Blue Train: John Coltrane

It is the first day of 2014 and time to tackle one of the big beasts of the jazz jungle. Blue Train was John Coltrane’s second session as a leader and his sole Blue Note set in that role. It is nothing less than one of the great jazz albums that everybody should know about and own, if possible.

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Recorded on 15 September 1957, Coltrane assembled a crack squad sextet at Rudy Van Gelder’s Hackensack, New Jersey studio to lay down 5 tunes on tape.

However this was a session that nearly didn’t happen, partly due to the less than timely intervention of a cat. Richard Cook in his excellent book ‘Blue Note Records’ recounts how John Coltrane, keen to improve his understanding of soprano sax, dropped by early evening at the Blue Note Records office. He wanted to borrow some Sidney Bechet records to learn what he could from them. Although between record deals at the time, he was regarded as a hot property on the scene. Francis Wolff, who took care of contractual arrangements at Blue Note had already gone home but his partner, Al Lion sensed that he could possibly make an offer to JC and he proposed a small advance to make one record, which was accepted.

Just as matters were about to be formalised, the Blue Note office cat (name unknown here) jumped out of the window and onto the street. Lion rushed to the window where he saw a woman trying to entice the puss into a cab. He dashed out and recovered the feisty feline but on returning found that John Coltrane had gone. The putative agreement was verbal and shortly afterwards JC signed a deal with Prestige Records.

However, Coltrane’s legendary integrity was to the fore and having given his word to record a session, he duly delivered…and what a package Blue Train turned out to be.

The title track runs for close to 11 minutes and is a wonderful strolling blues. Some listeners consider it to be eerie and sombre but I just don’t hear that. I just hear a piece of musical near perfection with solo following solo seamlessly. It is reproduced here from YouTube courtesy of everythingchangesmoi

To listen to Blue Train, touch or click on the arrow in the centre of the picture and enjoy.

The band really perform. While John Coltrane is on great form, trombonist Curtis Fuller makes a massive contribution to the overall ambiance. Meanwhile, Lee Morgan, on trumpet and although only 18 years old had already released 5 Blue Note albums as leader. Moments Notice and Locomotion are lively hard bop numbers which drive forward and each offer a great platform for the soloists. throughout the set the rhythm section of ‘Philly’ Joe Jones, Kenny Drew and Paul Chambers are impeccable.

I’m Old Fashioned is the sole standard played on the session. It is a Mercer/Kern song which was used to provide a vehicle for a song and dance routing featuring Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth in a now little-known 1942 film ‘You Were Never Lovelier’. The closer, Lazy Bird is a light, bright hard bopper. Job done.

The band etc:- John Coltrane (tenor sax); Curtis Fuller (trombone); Lee Morgan (trumpet); Kenny Drew (piano); Paul Chambers (bass);’Philly’ Joe Jones (drums). Recorded 15 September 1957. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey. Produced: Rudy Van Gelder Studio. Sleeve Notes: Robert Levin. Cover photo: Francis Wolff. Cover Design: Reid Miles. Issued as Blue Note 1577.

As the photo shows, my main copy is nothing special. It is the CD and not even the RVG remaster or one with extra alternate versions of Blue Train and Lazy Bird (which are quite listenable as alternate takes go). However, it is much loved and if you haven’t yet got it, I urge you to purchase and learn to love it too. Update: In February 2015 I bought the splendid MusicMatters 33 1/3 rpm mono vinyl reissue for those times when I want to listen to this great album at its best.

Happy New Year

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