williams (saxophone), Jazzmeia Horn (vocals) and Brandee Younger (harp).

The multi-instrumentalist and virtuoso Marcus Strickland is in there representing the Gen Xers and, as always, playing his backside off.

I’ve always loved Strickland’s turns on bass clarinet, and we’ve got one here that shines, on “Going Home,” a Benjamin arrangement of an old gospel tune that Alice Coltrane recorded on 1973’s Lord of Lords.

Here, it plays as a jazz suite and glistens with Baroque maximalism.

From start to finish, it’s a beautifully re-constructed and emotionally stirring tribute to one of Alice Coltrane’s most lasting arrangements. Sharp Radway (piano) and Regina Carter (violin) play the iconic and magisterial overture in unison; it is divine in a supernatural, out-of-this-world kind of way. If you’re one for nihilistic tendencies, listen to the opening 90 seconds here and then check back with me; you might go from thinking everything is nothing to everything is everything.

After the opening thunderclap, there’s a second, softer sub-introductory passage with Strickland, on bass clarinet, playing a high-low game with clarinet. Then it’s Brandee Younger’s turn to introduce the recognizable theme that, here, bears no rust. Regina Carter’s harmonic presence, in concert with Younger here, feels ordained by something bigger than us; Benjamin’s alto saxophone weaps tears of redemptive joy. Ultimately, though, it’s Strickland’s bass clarinet holding everything together here, like that indispensable dollop of sour cream in your favorite burrito.

I only wish “Going Home” had been made the album’s closer; that’s where it belongs in my estimation. It’s too emotionally powerful to be buried in the middle of the album as it is. That said, it’s not always bad strategy to put a heavy hitter at the end of the batting order.

The tune that does serve as the album’s closer is “Affinity,” an Alice composition from 1978’s Transfiguration. Bruce Williams and Greg Osby open things here with the kind of rarely heard alto saxophone duet that makes one wonder why we don’t hear two altos playing in harmony more often. They give way to Workman whose playing continues to live up to his name’s most literal reading. Reggie’s doing work here, but it’s no labor; the elder statesman plays at pace with ease and drives and centers the band over the course of a complex arrangement more redolent of late-stage Coltrane, the explorer.

The take on “Central Park West” here plays like a collaboration between the ghost of Grover Washington, Jr. and the folks who put together The Hamilton Mixtape. This R&B -heavy arrangement of one of John Coltrane’s most celebrated compositions might be jarring to purists, but I think it’s a heck of a lot of fun… for the most part.

Benjamin’s sax parts occupy a territory bordering on smooth jazz, which, again, just a word of warning to the bebop/hard-bop purists out there. That said, Benjamin’s solo work exhibits refined technique and mature sensibility that’s grounded in melody but prepared to go astral when the situation calls for it.

Stick around to the end of the tune so as not to miss an extended scat solo from one of the brightest young stars in vocal jazz, Jazzmeia Horn.

The take here on “Acknowledgement,” John’s enduring tour de force from 1964’s A Love Supreme also features extended scatting, this time from the incomparable Dee Dee Bridgewater. The scatting — as opposed to original lyrics from Bridgewater which are said to have been part of the original concept for this arrangement — works out even better. “Acknowledgment,” — and the whole of A Love Supreme, more generally — has always been thought of as John Coltrane’s musical conversation with a higher power. Sung lyrics, however well intentioned, run the risk of being superfluous, of not letting the horn speak for itself. The end result here is the right amount of compromise; Bridegwater compliments beautifully but never overwhelms.

That’s really the hallmark of an album like this, which takes some daring approaches to music Coltrane fans hold in the highest esteem. While Benjamin rarely mimics, she never cheapens nor distorts the original intent of the Coltranes. In Benjamin’s hands, the Coltranes’ work continues to breathe and grow.

The first cut, John’s “Liberia” is probably the most faithfully executed on the album, with veteran saxophonist Gary Bartz throwing down the gauntlet on a take that swings hard.

For a through line connecting social movements past and present, there’s Benjamin’s take on John Coltrane’s “Alabama,” which was written in the wake of the infamous bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama that killed four young girls in 1963. Benjamin’s saxophone here is more than mournful; it is anguished and tormented and righteously indignant.

“Om Shanti” is the other side of the same coin—the post-cathartic side that seeks peace and unity. Featuring Georgia Anne Muldrow (vocals) and Meshell Ndegeocello (bass), we’re also treated to old audio snippets of Alice Coltrane speaking to followers at her since-closed Southern California ashram.

Spirituality courses through the entire album. It doesn’t always cohere; it’s more like a giant buffet with some Eastern religion here, some Western there.  Benjamin succeeds by presenting the material in a way that educates but doesn’t proselytize, on an album that’s clearly ambitious but always tasteful and respectful of its source material. A fine, fine effort from a rising star aided in no small measure by an overwhelming assemblage of legends and legends-to-be.

Coltrane's Cosmic Music Part II: Trane's Final Impulses Transcend Pulse

By Matt Silver

Through 1966 and the rest of his Earthly existence, Coltrane kept on in the direction of the cosmic music, the compelling but ultimately unknowable new thing. Trane and his new quintet toured the country and were once again, one last time, recorded live by Impulse at the Village Vanguard in May, then again, one last time, at Newport in July, where the new thing was now a year less new and, on this occasion, Archie Shepp-less. 

They toured Japan—the first and only time Coltrane would — in July, and were treated like mega rock stars playing 17 shows over 16 nights in cities and towns across a rapidly rebuilding country (the most comprehensive musical account is the 4-CD box set Live in Japan, released by Impulse in 1991). By this point, Coltrane would’ve already been diagnosed with the liver cancer that would kill him a year later, two months shy of his 41st birthday. The trip’s breakneck pace must have aided the disease’s capacity to inflict bodily discomfort, and it’s been reported that he experienced headaches throughout the trip. In J.C. Thomas’s biography Chasin’ the Trane (1976), Coltrane is described as “chugging aspirin by the bottle” to cope with the headaches. Rashied Ali told Thomas that in looking at photos from the trip after Coltrane’s death, he noticed Coltrane holding his hand over where his liver would be, “like he was trying to stop the pain he must have been feeling all by himself.”  

And yet, biographers note his spirits were remarkably high; it seems he’d found a way, aspirin notwithstanding, to transcend the corporeal discomfort. Eric Nisenson, who authored Ascension: John Coltrane and His Quest (1993), called Coltrane’s tour of Japan, “...the event that was probably the greatest single triumph of his life,” and writes, notably, that a good deal of the music Coltrane played in Japan was, “surprisingly lyrical and accessible,” perhaps because, presented with his Japanese fans’ enthusiasm, he wished to, “present them with something of a retrospective of his music.” Or maybe he simply “...felt his own mortality slipping away and was feeling nostalgic for past triumphs.” 

Along these lines, when a Japanese journalist asked him what he’d like to be in ten years, Coltrane replied, “I’d like to be a saint.” His affect communicated that he’d responded jokingly; yet, again, this is a man who was aware he was dying and thoughts of what he might encounter beyond the earthly realm sooner rather than later couldn’t have been far from the top of his mind.

As summer 1966 rounded into fall, the quintet of Alice Coltrane, Rashied Ali, Jimmy Garrison, Pharaoh Sanders, and John Coltrane — now bringing not just his tenor and soprano saxophones to gigs but also playing more flute and bass clarinet — approached a year together as a unit. For the better part of a year, they’d brought this inscrutable gospel to audiences that didn’t necessarily demand it but, perhaps, showed up anyway. 

Some did so because Coltrane’s new music spoke to them politically and affirmed a righteous indignation. For the black intellectual and activist circles of the late 1960s who began to call for a more confrontational approach to civil rights activism than that of Martin Luther King, Coltrane’s new sound had been galvanizing. Even though there’s no evidence that that’s what he’d consciously intended.

“What happened was that for a literary fraternity, the music of Coltrane and others, like Mingus…really represented black militancy,” Bob Thiele told Ashely Kahn, author of the aforementioned Impulse book. “Most of the musicians, including Coltrane, really weren’t thinking the way their militant brothers were. I mean, LeRoi Jones could feel the music was militant, but Coltrane didn’t feel that it was. But he didn’t go out of his way to tell LeRoi Jones that.”   

Still others showed up because they didn’t quite get the new thing but wanted to; or because they’d loved the Coltrane of an earlier era and sought to recapture some—any—of that just by seeing the man blow his horn and occupying physical space within reach of his garment’s hem; or because they’d loved the Coltrane of an earlier era and sought to spend an evening reveling in maximum irritation and frustration. As always, some who criticized did so mournfully; others did so gleefully, as the hall monitors of any era’s concept of propriety often do.

Coltrane, almost always soft–spoken, gracious, and demure interpersonally, used his horn to respond to any priggish jazz gatekeepers who might’ve polluted his periphery; he blew — maybe even overblew — his way through doubters’ criticisms like a heedless streetracer who believes stop signs are for other people. He’d ventured so far out to space that not even NASA would catch him until they put men on the moon two years after his death. But in the fall of 1966, after returning from the Japanese tour and its punishing schedule, Coltrane started to fall back to Earth. He canceled a European tour, then basically took most of September and October for himself. 

But in the spirit of Rocky Balboa — a cinematic character that hadn’t yet been invented — he got up again.

On November 11, 1966 Coltrane brought a new kind of quintet to North Philadelphia’s Temple University. He played tenor, soprano, and flute. Alice was on piano. Pharaoh Sanders, having recorded on Don Cherry’s Where is Brooklyn? earlier in the day, played tenor and piccolo; Rashied Ali played drums; Sonny Johnson played bass, and Jimmy Garrison, too, may have been there. 

Coltrane employed a few extra saxophone players he knew from the area, as well as a line of percussionists including but not limited to Rashied Ali’s brother Omar and Algie DeWitt, a local Coltrane had met just days earlier at a benefit concert he’d played at a nearby Philly church. 

Drums were Coltrane’s fetish of the moment. In the liner notes to Live at the Village Vanguard Again! (rel. Dec. 1966), Coltrane describes himself as having “drum fever.” And in a 1990 interview for the documentary The World According to John Coltrane, Rashied Ali tells Howard Mandel, president of the Jazz Journalists Association, “[Coltrane] was in a drummer thing. He just wanted to free himself from playing these strict changes…. There were times when I played with Trane, he had a battery of drummers, like about three conga players, guys playing batas, shakers and barrels and everything.”

This drummer thing would continue into 1967. In late February, Coltrane and Ali — just the two of them — would record Interstellar Space, a six-part suite for saxophone and drums, with each part named after planets. At this point, Coltrane had less than half-a-year to live, and so it’s interesting that the music here is literally out of time. In earlier experiments in free jazz, Coltrane’s improvisations were laid on top of a steady pulse, a rhythmic foundation tethering the music to…something. Here, there is no steady beat or rhythmic center. 

The late avant-garde saxophonist David S. Ware told Ashley Kahn that it would’ve only been reasonable for Coltrane to understand that going this directionless direction was bound to lose people, even those who’d followed him faithfully up to that point. 

“You can get almost as avant-garde as you want to be, as long as you keep that steady pulse, right?” He asked Kahn rhetorically. “But once you break pulse, I guarantee you, you’re going to lose half your people.”

Though reasonable people can differ. 

Lewis Porter, in his Coltrane biography, contends that “These duets are the ideal starting point for the listener who wants to understand Coltrane’s last music—it’s so easy to hear what he’s doing. Each one begins with a theme, [then] encompasses some kind of working up to a climax, followed by a calming down, which leads to a recapitulation.”

Coltrane may have lost some people when he abandoned rhythm as most people understand it on Interstellar Space, his penultimate studio recording. Still others—most of them fellow musicians—feel that Coltrane was on the doorstep of a breakthrough. Something that would’ve transcended music and gotten him closer to what son Ravi has called “a universal language through sound” that would “call together the most basic and divine qualities that are common to all human experience.”

By the end of his life, Coltrane seems less a musician per se than a truthseeker, a technician using the tools he’s mastered to discover a language that could be even more universal than melody, harmony, and discernible rhythm.

Either way, his late-stage offerings didn’t alienate so much that they prevented Coltrane from remaining commercially viable.

Regardless of why people continued to show up and buy Coltrane’s records, the important thing to Impulse and its corporate parent was that they did. Rock and roll would’ve been the furthest thing from what Coltrane was interested in the late ’60s, but as rock quickly became king, the appetite for Coltrane among young, rock-inclined listeners, didn’t wane appreciably.

“Coltrane’s music had found a growing audience among younger, more rock-oriented listeners,” Kahn writes, “even as his name and music spanned distinctions of generation and genre. The demand for new releases—answered by his older labels Prestige and Atlantic as well as Impulse—meant that there was always a wide and somewhat confusing variety in most record bins.”

It’s no surprise, then, why Impulse renewed Coltrane’s contract one final time in April 1967, shortly after he’d wrapped recording on the final studio recording he’d see to completion.

On July 14, 1967, Coltrane went to visit his producer at Impulse, Bob Thiele. The two brainstormed about what to call the new album. Coltrane recommended Expression.

Thiele, years later, told Ashley Kahn about the state he suspected Coltrane was in at that meeting. “When he visited my office three days before he died,” Thiele said, “I went to the sales manager of the company, who was in the next office, and I said, ‘I hate to tell you this, but he’s going to die.’”

Expression was released two months later, in September 1967; it became the John Coltrane memorial album. Even the album cover’s thick black border lends it the look of a packaged requiem. Each member of Coltrane’s final quintet plays on it: Pharoah, Alice, Jimmy Garrison, and Rashied Ali. The track “To Be” is particularly memorable, with Pharoah and Coltrane on flute and one of the few recorded instances of Coltrane singing.

The funeral, at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan, drew a thousand mourners, including most of the musicians you’d expect. Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler played.

“He was our leader,” Shepp told Kahn years later. “He may have left town, but he remained so.”

Of course, there was truth to that; Coltrane the man may have passed to the next dimension, but he left a staggering amount of unreleased recordings behind. And even after 50-plus years of “previously unissued releases,” and “newly discovered recordings,” we still likely haven’t heard all there is to hear from John Coltrane.

 

Coltrane's Cosmic Music Part I: From the Penthouse to Infinity

By Matt Silver

1965 was a year of upheaval and a year where things were happening on a grand scale in America. The space race was on, the heat was on in Saigon, and Martin Luther King led marchers demanding equal voting rights from Selma to Montgomery. Muhammad Ali stood like a conquering hero over Sonny Liston after knocking him out with a punch no one saw, least of all Liston; riots erupted in Watts and Malcolm X was assassinated — by whom exactly, we still don’t know. 

What we do know is 1965 was the end of the line for John Coltrane’s Classic Quartet. By January 1966, McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones had left the band; their musicality was simply no longer evolving along the same path as Coltrane’s. The band now employed additional horns as well as multiple drummers and bassists. Tyner and Jones complained that Coltrane’s increasing tendency toward atonality and crowded bandstands left little room for them to hear themselves, let alone each other.

And yet, while two-thirds of his classic rhythm section may have felt alienated by the direction of the group, Coltrane’s output during the summer and autumn of 1965 was prolific, even for him. In late September, the quartet began a residency at The Penthouse in Seattle; Pharaoh Sanders joined as a second saxophonist and Donald Garrett was added as a second bass player.

Their first night in Seattle was memorialized on 1971’s Live at Seattle LP and two nights later this same sextet — at the same venue — performed A Love Supreme in its entirety, a performance released by Impulse in 2021. The latter is one of only two live recordings of A Love Supreme; the other was recorded just over two months earlier at Antibes, France. 

Included in that visit to the Pacific Northwest was an unlikely recording session at a Seattle-area studio that was posthumously released as Om in 1967, a 29-minute psychedelic trip that, although it was said to have embarrassed Coltrane, was a success from a marketing standpoint, timed to be released on the heels of 1967’s Summer of Love.

Next up, in mid-October of ’65, were the final recording sessions for Kulu Sé Mama, an album once again featuring Pharaoh Sanders alongside an additional bassist in Donald Garrett, and, this time, an additional drummer in Frank Butler. Released in January 1967, it would be the last album released during Coltrane’s lifetime. One standout track is the ballad “Welcome,” and, in the album’s liner notes written by Nat Hentoff, long of the Village Voice, Coltrane explains what he intended the word “welcome” to mean in this context. “Welcome,” Coltrane says, “is that feeling you have when you finally do reach an awareness, an understanding which you have earned through struggle. It is a feeling of peace. A welcome feeling of peace.”

November 1965 brought the recording sessions that would produce Meditations, a five–part, album-length suite that author and Coltrane historian David Wild has called “the summation of all the elements of the year’s music.” In Wild’s words Meditations incorporates “the compositional foundation, control, and religious depth” of A Love Supreme and “the freedom, intensity, and cathartic joining of voices” of Ascension, the latter of which explicitly signaled Coltrane’s crossing the rubicon into the avant-garde, otherwise known as the new thing. 

Meditations again included Pharaoh Sanders on tenor sax and, this time, Rashied Ali as the second drummer. It also marked the last time Tyner and Jones would record with Coltrane. 

There’s also something to be said about this particular suite of music and finality. Two months earlier, Coltrane, Tyner, Jones, and Garrison had recorded the same suite with no additional sidemen. Released as First Meditations (for quartet) in 1977, that session marked the final time the four would record together as the classic quartet.

If Coltrane grieved the dissolution of his old band, he either didn’t take long or did so while getting back to work because February of the new year 1966 found Coltrane back in the studio. 

Amidst change, there was continuity. Alice Coltrane slid into Tyner’s seat; Rashied Ali, no longer the additional drummer, was now the main guy. Pharaoh Sanders was doing Pharaoh Sanders things… playing sax, contributing on percussion and also on piccolo and wooden flute, and Coltrane’s recorded playing a bass clarinet belonging to Eric Dolphy (not on the gig) on parts of two tunes, “Manifestation” and “Reverend King.” 

Cosmic Music would be the name of the album that came out of those sessions. And its story is an unusual one. 

John Coltrane died of liver cancer in July 1967 without ever releasing any material from those February 1966 sessions. The master tapes, though, continued to live — in the Coltranes’ Long Island home, with Alice and their now four children. In January 1968, Alice decided to combine the two aforementioned tunes from those sessions — “Manifestation” and “Reverend King” — with two new tracks she’d recently recorded with her new band, a band which included Coltrane quintet holdovers Pharaoh Sanders and Jimmy Garrison and a new drummer, Ben Riley. 

Without telling Impulse records, which retained the rights to posthumously release any music Coltrane recorded for Impulse while alive, Alice released the album on the new record label she’d launched, Coltrane Records. 

This presented a problem for Impulse. 

Yes, Alice had breached her late husband’s contract by independently releasing material he’d recorded for Impulse. But it wasn’t just that. The record execs knew Alice had a lot of the unreleased Coltrane masters at the house on Long Island. They realized that this could be just the start of her releasing material Coltrane had recorded for Impulse under her own new label. Impulse was also well aware that legal action against the recently widowed Alice Coltrane would be a bad look and even worse for business. 

So they compromised. Impulse re-produced and re-released Cosmic Music in February 1969 with new, naturally cosmic, artwork and all the corporate marketing and distribution prowess a subsidiary of ABC could bring to bear. Dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr. who’d been assassinated 10 months earlier, the Impulse release credited the short-lived Coltrane Records as a co–producer, which was probably somewhere between tactical and magnanimous on the label’s part.

They also signed Alice, who, by then, had already been recording new music with her new band in her home studio. If Impulse Records had truly been the House Trane Built, it was only right that Alice Coltrane would be able to live in it. And lest there be any cynicism about this part of the arrangement: Signing Alice as a leader may have been the best thing for Impulse to do at that particular moment to ensure John’s unreleased recordings stayed under Impulse’s roof without having to go a costly and unseemly legal route, BUT the prospect of Alice becoming a leader for Impulse had also been something that John Coltrane had discussed individually with both Alice and Impulse producer Bob Thiele before John’s death, according to Ashley Kahn, author of The House That Trane Built, the meticulously researched and authoritative history of Impulse Records.

So that resolves the Cosmic Music imbroglio. But, then, what of the other two tunes recorded during the same February 1966 session that produced Cosmic Music’s “Manifestation” and “Reverend King” (i.e. “Peace on Earth” and “Leo”)? 

The fate of these two recordings, too, would become controversial, combined, as they were, in an unorthodox way with an earlier pair of tracks recorded by the then-still-together classic quartet in June and September of 1965. 

Here’s what happened: In 1972, these tunes — all four of them — remained unreleased. Alice Coltrane, since relocated to Los Angeles with the Coltrane children, decided to do something with them. She went into a Los Angeles studio and recorded arrangements she’d written for four violins, two violas and two cellos. Alice, in addition to conducting the strings, was recorded alternately on harp, piano, organ, and vibes, and she’d recruited Charlie Haden to lay down some additional bass lines. ”Joy” and “Living Space” from the 1965 classic quartet recording sessions and “Peace on Earth” and “Leo” — from the February 1966 sessions would all be overdubbed with the newly recorded bed of strings plus Alice’s various parts, plus Haden’s supplemental bass accompaniment. 

The reconstructed whole was released as Infinity in September 1972. Some — many — thought it blasphemy but Alice thought literally the opposite, that the new tapestry she’d created would’ve been aligned with where Coltrane’s ever-evolving spirituality was headed.

“Some people didn’t like the addition of strings,” Alice told Wire magazine in 2002, explaining that she and John had had conversations about “every detail” of those earlier recordings. “They said, ‘We know that the original recording didn’t have any strings, so why didn’t you leave it as it was?’ 

“I replied, ‘Were you there? Did you hear [John’s] commentary and what he had to say?’.... John was showing me how the piece could include other sounds, blends, tonalities and resonances such as strings. He talked about cosmic sounds, higher dimensions, astral levels, and realms of music and sound that I could feel.”

Three Coltrane Legacy Membership Events You'll Love Supremely

Hi there, Jazz88ers! KSDS content creator Matt Silver here to tell you about a few of the fun ways we’re closing out our monthlong celebration of The Coltrane Legacy.

You won’t need to worry about the mid-week blues next week; we’ve got you covered with three consecutive nights of awesome Coltrane-inspired events.

Free Film Screening- TONIGHT!

Blog Name:Home Page News

Blog Author:San Diego's Jazz 88.3

Posted on:February 22, 2024

Join KSDS for a FREE film screening as we continue to celebrate The Coltrane Legacy for Black History Month. The event will be held in the AH Building at City College. Room 306 TONIGHT at 7:30PM. It will be a one-of-a-kind film that will highlight John Coltrane's career and show the only existing footage that exists of Trane.

You can park in Lot 8 for FREE. Just input “1343 C Street” and the parking lot is directly across from that address. The event is open to the public.

LIVE AT LEFTYS 5 to 9pm, FEB 29TH

Blog Name:Home Page News

Blog Author:San Diego's Jazz 88.3

Posted on:February 22, 2024

On the final night of this leap-year-February, an exclusive KSDS membership event worthy of the all-too-rare February 29th. We’ll be at the beautiful outdoor patio at Lefty’s Chicago Pizzeria in Mission Hills and have a BEEFED UP “Jazz Across America: Chicago” listening party and concert. That’s a Jazz Night in America: Chicago listening party, all-you-can-eat buffet from Lefty’s, and a live concert celebrating that historic collaboration between Cannonball and Coltrane…all for just $60/person. A few seats remain so reserve your spot ASAP by DONATING NOW.  Or call 619-388-3037.

Read full article at: LIVE AT LEFTYS 5 to 9pm, FEB 29TH

Blue World: The 1964 Session Between Crescent and A Love Supreme We Didn't Know About Until 2019

And the only film for which John Coltrane ever recorded music.

”Le Chat Dans Le Sac” is a 1966 French Canadian film in the style of the French New Wave, in part about the disintegration of a young couple's relationship. With music by John Coltrane.

By Matt Silver

At just 37 minutes, and comprising eight takes of only five distinct tunes, it’s hard to categorize John Coltrane’s Blue World as an album, per se.

That doesn’t make it any less spectacular.

Issued by Impulse! Records in Sept. 2019, Blue World constitutes previously unreleased recordings from John Coltrane and his classic quartet at the very peak of the their powers and cohesiveness as a unit.

1964: John Coltrane Finds Love, Realizes A Love Supreme the Manifestation of an 18-Year-Old Vision

Or, that time a four-track, album-length jazz suite wasn't a losing proposition.

Coltrane smokes a pipe while taking a break from recording “A Love Supreme” at Van Gelder Studios, Dec. 1964. Photo by Chuck Stewart.

By Matt Silver

1963 chronicled a version of Coltrane’s Classic Quartet navigating between at least two worlds — the highwater mark of the group’s avant-garde experimentations, as heard on 1961’s "Live" at the Village Vanguard and Impressions, and 1962’s tidal recession to the more, shall we say, accessible repertoire of Ballads and the eponymously titled collaboration with Duke Ellington. It's a split-the-baby-in-two type scenario: you’ve got more adventurous sessions at Birdland as the year’s bookends — and, sandwiched between, the velvety lyrical decadence of Trane’s collaboration with Johnny Hartman AND six months of gigs with a substitute drummer, Roy Haynes, who filled in admirably for Elvin Jones, most memorably at 1963’s Newport Jazz Festival.

In 1964, there’s less vacillation, more incantation. Less compromise; more contemplation. Less soul searching; more satisfaction. More grounding and even more gratitude. 

And more happiness. In Coltrane’s career, but also in his life more generally. 

Some Thoughts on How to Begin to Make Sense of John Coltrane's Early Abstract Expressionism

There are several ways to think about Coltrane’s experiments with dissonance and atonality and multiphonics and other concepts that may or may not have been instructive to CIA enhanced interrogation protocols. It’s fun to speculate about what exactly Coltrane was trying to do; what abstract truth he was trying to render more material by pushing his horn — and himself — to the absolute limits of expression. 

But here’s what I think is safe to say with substantial certainty. It was about music — at least to the extent that it expanded our collective conception of what music is and can be. But it wasn’t all about music and, possibly, wasn’t even primarily about music. 

John Coltrane knew how to make complex, thrilling, emotionally moving music for music’s sake. There was always a part of him that remained committed to this. Even on the Live at the Vanguard recordings. See the “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise.” Adventurous and accessible. A bouncy, exuberant Tyner solo into a Coltrane soprano solo that calls to mind “My Favorite Things” but more caustic, more astringent, and largely free of the exotic Middle Eastern/Indian influences. Searching, yes. But lines that are long, legato, lyrical. Very little off-piste. All ultimately in service of getting this standard songbook tune home safe and sound, with some tousled hair and mild disorientation, but otherwise in one piece.

But the Coltrane that can be filed under the “new thing” — of which “Chasin’” is just an early entry — seems to use music as a means rather than an end in itself. That is, another means of communicating and acknowledging shared truths and insights into life, the universe and/or the human condition that aren’t easily articulated through more conventional modes of communication, like spoken or written speech.

“It’s more than beauty that I feel in music—that I think musicians feel in music,” Coltrane told DownBeat’s Don DeMichael in April 1962. “What we know we feel we’d like to convey to the listener. We hope that this can be shared by all. I think, basically, that’s about what it is we’re trying to do. 

“... Overall, I think the main thing a musician would like to do is to give a picture to the listener of the many wonderful things he knows of and senses in the universe. That’s what music is to me—it’s just another way of saying this is a big, beautiful universe we live in, that’s been given to us, and here’s an example of just how magnificent and encompassing it is.”

Often, Coltrane’s more “challenging” music feels like a special key forged by a learned keymaster. Maybe that’s not a bad way to think of this strain of Trane. Some keys—the more straight-ahead stuff — he made simply because he found intrinsic beauty in making beautiful keys. But other keys were made because he thought, soberly and in good faith, that these keys could open doors that would lead him somewhere — somewhere on the tip of his tongue that maybe he felt viscerally but couldn’t quite articulate outside of a performance context. To the extent any intrinsic beauty is communicated to an audience in the process of forging these keys, it feels incidental, though not wholly accidental. 

Let’s try another metaphor. In honor of Coltrane’s tendencies, it just feels appropriate to keep trying and trying to communicate effectively the same thing in several different ways until it feels “just right.”

Back to the Future III finds Doc Brown (Christopher Llloyd) and Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) stuck in 1885 and their only means of returning home is an old coal-fired steam locomotive they retrofit for time travel. The train needs to reach 88 miles per hour for the time circuits to engage and send the vehicle instantaneously 100 years into the future (i.e. back to the future). Problem is, Marty’s having trouble thinking “fourth dimensionally,” as Doc calls it. You see, Marty’s looking at a stretch of unfinished train track that ends at the edge of a ravine; both Marty and Doc know that in another year-and-a-half, a bridge will be built and the remainder of the track will be laid on that bridge, allowing trains to safely span the ravine. But it hasn’t been built yet. And Marty’s worried about sending their time machine — understand, the stakes are high here — careening off a cliff and into the abyss. 

“Marty, it’s perfect. You’re just not thinking fourth-dimensionally!” Doc exclaims. “Don’t you see?! The bridge will exist in 1985. We’ll reach 88 miles-per-hour just before we hit the edge of the ravine, at which point we’ll be instantaneously transported back to 1985 and coast safely across the completed bridge.” 

This, I think, would be a good parable from which to try and understand at least some of what Coltrane was going for with his more out there stuff.

It’s not hostility to the audience, or antagonistic. It’s faith-based. Faith in the presence — the reality — of a fourth dimension. The perfectionist quality in Trane’s playing from Giant Steps hasn’t been exorcised; it’s just different now. 

The story goes that the title “Chasin’ the Trane” came from Rudy Van Gelder chasing Coltrane around the bandstand with his recording equipment; Trane didn’t take to keeping still while playing this one. But Trane, too, sounds like he’s chasing something here. He may not have written it all down explicitly, but he’s got faith that his calculations are ultimately correct. It might take several permutations of stating and restating essentially the same idea or set of ideas in different ways, but eventually he’ll find the right combination — the right phrase, the right line — and the train will hit 88 miles-per-hour. And the track, just a moment ago leading only to a certain, fiery death is no longer a road to nowhere. Now it’s laid perfectly across the bridge, spanning the chasm, ready for a train to cross safely. 

You’ve just got to think four-dimensionally.