Last week’s comments reminded me that there are folks here who are still getting familiar with jazz, so I thought I’d provide information on some “famous names” for part of the weekly posting.

This week, John Coltrane (his birthday is today); next week, Miles Davis; after that I’m open to suggestions (see the poll).  This week we also pose the question down below, “Is there a difference between Canadian and American jazz?” so I expect our posters from the True North to weigh in on the question…  

(more after the flip)
John Coltrane

This week’s discussion has music you can enjoy while you read and comment!  (Someone suggested that in the past, and this week by dumb luck I can deliver, LOL.)  In a separate window, open this page and you’ll get music by Coltrane:  Go to the John Coltrane home page (here) and click to enter, and you’ll get “A Love Supreme”, followed by “Giant Steps,” “My Favorite Things,” “Impressions,” “Greensleeves,” “Mr. P.C.,” etc.  🙂

John Coltrane, American saxophonist and composer, was born on September 23, 1926, in Hamlet, North Carolina and spent his childhood in High Point, NC.  When in 7th grade, his aunt, grandfather, and father all died, and Coltrane turned to music for solace.  He moved to Philadelphia in 1943, was inducted into the navy in 1945, and returned to civilian life in 1946.

Through the late `40’s and early `50’s he played in various small ensembles, but his career did not take off until he joined trumpeter Miles Davis’ quintet in 1955.  this began the prime of his career which lasted until his premature death from liver disease on July 17, 1967, at age 40.

[Coltrane] reshaped modern jazz and influenced generations of other musicians. Coltrane’s recording rate was astonishingly prolific: he released about fifty recordings as a leader in these twelve years, and appeared on dozens more led by other musicians…  He is generally regarded as one of the most important and influential jazz musicians…  More broadly, Coltrane is considered one of the greatest musicians of the twentieth century.  –  Wikipedia

With Miles Davis

Coltrane performed with the Davis group from October 1955 through April 1957, a period of growing skill for Coltrane and represented by several classic recordings by the Quintet.  Coltrane left the group in part due to his alcohol and heroin addictions, but went on to record classic sessions with pianist Thelonius Monk in 1957.  He managed to kick his heroin habit, in part due to a spiritual epiphany, and rejoined the Davis group (now a sextet) in 1958, where he worked until 1960.  

Several classic albums from this period include Davis’ albums “Milestones” and “Kind of Blue,” as well as leading his own groups for the albums “Blue Trane” and “Giant Steps.”  As a leader, he learned from Davis the importance of allowing group members freedom to improvise and find their own voices while contributing to the group project..

Jazz critic Ira Gitler coined the term sheets of sound for Coltrane’s unique style during this period with Davis. His playing was compressed, as if whole solos passed in a few seconds, with triple- or quadruple-time runs cascading in hundreds of notes per minute.  –  Wikipedia

John Coltrane Quartet / Quintet

Coltrane formed his own quartet in 1960; especially notable among the players of this group was McCoy Tyner on piano.  The group would temporarily add Eric Dolphy as a second horn in 1961, represented on CD by a concert recorded at the Village Vanguard in November of that year.   Stung by criticism of his playing, he recorded some “more accessible” albums in 1962 and 1963, including the album “Ballads.”  Back down to a quartet again, the group recorded one of Coltrane’s most important albums, “A Love Supreme”:

On December 9, 1964, the Coltrane quartet made one of the best-selling and best-loved jazz albums of all time, a four-part devotional suite called A Love Supreme. For Coltrane, music and religion had now become one: “My music is the spiritual expression of what I am — my faith, my knowledge, my being … When you begin to see the possibilities of music, you desire to do something really good for people, to help humanity free itself from its hangups … I want to speak to their souls.” Divided into four sections — Acknowledgment, Resolution, Pursuance, and Psalm — it is a personal affirmation of Coltrane’s faith in a Creator, and during the fevered 60s its air of meditative serenity struck a chord with hundreds of thousands of young people. It continues to be a favorite among young musicians to this day. “I think that record is one of the purest jazz records ever,” said the tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman.  “The intent is so pure and the feeling is so pure, you just feel than John Coltrane is laying his soul out there, you know. That’s one of the first records I ever heard and I hope it’s the last record I ever hear.”  –  from PBS

Written as a four-part suite, the extended pieces in the album not only reflected Coltrane’s spirituality but also him increasing influence by the free jazz movement of players like Ornette Coleman (which basically believed you could make music without a set melody and make it up as you go along), Miles Davis’ modal experimentation, and the Indian music of Ravi Shankar.  “A Love Supreme” was a commercial success; there is also a live recording of the suite from July 1965 which is interesting to compare with the recoded version (Coltrane’s playing on it is much more “free”).

Later Period: Free Jazz

Coltrane’s later recordings were increasingly influenced by free jazz, and became increasingly harsh and dissonant.  With the addition of a second percussionist to the group, McCoy Tyner claimed he “couldn’t hear himself” and left the group after the album “Meditations” in 1965.  The membership of the group after this became increasngly flexible, with Coltrane taking in younger musicians under his wing.  He bagan using LSD in 1965, and his music became even more incomprehensible to the casual listener.  His new wife Alice Coltrane joined the group on piano; after his death she went into retimement, but has begum performing again in the last few years.   His albums “Ascension” and “Interstellar Space” date from this late point in his career; they had a heavy influence on the “jazz fusion” movement of the late `60’s and early `70’s.  Outside of jazz, Jimi Hendrix credited Coltrane as an influence on his playing.

Coltrane’s son Ravi Coltrane is also a saxophonist and an up-and-coming star in the jazz world, with his own unique style.

Some Links

Official John Coltrane site:
Coltrane piano comes to High Point:
PBS Jazz Series by Ken Burns:

Shifting Gears:  A Unique Aesthetic in Canadian Jazz?

Back when I first started posting Jazz Jam, I mentioned a weekly podcast by D. D. Jackson, a pianist from Ottawa now working in New York.  (website here)  In a recent podcast he was home in Ottawa for a visit, and had an interesting discussion with John Geggie, a bass player working in Canada with whom he has recorded in the past.  During the discussion, they raise the question as to whether there is a uniquely “Canadian” sound in jazz.  They answer the question in the affirmative, comparing it to the Canadian influence on comedy – being “just over the fence,” they can take a look at what’s going on in the USA but hold it at arm’s length and comment on it from their own perspective.  This includes seamlessly and un-self consciously incorporating French and Celtic influences, which wouldn’t come so naturally to an American.  The other influence they mention seems to affect Canadian artists / culture in general (so they said) – the influence of so much uninhabited or sparsely inhabited space in their country: the spaciousness, the isolation, the independence.   (One of them commented that when he was in high school, it seemed every book they read was about a young girl growing up on the wide-open prairie.)

From my own (limited) exposure to native Canadian jazz, I’d say that Canadian artists seem to be more comfortable with themselves and their own voice and less compulsively driven to seek the newest edgy avant-garde sonic frontier.  Not to imply a lack of creativity or quality in any way; more to say there’s less a sense of compulsion, of having had a few-too-many cups of coffee this morning.  The folks in the podcast comment on the influence of government support for the arts; perhaps that contributes to feeling less frantic?  Or is this me reading into it what someone from south of the border expects Canadian jazz to be?  I welcome your perspective – and the discussion need not be limited to jazz; I’d be interested in your thoughts on a “Canadian perspective” or “uniquely Canadian voice” in any of the arts…

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Best wishes to all of you going to DC this weekend!

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