Top 50 JAzz Blog

Sunday, August 29, 2010

"Coltrane on Coltrane" by Steve Provizer

I just received a copy of the book Coltrane on Coltrane, edited by Chris DeVito. There are a number of interviews here-especially European and Japanese-that I'd never seen. Also, some good candids that I don't think had been published. Chris included an interview I did with Isadore Granoff, who ran the Granoff Studios in Philadelphia, where Trane got early musical training. Aside from an ego stake, I don't have a piece of the action and have no trouble shilling for it. The book is worth picking up.

In this post, I'll put "Coltrane On Coltrane" in the context of a previous posting about Jazz Neurosis.

Like many people-not just musicians-I have always felt as though I had an intense emotional bond with Trane. It might sound trite, but when I heard "A Love Supreme" at age 15, I had the first inkling of why someone-anyone-might understand the reason they've been put on the planet. I know many of you have similar stories.
"A Love Supreme" certainly presented a heightened version of the person John Coltrane, but it seemed to me, as I learned more about Trane's life, that it was not a trumped up public-image-conscious package. It was representative of who the man actually was. Interview after interview in "Coltrane On Coltrane" reaffirms that.

Music was obviously the core and driver of Trane's life, but despite romantic projections, that does not mean that his life was any less fraught than yours or mine. Apart from all the concerns of running a band, responsibility for recordings, touring and dealing with a family, he had to deal with an incessant barrage of often inane questions by the media. Throughout all of that, Trane's grace and humanity reassert themselves over and over. One simply marvels at Coltrane's patience and humility. Long after I know I would have thrown a mic stand at one of these interlocutors, Trane continues to find a way to respond that rescues them from the embarrassment of realizing how idiotic they are.

So, referring back to my post on neurosis and jazz-Yes, Coltrane was afflicted in a similar fashion. At the beginning of his career he emulated others, Bird and Lester especially, but by the mid-late 1950's, he'd begun the task of trying to clarify and externalize a sound inside his own head. And, wherever that sound moved, he had the courage to follow.

The miraculous aspect is that Coltrane was able to undertake this titanic psychic struggle seemingly without projecting any crap onto those around him-even after the deification process had begun. As history and many clay-footed gurus have shown us, that ain't easy.


Matt Lavelle said...

Must say I listen to Trane just about every day.More and more as time goes by.

It's at the point where I have just formed a new band with piano,bass,and drums.

Not to play his music,.I'm going to play my own.But like he did,.we will reach for the Stellar Regions..

If we can have a run like he did,.or like David S. Ware did,.I'll have Trane to thank..

Chris said...

I think Trane is the archetype for Thea jazz musician-searcher. I know some of my own creative restlessness comes from my reverence for Trane musically and from what I know of his personality as translated by the jazz press.

Matt....excited to get that "train" started!

Tom C said...

I probably have no business even to place my remarks on this article, as I believe that, thanks mainly to the critics at the time, Coltrane was placed as a beacon of light and may have wrongly influenced many other musicians. I don’t deny that Coltrane was a genius. I believe his best work was during the very last Prestige sessions, the Atlantic sessions and when he was with Miles on Columbia.

Once he began to record on Impulse: his first session was on May 23, 1961, Coltrane was going further than I was comfortable with: an exception is “John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman” on March 7, 1963. That’s the only Coltrane on Impulse that I have. At the same time, Jazz fragmented into many segments, and that may have been one of the many reasons why Jazz lost its audience. Having lived through this period in my twenties and being somewhat involved with both Prestige and Pacific Jazz Records at the time, both Bob Weinstock and Dick Boch were in a quandary as to what to do and who to record. Prestige still had Dolphy under contract, but he would be gone by 1962. I realize that all art forms are in movement and all of us have our preferences. My question is why did Jazz fragment in the early 1960s and how much influence did John Coltrane have on it? What’s your take?

Tom Curry
Jazz From The Top: Zumix Radio

Steve Provizer said...

Tom-Thanks for your comment. There's too much to say in a reply comment, so I think I'll blog it.

Christopher Ruston Rich said...

I can think of a bunch of reasons.

1. Aspirational. Charles Parker was reported to have sought out Stravinsky and Varese to expand his horizons and Coltrane immersed himself in Slonimsky's thesaurus. They wuz sick of tin pan alley.Plus if they invented their own sound structures they'd be off the hook for song royalties.

2. Personal changes. They got tired of heroin and working for what was long known as a heroin label in the heyday of heroin fondness.

3. Socio Political changes. Malcom X showed up so they got tired of those silly uncle tom routines with matching band suits n shit. Period jazz fans weren't all that helpful during the civil rights struggle.

Maybe they thought you were trying to keep em in 'their place'.

4. Technology changes. The introduction of lp recording and the explosion of available recorded music exposed those who wanted to know to music from beyond the aesthetic preferences of pasty white Americans. Teresa Sterne put out the Nonesuch explorer series of field recordings. They could hear stuff from Africa.

5. Maybe they didn't have that much to lose as the Beatles and boomers showed up and everything that followed wrecked their chances. anyway

Tom C said...

I think I was given my comeuppance! I find it hard to call Modern Jazz “pan alley” and the great musicians, such as Dexter Gordon, Gene Ammons, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, J.J. Johnson and many others were not influenced by the Avant-garde movement. In fact, I was talking to “Jug: one evening and he condemned it, complaining that it was destroying Jazz.

By the early 1960s, most Jazz musicians had cleaned up and were no longer using heroin. They were now into booze, including Coltrane. I don’t recall and division in Jazz regarding the Civil Rights Movement. By the way, in the 1960s and 1970s, every independent Jazz record label had Jewish ownership. Bob Porter and I had the only “goy” record company with Phoenix Jazz. Jug also complained that Jazz had no real Afro-American following and that was close to a crime as it was their heritage and they didn’t appreciate it.

The problem with avant-garde Jazz was that it drove African-Americans into the Soul Jazz Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Who do you think bought all of those records? They were marketed for the “Black Community.” I know that for a fact as I was writing liner notes for Prestige on them and I had to take that into consideration. As for technology, the varitone sax was wonderful, wasn’t it?

Tom C.
Jazz From The Top: Zumix Radio

Christopher Ruston Rich said...

It is tiresome to explain this over and over again.

Charles Parker was known to be interested in learning from Stravinsky and Varese.

John Coltrane practically memorized an entire scale Thesaurus from Nicholas Slonimsky.

In the early 60s they began composing big beautiful and ambitious works. Porgy and Bess, New York, New York, Africa and so on to mention a few.

They wanted to aspire to the status given to classical music but on their terms.

Most blue hairs that follow classical don't care for Schoenberg any more than jazz blue hairs like Ayler.

They wanted to move beyond the immediate black community to the whole community of humanity.

Going back to Schoenberg. He may never have obtained the following devoted to Bach but he didn't have motherfuckers from another culture whining because he was stepping out of his 'place'.

And that's what you all sound like.."damned niggers don't know their place".

Tom C said...

You should have said that in the first place, instead of beating around the bush! I still don't agree with you but, at least it more makes sense.

Christopher Ruston Rich said...

The point is, who knows? We could hold a seance and ask the dead, pore over what there is of their own words or just cut em slack and try to follow the bouncing ball.

I saw a detail in the liner notes of Africa Brass that mentions Coltrane had spent time listening to records of African music in preparation for the recording.

I wonder what records he found in 1961 as there couldn't have been a lot?

By the way, Africa Brass was recorded on Impulse at Van Gelder's two days before Ole' was recorded for Atlantic at A & R studios in New York.

So the early Impulse dates and last Atlantic dates something of a jumble as if he was winding down his obligations to Atlantic while ramping up his opportunities at Impulse.

Chris said...


It would have been hard to find records of African music outside the Smithsonian at the time....but there were some Folkways records....and there was Baba Olatunji. I don't remember offhand when Drums of Passion came out but Baba and Trane had personal contact way back into the early sixties.

As to the idea that free jazz was pushing African Americans out of jazz....I'm pretty sure that happened earlier than the sixties....rhythm and blues seemed to take the audience away in the fifties....even by the late fifties the audience for jazz was much more hip college guys....least that's the impression I get from photos from the time.

Christopher Ruston Rich said...

Olatunji was a key initial contact point. As I understand it, the wave of newly independent African nations began sending delegates to the UN around the time Bill Dixon worked there.

This wave of arrivals began to circulate around the music world as well.

Art Blakey made a few records with some of the African percussionists and others from the Caribbean basin that were Art's equivalent to M'Boom.

He made a trip to Africa years before, in the late 40s.

The main period label sources would have been Asch's Folkways label and Lyrichord may have been active by then. In France you had the Ocora label and there were other labels issuing field recordings.

I found some amazing French lp in the 80s of Southeast Asian cordillera music including odd water marimbas that used water for resonance.

The relationship between jazz and the motherland is full of potential for research.

Chris said...

Certainly is....and also a continuing source of creative.inspiration.

Chris said...

Also...the Nissan Luna recording was around since 1958 and was pretty prevalent in New York....folkies loved that record. Coltrane might have heard it.

I remember that record in my dad's collection....he was a cookie and a Protestant minister so it kinda stands to reason.

Chris said...

Jeez I hate my word guesser thingy......missa luba .....It's an album...not a car.

Russ Gershon said...

As powerful a musician as Coltrane was, I think it confuses cause and effect to say that his influence fragemented jazz. He was sensing and riding cultural waves that were much broader than his own work, or jazz, or music. The fragmentation of culture and its dynamic reconfiguration was what Coltrane was expressing in his music.

In a profound sense, I believe that his message was actually one of unity and connection in the face of change and fragmentation, a struggle for tranquility in the storm. However, due to the usual forces - fear of the new, an unwillingness of most audiences to devote time and concentration to difficult music, the accompanying marketing and business issues - many people did not perceive Coltrane's music as attempting to transcend fragmentation into the realm of spirit, but as a manifestation of chaos.

In a sense, the fact that he was as well-regarded and semi-popular as he remained is a testament to his undeniable power.

Steve Provizer said...

Russ-As to whether Trane's goal was unity, I think that's always been clear by what he said. As you say, the "sound" of the free side of his music challenged listeners to be able to hear that in the music. It sounded, and still does, like the hurricane and not the eye of the hurricane.

To me, the cause and effect question is (always) an open one, depending on one's perception of, well, free will vs determinism...

The extent to which Trane