Tag Archives: john coltrane

Marty Ehrlich & Greg Osby: In Traning

Fell asleep to “After The Rain” last night. Fun to seen so many Coltrane nods in the last few days. Yesterday, of course, was the great one’s birthday. Lately I’ve been unpacking ancient interviews, and came across chats with Wayne Shorter and Sonny Rollins about their thoughts on Trane’s approach. Here are two more from that era, the late 80s. Marty and Greg had spent lots of time considering the tenor saxophonist’s impact on jazz, that’s for sure. Think I’ll add Eugene Chadbourne’s thoughts to this tonight.

GREG OSBY

I once said that Trane had a harmonic density. I didn’t mean it in a “cluttered” sense, I just meant he had a whole lot of options. A lot of players exhaust their options quickly. Coltrane could hold your interest by just playing a vamp, or some modal stuff. He had more resources; he studied a lot more. He was more of a searcher, he never stagnated, he never stayed in one place for too long. To me, the main thing he represented was change. When his peers, or others of his generation, got hip to what he was doing, he was off into another thing. No idle time. Those are things I’m interested in.

There are a lot of people now who are trying to adhere to old principles, old ideas, and establish those as modern day traditionalism or whatever, and that’s cool if you want to preserve the things you think are jazz. But I don’t think there are any dictates or prescribe methods people should have in their playing. Trane knew that.

I heard him when I was still listening to funk. I guess it was around ’74 or so. I hadn’t been playing for more than two years, and we had a little funk band. I’d play my little funk licks on top of “Giant Steps.” I didn’t know any of his musical logic, but I could enjoy it. I knew it was bad, and I knew one day I wanted to get with that. That’s when I discovered Charlie Parker, too. I’d been listening to Ronnie Laws, David Sanborn, and Grover. But I was drawn to the magnetism and density of what Bird and Trane were doing. They were playing a whole lot of notes.

Jazz is about versatility. You’re supposed to derive stuff from all sorts of sources. I hear some players today who are so conservative they could be on Reagan’s staff. The music isn’t really progressing right now because people are afraid to cross a few lines.

MARTY EHRLICH

Coltrane seemed to be one of those artists who, besides his incredible popularity and meaning to those who listened to jazz and paid attention to black culture in general, was someone who  commanded the attention of many people who don’t listen to jazz. A couple of things made it happen. It’s interesting because he wasn’t a commercial artist in the sense of someone reaching across boundaries today; he was very serious and at times played very difficult music. A lot of that had to do with the times. His music certainly reflected the energy of the ’60s. I’ve found an interesting parallel between him and Bela Bartok: within their respective cultures they represented a few of the same things. People who didn’t listen to contemporary music often listened to Bartok. So here are these two artists who communicated beyond the style they played in. Both were very innovative, expanding the language of their idiom, but at the same time used traditional and folk materials in their music. Radical conservatives, really. They both had visceral emotions with involved processes, so they grabbed you intellectually and emotionally in a way that doesn’t often happen. A Love Supreme was a gold record. It’s very hard to think of a record of that intensity being a gold record in this day and age. People wanted a bit more seriousness at that time. To me he was an example of what a committed artist could be.

He was very consistent. I like all his stuff. At the end of his life, around the time of Expression, you can hear new areas of time, along with some very beautiful harmonic motion. Consistent definitely, maybe a bit obsessive. We hear his long solos, and we’re more used to shorter ones these days.

Everyone has to play out of their own psychology. I’ve never known Trane to play anything funny or tongue in cheek, like Sonny Rollins would. What we learned from him is how hard he worked to find what he had to do. Even though he was a part of the mainstream in a way that Ornette and Cecil never were, he still had to find his own way, which isn’t easy. Everything he played sounded like he had lived through it, like he had felt it first.

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Sonny Rollins Talks John Coltrane

It’s Newk’s birthday – number 81. Today it was announced that he’s part of the next Kennedy Center Honors. Next week, the second edition of his Road Shows disc will be released. It contains a chunk of last year’s 80th birthday show at the Beacon, the one that had him connecting with Ornette Coleman. You can hear it right now on NPR. I wrote a DownBeat piece on that night and the following days. But to celebrate Rollins’ current birthday, I dug into an personal archive that found musicians speaking on Coltrane. It was for a mid-80s piece published in Musician magazine. Here’s Newk talking about his pal:

John came into the “Tenor Madness” session by accident; he just happened to be at the date. He had his horn and someone suggested it. In those days, guys just kind of hung out together. I first met him in Miles Davis’ band. He had a big reputation preceding him around New York. The idea of two tenors tangling was a media hype – it always is. It goes back to the big band horn battles. But it was overdone; John and I were close personal friends, and the music was paramount. Saxophone battles and all that didn’t add up to much. We were into developing ideas and finding applications for them.

I first heard him in a band with Kenny Clarke. I remember very well. John and Kenny – it was fantastic. And I recall thinking that John was a puzzle. I could never figure out how he arrived at, or how he came up with, what he played. It was one of the things that made him unique. I never got a better fix on it through the years. Like any genius, it’s hard to get a handle on how they come up with their ideas.

His influence was pervasive. It’s inevitable to have influences. Any guy who’s that much into music is bound to be listening heavily to someone before them…like I did with Coleman Hawkins. The individuality will come out if it’s there. It depends whether the player can transcend the influence. To play what we call modern music, you’d have to have some antecedents.

A musician like Trane shouldn’t be judged in terms of his “early” or “late” work; there was value in all of it. I liked it all. It was all Trane. The best band was with McCoy and Elvin. He went through a lot of musicians to get that band together. He’d compare notes with others, talk about different players. I liked a piece called “I’ll Wait And Pray,” and of course I felt very happy about “Like Sonny.”  A Love Supreme was important because it came at a time when the group was crystalizing its extended works. It had certain spiritual implications, ideas Trane was interested in. I heard it said he was a “political” saxophonist, but it would be impossible to know what was in his mind at the time, politics or no. If anything, his playing was making a statement about religious ideas. But there’s no question the ’60s were full of turmoil. If you wanted to take some of his music and say, “Well, this shows he was angry,” I guess you could. But they called me that, too. How much of it was really true is open for debate. Did he consciously say, “I want to be a political player”? Can’t say for sure. To me he was just a musician playing. But remember, every black musician is automatically political. You can’t help being political if you’re black in the United States; it’s a fait accompli.

Lockjaw Davis recommended John to play tenor. He had been playing alto beforehand. When he went to soprano, I wasn’t surprised. Steve Lacy was the only one who was doing it at the time. John had that sound on tenor, though. You could tell it was him instantly. When you were around him you felt like you were with a genius. A genius and a serious, energetic player. He had a sense of humor, but he was serious. His humor wasn’t about cracking jokes. He was more droll, or wry. Almost like a minister, a minister of music.

Ted Panken has a couple wonderful interviews with Sonny.

Lloyd Sachs has some great quotes, too. 

Wayne On Trane

Today is Wayne Shorter’s birthday, so I dug up a chat I had with him years ago regarding John Coltrane’s impact and the way the two seminal saxophonists shared ideas. I like the “Lockjaw” Davis and Chu Berry part. Wonder if Wayne can do a slick Dexter Gordon? Here he is in his own words. Click into Accujazz’s Shorter channel while you’re reading. 

John’s wife introduced us in 1958. I was working with Horace Silver in New York. When I first saw him play, it was at Birdland; he was with Miles. He was doing lots of short phrases, all over the place. I knew there was something to that, that he was going to develop it, and as time went on those short phrases got longer and longer. Eventually they weren’t the same anymore. But that night with Miles, he was playing against everything, and when we talked about it later he said he was tired of playing against “Billy Boy” and things like that. After a while he stuck out like a sore thumb.  So he had to go with his own band, where it would all blend in.

When he was stretching out those notes with Miles, he knew he had to move on because it’s the only way his playing could crystalize. It would work better if he was the only one in the front line. He was actually orchestrating by instinct by not having another horn player up there with him. He would have to navigate that band alone. At that time I called the rhythm section the vessel. John was the leader. McCoy would join in with the navigation. He and McCoy were the front line.

After we met he invited me to his house. He said he wanted to get together because we were playing…not the same way, but in the same areas of the horn. He said, “You’re playing some funny stuff.” He wanted to sit down and talk about it. He’d play, I’d play, we’d talk about it. He was playing piano mostly, I think it was the beginnings of “Giant Steps,” those augmented thirds over and over again. Then he’d get his horn and play two notes over and over again. Then two others. Then two others. For a long time. We also talked about doing impossible things with your instrument. Not just thinking of your instrument for what it is, but trying to do things that couldn’t be done on it – going beyond the limitations. Like what Paganini did, and since then what other violinists have done. We also talked about starting a sentence in the middle, and then going to the beginning and the end at the same time. Musical sentences and conversation.

Other people came by, too. George Tucker the bassist. Cedar Walton, Freddie Hubbard. They’d all leave and he’d ask me to spend the night. We’d cook food. Then he came to my parents house on Thanksgiving. He talked with Albert Ayler; he liked him. He wanted to check out what was going on with the scene. Not just tenor, but flute and other things. I think that’s why he grabbed the bagpipes towards the end. Music is all encompassing. Charlie Parker realized that towards the end, too.

He would never crack jokes. Miles said Trane’s humor came out early. In the dressing room before the gig he’d start playing like “Lockjaw” Davis or Chu Berry, or someone real comical. Miles said Trane could do that really well, and that’s the sign of  a good musician, when you can impersonate someone with your horn. Obviously you try to stay away from that when you’re working your own thing.

From about ’55 on he had a sense of urgency, like he couldn’t get everything out that he wanted. I think he knew something about his health, even if he couldn’t pin it down. Maybe he went to the doctor and and the doctor said, “Hey, it might be soon.” Maybe he knew more about that around ’65.  But I imagine he got a hell of a physical. Being a serious person he might have taken that prognosis and used it as a yard stick to  see how far he could go.

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It Hit The Racks On August 17, 1959

Take a moment to breath in the medicinal airs of “Blue in Green.” Thanks, Bill. Thanks, Miles.

The brushes on “All Blues,” the trumpet solo on “Freddie Freeloader,” Trane’s entry on “So What”? C’mon, what’s your favorite moment on Kind of Blue?

Fred Kaplan explained things pretty well a few years ago, didn’t he?

Don’t forget Ashley Kahn’s opus.

Fathers Day in Jazzville

Must be a treat to play music with a parent. In this case, a dad. A recent Facebook chat with a pal reminded me of seeing Dewey and Joshua Redman share a stage at a jazz fest outside Boston back in the late ’80s. I believe it was the first time I’d ever heard Josh play live (also heard him play last night, as fate would have it). There are several sons who have chosen to follow in their fathers’ footsteps, and several of them have had the opportunity to work together with their dads. Hats off to those who are furthering the family tradition. 

1. Ornette and Denardo Coleman,  The Empty Foxhole  

2. Joe and Mat ManeriThree Men Walking 

3. Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo, Jason and and Ellis Marsalis 

4. Dewey and Joshua Redman

5. Jackie and Rene MacLean 

6. Bucky & John Pizzarelli

7. Von & Chico Freeman

8. Dave & Darius and Chris Brubeck

9. John & Ravi Coltrane

10. Thelonious Monk & Thelonious Monk Jr.

Top Five Jazz Albums to Play On Rapture Day

Be on the lookout for a dude named Ezekiel grabbing his trumpet and jumping into “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” It’s almost time for the rapture to grab up the true believers. I’ve read where the rickety California millionaire driving the whole thing is a fan of music, both celestial and earthly. Perhaps we can assume his tacit sanctioning of these glorious jazz titles as possible soundtracks to the end-days party.

Ascension, John Coltrane (Impulse!)

The erupting horns, the tumultuous drums, the collective agitation – it won’t be an easy ride to the next world. But those who have lived with Trane’s hectic hosanna for a few decades know that the turbulence is balanced by joy – a gospel shout of a different kind. And that’s a hell of an Amen Corner that Pharoah Sanders sits in.

All Rise, Wynton Marsalis (Sony Classical)

As usual Wynton is documenting the common hardships and simple pleasures that cross our paths from cradle to grave – call it a celebration of life’s unpredictable arc.  Maybe that’s why it would make such a grand parting soundtrack: the string orchestra, jazz big band, and sizable chorus create a whomp sufficient enough to make the last glance over your shoulder have a profound emotional impact.

Goin’ Home, Archie Shepp/Horace Parlan (Steeplechase)

Of course, you don’t need a billowing orchestra to provide your celestial outro music. A simple chat between two pals could be poignant enough to get the job done. This pair’s string of duet records began with this program of church music, and the plush tone of Shepp’s tenor gets a big hug from Parlan’s piano every step of the way.

Visions of the Emerald Beyond, The Mahavishnu Orchestra (Columbia)

It takes a certain mindset to waltz towards that white light. Back in the early ’70s, it seemed the frenzied guitarist was so ready to forsake terra firma, he played a double-neck instrument to get there in half the time. Of course, some would say that gooey fantasias such as “Eternity’s Breath” are full of hot air. When prancing towards oblivion, I’ll take “Cosmic Strut” any day.

Judgement!, Andrew Hill (Blue Note)

The shadows on the cover, the music’s eerie tone, the subtle mystery of the band’s interaction – maybe the Rapture needs to deep-six all those glorious adagios and have its participants meet their maker by slipping away down a dark alley. Hill will hurry them along.

And if the planet doesn’t crack apart by 6 pm tomorrow? Come on back here, we’ve got a song suggestion for that, too.

Hey, Dave Douglas rightly included Messiaen on his Apocalypse playlist

Roy Haynes, Birthday Boy

I chatted with Roy Haynes 17 years ago, around the time When It Haynes, It Roars was released. “My band doesn’t work all that much,” he told me, “so even before we get on stage the excitement level is high on a night when we’re playing. When we actually start, it’s like a tiger that’s been locked in a closet; I’m ready. My problem is restraining myself, cooling out out until all the juices are flowing right. Then – watch out – I explode.”

During the chat, as I recall, the iconic drummer turned up his stereo full blast, started cackling, and gave me a taste of his forthcoming disc, Te Vou! “Is that the shit or what,” he queried proudly. “It’s got that smiling thing that Jo Jones had: he’d be up there smiling, chewing gum and kicking ass!If you’re looking to inspire people, always incorporate that smiling thing.”

I chatted again with Roy Haynes last September, on the first day of his being home after a substantial stretch of touring. Europe, West Coast – many weeks in a row were spent driving his Fountain of Youth band and energizing Chick Corea’s ensemble. “This is the busiest year of my career,” he said. “Moving constantly, always going. I wake up and say ‘Where am I.’ It’s getting to be a lot.”

The master percussionist turns 86 today. Seems like his art is getting more and more eloquent. Sonny Rollins certainly thinks so.

“Roy is a guy that’s almost incomprehensible,” says the saxophonist. “I look back at my relationship with him – he’s been out there so long, playing with everybody – an essential part of everything that’s happened. You don’t even have to think about the drums with Roy Haynes – he’s got it covered. He always fits in with the development of the music. He’ll do whatever needs to be done to make whatever music you’re playing  sound good. ”

That kinda goes a long with another recollection the drummer conjured back in ’94. You’ve got to understand what situation you’re in,” he told me. “I remember working a gig with Stan Getz in L.A. before he had the bossa nova hits. John Coltrane was playing on the other side of town. It was Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday with Trane, and then the weekend with Getz. I could have tried to do the same moves with both of them, but they wouldn’t have had the same meaning. Sometimes I came back to Getz really wanting to kick ass, but I eased up. You have to adapt.”

Happy Birthday, Haynes.