Category Archives: Elvin Jones

Coltrane Plays The Blues: John Coltrane


Are you one of the many fortunate readers who has reason to visit a barber or hairdresser? If you are and they are any good, take a moment to salute them. Maria at The Clipper keeps her scissors as sharp as how I think my hairstyle looks when I walk out through her salon door. Why start with this you may wonder? Well, the reason will become clear as you read on.

John Coltrane’s life was eventful though his star burned brightly and briefly, as he passed away at the age of 41. 1960 was a particularly busy and momentous year for him though. Giant Steps was released in late January and he spent March and April touring Europe with Miles Davis. During this tour he spent hours practising soprano saxophone (some accounts say that Miles Davis bought one for him in a Paris antique store although Coltrane also said that he has bought his own instrument earlier in the year after first starting to play on one that belonged to a fellow musician).

By May 1960 he had handed his notice in to Miles Davis and his own quartet opened a 9 week residence at the Jazz Gallery in New York’s Jazz Gallery (housed in a Greenwich Village building in which Leon Trotsky had briefly lived). On the first night, Thelonious Monk and a man dressed only in a loincloth and shouting ‘Coltrane, Coltrane!’ rushed towards the stage in salutation.

He recruited McCoy Tyner in the summer and later, in September he hired Elvin Jones, who he first met in 1957. On 21 and 24 October they went into the studios to record sessions which were to yield tracks for no less than four major albums (not including compilations and retrospectives).

Amongst them was Coltrane Plays The Blues. It is often overlooked by people exploring Coltrane’s discography, perhaps because the title may make it appear to be a generic career-spanning compilation rather than as a discrete work, recorded at one particularly important time in Coltrane’s development as a leader.

Blues To Elvin is as straightforward a blues as they come, except that we are in the company of masters, with solos from Coltrane and McCoy Tyner.

Coltrane plays his soprano saxophone on Blues To Bechet, opting for a pianoless trio with Tyner sitting out. Coltrane had been working towards mastery of his soprano saxophone, a horn previously seldom heard in a modern jazz context since the late 1950s. During that period he had visited the Blue Note offices to obtain copies of Sidney Bechet recordings (you can read about this, how Blue Train came to be recorded and the strange tale of the Blue Note office cat here).

Blues To You harks back to Giant Steps with busy Coltrane solo in which he is running through the chord changes.

Delivered at a brisk tempo, Coltrane leads out on Mr Day over a piano theme tastefully played by Tyner.

The identities of the three men that Coltrane honoured in the titles of the songs on side 2 of the original vinyl release are obscured. Messrs Day and Knight may be self-explanatory (probably relating to different times of day, although if you know anything more, please let us know). Mr Syms, however, could only be linked to an actual individual and my quest to uncover who this was resulted in a long unfruitful and frustrating internet trawl. It was only when I managed to consult Porter’s excellent book that I discovered that the Mr Syms that Coltrane had in mind was his barber in Philadelphia (although Sims was also the middle name of drummer Pete La Roca). So that explains the dedication of this review to my hairdresser. The solos from Coltrane echo elements of Summertime, version of which was recorded on the same day, in the same session, and appeared on My Favorite Things.

The highlight of the set, for me, is Mr Knight, a brilliant composition on which Elvin Jones’ drumming is of particular note. It can be enjoyed on YouTube courtesy of monomotapa15

To listen touch or click on the arrow.

The CD reissue delivers five extra tracks with two alternative versions of both Blues For Elvin and Blues To You with a further number known as Untitled Original which sits in contrast to the rest of the album with its modal feel.

Coltrane Plays The Blues is a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying recording which repays repeated listening and which deserves a place in any modern jazz collection. If you haven’t sought it out, you should. Of course, if you can prove to us that Mr Day and Mr Knight were people, rather than conceptual titles, please let us know without delay.

The band etc: John Coltrane (soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone); McCoy Tyner (piano); Elvin Jones (drums); Steve Davis (bass). Produced: Nesuhi Ertegun. Engineer: Tom Dowd. Recorded: Rudy Atlantic Studios, New York City. 24 October 1960. Cover Design: Marty Norman- Bob Slutzky Graphics. Released: 1962. Original release: Atlantic Records 1382.

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Street of Dreams: Grant Green

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If your name is Grant Green, this album has a great cover. Indeed if anyone can direct me to a junction of Down and Withit Streets, a small reward is on offer. Street of Dreams reunites Grant Green with Bobby Hutcherson, who had made a significant contribution to the successful Idle Moments release (which I have yet to write about).

In terms of title, ‘Music for a Siesta’ may possibly have been a more apt choice. The playing on this brief set featuring four relatively short tracks, is faultless but the overall ambience is laid back and it is a sit or lie down and enjoy recording. This is a lineup who play very well together on a well-chosen series of lesser-known tunes. Following the recent passing of Bobby Hutcherson it seemed like a good time to dust this title down and write about it.

Green’s playing on I Wish You love is a an excercise in restrained self assurance. Larry Young also plays in a subdued manner, while Hutcherson contributes variety and interest on vibes.

Lazy Afternoon is perfect music for a hot day. There’s nothing to get the blood racing, just another well-developed set of ideas.

Title track, Street of Dreams features fine interplay between vibes and the Hammond with pyrotechnics from Elvin Jones on drums. There is also some passionate playing from Green when he gets into his solo, indeed it sounds like a great flow of ideas that a student guitar player could do worse than to study if they want to learn how to build excitement on this sort of track. You can listen to it via the following YouTube upload, courtesy of rogerjazzfan:-

Somewhere in the Night is notable for a workmanlike solo from Larry Young but once again there is nothing to raise the temperature.

So there we are. I like Grant Green very much but while Street of Dreams is pleasant enough, it is not a set that I play very often as it is just a little too light with a supper club mainstream feel. You may disagree of course. Idle Moments, recorded 12 months earlier, is a far stronger and more varied set which you may want to investigate first if you are not familiar with this phase of Grant Green’s discography.

The original sleeve notes were penned by that master of the waspish dismissal, Leonard Feather. However, he must have enjoyed Street of Dreams, which he describes as ‘…this gently persuasive set.’

Just for the record, the intersection of Grant and Green is in North Beach, a particularly hip part of San Francisco and the home of cafes, bookshops and clubs frequented by the Beat Generation.

Elvin Jones (9 September 1927 to 18 May 2004) would have celebrated his 89th birthday today (09 September 2016).

The band etc.: Grant Green (guitar); Bobby Hutcherson (vibes); Elvin Jones (drums); Larry Young Organ. Recorded: 16 November 1964. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recording: Rudy Van Gelder. Cover photo: Jim Marshall. Cover Design: Reid Miles. Sleeve notes: Leonard Feather. Originally issued as Blue Note BST 84253 in 1966.

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Crescent: John Coltrane

JC Crescent cover

There’s only one place to start this post: with a plea of Guilty as charged. I thought I was familiar with all of the great albums by John Coltrane up to the time that I assumed that he forsook beautiful and comprehensible playing for the outer limits exemplified by the likes of Interstellar Space, an album that I struggle with.

I was wrong. To my ears, Crescent should be ranked amongst Coltrane’s finest releases. Many tag this as Coltrane’s darkest and most sombre set. I prefer to think of it as the product of an artist going through a contemplative and reflective period of composition and recording. Entirely overshadowed by his next release, A Love Supreme, Crescent should be better known and far more celebrated than is currently the case.

The opening number which gives the set its title starts out with Coltrane laying down his theme in ballad form. Then the rhythm section and piano come in and Coltrane starts an improvisation that is at first leisurely but which grows in complexity. McCoy Tyner’s subtle and melodic boundaries are matched by Garrison and Elvin Jones and Coltrane’s freer and more phonic playing is contained within a structure that keeps things entirely, in my opinion, intelligible. Take a listen courtesy of YouTube:-

To play, touch or click on the arrow.

Wise One is one of the great Coltrane ballads. It is reflective rather than joyous and none the worse for that- some would say it is spiritual. Again Tyner is superb. I’ve long been familiar with this performance as it features on the excellent Gentle Side of John Coltrane compilation, which I also wholeheartedly recommend.

Bessie’s Blues is a short hard bop excursion, which hits the spot in a straight-ahead 4/4 style.

Lonnie’s Lament offers sophisticated listening, perhaps best heard at the end of a day when the listener is open to reap the rich rewards of a track which is evocative of whatever deeper thoughts one wants to evoke but which does not strike me as a sad lament (perhaps You may perceive it as such though). Garrison gets a good opportunity to show his talent on a lengthy bass solo that he plucks from heart and soul.

Drum Thing doesn’t surprise as it contains a fine drum solo from the great Elvin Jones. Coltrane’s contribution sounds very Northern European and, to my way of hearing, would not be out of place on an ECM release (which, to clarify, I consider to be a very good thing, though in moderation).

There is a belief that at Coltrane may have written about his intentions and subject matter for some of these compositions and others, including Alabama, in prose or poetry but any evidence of this remains missing, perhaps lost for ever. The tunes themselves are strong enough, alone, to stand the tests of time.

So there we have it. Crescent is a brilliant album that you should not miss. Coltrane plays wonderfully on a set where his great quartet are at the height of their powers and all members receive time and space to solo impressively. I can’t recommend this set too highly.

The band etc: John Coltrane (tenor saxophone); McCoy Tyner (piano); Elvin Jones (drums); Jimmyy Garrison (bass). Produced: Bob Thiele. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder Studios, Englewood Cliffs. 27 April & 1 June 1964. Cover Design: Freddie Paloma. Cover Photography: Charles Stewart. Released: 1964. Original release: Impulse AS-66.

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Classic Albums on downwithit.info in 2014

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Happy New Year to all visitors, new and old. Here’s my 100th post on downwithit.

I still have an unfinished task from 2014 which is to look back at all the classic sets that I reviewed here in 2014. By classic I mean anything other than a new release so there are one or two sets from the present millennium included here. A quick count indicates that I wrote about 26 of these albums in 2014, so I think I can conclude that I wasn’t idle, especially given that I also wrote about a number of contemporary sets and offered up some live reviews.

What follows may be a bit of a trudge through a list, but I have linked to all the reviews and if any catch your interest, please click and take a look.

On NYD 2014 I started with a bang by taking a look at John Coltrane’s Blue Train, one of my all-time favorites that I urged everyone to obtain and listen to if they hadn’t done so already.

This was followed up by Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder and a track that inspired numerous imitations.

My January postings dipped into dinner jazz in the form of Grover Washington Jr’s All The King’s Horses and British hard bop from the 1980’s UK jazz revival via Tommy Chase and Groove Merchant.

Thoughts of Tommy Chase led downwithit.info into fresh territory and I decided to devote some time to exploring the current scene, which was something that I really enjoyed during the course of 2014. If you want a recap of the newly released albums that I reviewed last year, they can be found here and my trawl of live performances is referred to here. I’m not sure if my ramblings have encouraged the purchase of a single album or attendance at any gigs but if they have, please leave a comment and let me know.

I wrote five reviews in February 2014 opening with Horace Parlan’s piano trio set Movin’ And Groovin’. I followed this up with Johnny Griffin’s Big Soul Band. I wavered about posting on that one because I thought that it was something of a departure from the classic small band context and that it would not fit- but it seemed to be OK and remains a popular review according to my stats.

Fred Jackson’s great Hootin”N Tootin’ was next up. At the time, I checked Wikipedia which did not give a date of death. Hopefully Fred still is with us and is enjoying a peaceful retirement at the grand age of 85 years old. If anybody knows more, please tell us.

A further less well-known Blue Note set, John Jenkins With Kenny Burrell was placed in the spotlight, before I took a look at Thembi by my favourite living saxophonist, Pharoah Sanders.

March 2014 saw me take an overdue look at Yusef Lateef (more to come in 2015) and Jazz Mood, his first set as a leader from 1957. The Cats, a fine session featuring John Coltrane followed and I made my first visit to a Grant Green recording on these pages with Grant’s First Stand.

In April, I brought news a a real gem: Heavy Sounds by Elvin Jones and Richard Davis, another set to listen to even if you have to beg steal or borrow. A slow journey north up the motorway system led me to grapple with Bobby Hutcherson’s Happenings. The same trip north gave me time to take a look at The Hot Club Of San Francisco’s Veronica and I got hold of a copy of Jimmy Smith’s lacklustre a less then incredible Softly As A Summer Breeze.

In May Sonny Clark’s Sonny Clark Trio was followed by another Sonny in the form of Sonny Rollins On Impulse, which sounds like a compilation album but isn’t. Later in the month, my local second-hand record store yielded up a copy of John Coltrane’s Ole.

I took another look at Grant Green with his lesser known Iron City, featuring a strong version of Hi-Heeled Sneakers, before returning to Blue Note and Harold Vick’s Steppin’ Out and later in September with Joe Henderson and Inner Urge.

I took the view that Archie Shepp and Dollar Brand’s Duet was slightly spoiled by Shepp’s poor sax technique on a couple of tracks, but I enjoyed Hank Mobley’s great Roll Call, Grant Green’s Green Street and Freddie Hubbard’s Ready For Freddie.

2014 was the year in which a bit of research yielded some more answers about Freddie Roach’s later years and I shelled out for a first pressing of All That’s Good which turned out to be much better than a shocking review suggested it would be.

I’ve already got a the first few reviews for 2015 in mind, so please come back soon and see what I’ve been listening to and remember that comments are most welcome.

One New Year’s Resolution– the quality of the photography at downwithit must improve. No excuses!

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Ready For Freddie: Freddie Hubbard

Freddie Hubbard Ready For Freddie cover

I haven’t yet taken a look at a Freddie Hubbard recording here, so its time to put that right, as I’m the proud owner of a number of his sets. Although Miles Davis casts a massive shadow over modern jazz trumpet, it is really refreshing to hear others who have also made the instrument their own. By the time he recorded his fourth Blue Note set as leader, dues had been paid and Freddie Hubbard had the freedom to be creative. That certainly shows on this set. There’s a definite sound of excitement and a willingness to strive for something new. Even over 50 years since Ready For Freddie was recorded, Hubbard’s quest to deliver something that excites rings through.

At the time of recording Ready For Freddie, Hubbard had just been in the studio with John Coltrane, playing on Ole which I wrote about here. He cites his aspiration to follow in the exemplary saxophonist’s footsteps and Elvin Jones, and McCoy Tyner at the heart of the rhythm section, joined by Art Davis, who had also played a second double bass on the Ole session.

Arietis is a lively uptempo number, still hard bop but a tune that’s striving towards something else. The euphonium adds a bit of variety with an unexpected quality to its voicing. The YouTube clip is courtesy of Roger rogerjazzfan:-

To play click on or touch the arrow.

Victor Young and Jack Elliot’s Weaver Of Dreams is a sensitive ballad. Surprisingly, Young the composer was on a Bolshevik death list in revolutionary Russia but escaped (see bottom of this piece) to write ‘When I Fall In Love’, work as Bing Crosby’s musical director, win 22 Academy Awards and an Oscar for his work on movie scores (sounds like a story I should be writing a screenplay of- but, sadly, I don’t suppose I will).

Marie Antoinette is a Wayne Shorter composition, apparently so titled because the tune made him think of the carefree life of the Queen before the revolution, when the axe fell. Let ’em eat cake! Its a mid-tempo piece and a pleasant listen.

Birdlike opens the second side of the original LP version of this recording and it is a tribute to Charlie Parker. Crisis is informed by the global Cold War tensions that were current, coming, in the words of sleeve note writer Hentoff: “…from Freddie’s desire to express in music some of the spiralling tension of all our lives under the growing shadow of the bomb.” This is accomplished through the contrast between the first 12 bars of each 16 bar section with the music ‘exploding’ in the last four bars- or that’s the theory as the explosions are still relatively polite.

The CD version contains the bonus of alternative takes on Arietis and Marie Antoinette.

The band etc:- Freddie Hubbard (trumpet); Bernard McKinney (euphonium); Wayne Shorter (tenor sax); McCoy Tyner (piano); Art Davis (bass); Elvin Jones (drums).  Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded 21 August 1961. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.  Sleeve Notes: Nat Hentoff. Cover photos: Francis Wolff.  Originally issued as Blue Note BLP 4085 & BST 84085

Although born in the United States in 1900, Victor Young was a musical prodigy and went to stay in Warsaw with his grandfather when aged 10. His wikipedia entry takes things up:- Playing before Russian generals and nobles, while in Warsaw, he was later introduced to Czar Nicholas in St. Petersburg, and his playing so impressed the Czar that he presented him with many gifts but the revolution cut short his success in Russia. Having been connected with the court of the Czar, the Bolsheviks deemed it advisable to get rid of him, and it is only by a miracle that he escaped death, for he was already sentenced to die. After a long and tiresome escapade, he succeeded in reaching Warsaw, then Paris, and from there to the United States.

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Inner Urge: Joe Henderson

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Inner Urge was the fourth of five 1960’s Blue Note sessions with Joe Henderson as leader. They are all strong sets, ranging from his bossanova flavoured debut to the adventurous Mode For Joe, from this saxophonist who never seems to quite get the credit he merits.

Inner Urge showcases Henderson as the sole horn in this quartet with two members of John Coltrane’s band and Bob Cranshaw who worked with Sonny Rollins. Just over a week after this recording session, drummer Jones and pianist Tyner would be back in the same studio working on Coltrane’s ground-breaking A Love Supreme.

Henderson had become a sought after session player in the short period since he had appeared on the New York jazz scene. He had been mentored by veteran trumpeter, Kenny Dorham and played memorable solos on Lee Morgan’s Sidewinder, Horace Silver’s Song For My Father and on Grant Green’s Idle Moments.

The sleeve notes disclose that the title track was written to capture some of the frustration and anger experienced by Henderson as he struggled to come to terms with the pace of his life in New York City. Certainly, there is a sense of relentlessness about the playing and McCoy Tyner’s piano playing is a mercurial journey along his keyboard. Inner Urge is a standard repertoire choice these days (as you will learn if you search the title on YouTube) and this YouTube choice will allow you to form your own view, if you are not already familiar with it.

To play, touch or click on the arrow

Next up, Isotope, is a well-crafted musicians tribute to Thelonious Monk, with a playfully jumpy tune which offers great scope for the soloists improvisations.

El Barrio is a further high point on a fine set. In his sleeve note interview, Nat Hentoff, ever skilled at drawing out something more from his subject, records that Joe Henderson told him of his love of Spanish culture and studied the language as a child. Not surprisingly this tune has a Latin feel and Joe Henderson is trying to create a soundscape that evokes a picture of a Spanish community. It sounds great.

The set closes with two tunes from other composers. Duke Pearson’s You Know I Care is a beautiful ballad, which shows that Henderson can play with great sensitivity. Cole Porter’s Night and Day had been covered by both Sonny Rollins and Stan Getz in the months before Henderson put down this version. This tune was one of the ten top revenue generating American songs of all time and Henderson’s version is fairly ranked amongst the best jazz covers of it.

So there we have it, Inner Urge is well-worth tracking down and the critics love it, as do I. If you are an aspiring jazz musician the title track is almost certainly one you will be required to study and learn to play the changes on. This is another set from an artist who never seems to disappoint. Buy, beg or borrow it with confidence of a rewarding listening experience.

The band etc:- Joe Henderson (tenor sax); McCoy Tyner (piano); Bob Cranshaw (bass); Elvin Jones (drums).  Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded 30 November 1964.  Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.  Sleeve Notes: Nat Hentoff.  Cover photos: Francis Wolff.  Originally issued as Blue Note 84189.

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Heavy Sounds: Elvin Jones and Richard Davis

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It’s probably just an impression that I have, but recordings on the Impulse label are made up of a curious mixture of artists and styles. Over the years I have been very slow to start to listen and appreciate these beasts with their orange and black spines. My first three purchases were John Coltrane sets: The Gentle Side, a curious concoction of immediately essential ballads and vocal tracks that took time to grow on me; the masterful creation that is A Love Supreme and then the veritable maelstrom of Interstellar Space, which challenged me and anybody else within earshot and put me off Impulse for a couple of years. Along the way I’d also listened to Albert Ayler’s Live in Greenwich Village, where The Truth Is Marching In is another challenge (but one that has grown on me in the twenty-five years since I first heard it and I expect to return there in due course). I now have over well over 30 recordings on Impulse but that brush with Coltrane at his fiercest has made me wary.

Last week I was browsing in my local used record emporium when I came across Heavy Sounds. ‘What have we here?’ thought I. At first I wasn’t particularly keen, with the title seeming to scream “Danger! Audio Shock Ahead”. After all, this was an album centring on a drummer and a bass player. What could it possibly be like? How heavy would it be? Eventually, I sneered at caution, overcame the unworthy opponent blocking my path and parted with a couple of hard-earned leisure pounds.

I’m delighted that I did. The title is a poor one- Soul-Stirring Sounds would be far better, because it is a work that is diverse and impressive. Raunchy Rita, the opener is a delightful soul flavoured extravaganza. Without further ado, have a listen on YouTube courtesy of Rafael Garcia.

To play, click or touch the arrow.

Next up is a version of Shiny Stockings, a standard which was made popular by Count Basie in a version which featured a solo by Elvin Jones’s older brother, Thad. Elvin makes considerable use of the brushes in his drum accompaniment to this track.

M.E.is surprising. Although only four musicians appear on this track, it has a drilled, big band crispness- almost an orchestral sound. I would guess that this is down to the musical arrangement.

Summertime follows. The recording session was originally booked to feature the guitar of Larry Coryell, but he was unavailable. With studio time on their hands, Jones and Davis began to improvise around the great classic standard, which both men had dreamt of doing with full orchestral backing. The decision was made to record it as a duo and fortune intervened with the result that a special piece of music was created. Starting with bowed bass and atmospheric fills from Jones on the drums, this piece is one that you really should seek out and listen to.

Elvin’s Guitar Blues is next up and features the drummer on acoustic guitar, accompanied by Foster on tenor sax. It’s a delightful blues and sits very well in the context of the set. Here’s That Rainy Day is Foster’s vehicle, featuring a fine extended tone-poem of a saxophone solo that builds from being reflective and almost languid before soaring.

There’s an interesting diversion in quiz territory and if you are ever asked: ‘What links Van Morrison, Eric Dolphy and Bruce Springsteen?’, the answer follows:- Richard Davis played bass on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, considered by many critics to be one of the greatest rock albums of all time, as well as Bruce Springstein’s Born To Run and Laura Nyro’s Smile. He was also the bass player on Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch.

The front cover features a superbly lit, cigarette shrouded image taken by Charles (Chuck) Stewart, who has been responsible for over 3000 album covers to date. Given a basic Kodak camera as a schoolboy, he used it the day he received it to photograph the great Marian Anderson (the first Black woman to perform at NY Metropolitan Opera, as late as 1955!). The photos later sold, which meant that he was a professional photographer from the first day he owned a camera. There’s more about Charles Stewart here, offering fascinating insight into the work of this great image-maker. His modesty shines through, since he once said: ‘I just saw a moment that I thought would be rather exciting, that moment when I pushed the button, and apparently it worked.’ He was clearly gifted with the ability to choose the elusive ‘decisive moment’ on very many occasions.

A quick look on Amazon indicates that the CD can get a bit pricy- so perhaps Heavy Sounds is an album to grab If you come across a copy while browsing the second hand music shops. If you do find it, don’t be put off by the title and buy without hesitation.

The band etc: Elvin Jones (drums; guitar track); Richard Davis (bass); Frank Foster (tenor saxophone: tracks 1-3, 5 & 6); Billy Greene (piano: tracks 1, 3, 5 & 6). Produced: Bob Thiele. Recorded: RCA Studios, New York City (not at RVG as sometimes claimed)19 & 20 June 1967. Cover Design: Barbara & Robert Flynn. Cover Photography: Charles Stewart. Released: 1968. Original release: AS 9160.

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