Category Archives: McCoy Tyner

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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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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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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