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“Again, it’s like going to church whether you want to or not. If you know it, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s just beautiful. Beautiful’s the only word I can say.”

— Chan Marshall (Cat Power), The Quietus

Open Culture

Celebrating one of the leading composers and performers in the history of jazz
Actual print used on the cover of A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965)
Actual print used on the cover of A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965)

This month marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of John Coltrane. When he died of liver cancer on 17 July 1967, the composer and saxophonist had established a reputation as one of the leading figures in jazz music. While on the rise, he played as sideman on records by Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and Thelonious Monk. He found popular success as a leader with records such as Blue Train (Blue Note, 1957), My Favorite Things (Atlantic, 1961), and his 1965 masterpiece, A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965). In addition to his commercial viability as a composer and performer, Coltrane was known for his searching sound and his increasing commitment to free jazz improvisation through the 1960s. (more…)

John Scheinfeld (The U.S. vs. John Lennon and Who Is Harry Nilsson…?) has written and directed a film celebrating the life and work of legendary tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. Entitled Chasing Trane, the documentary has been made with the full support of the Coltrane family, and has been granted access to the composer’s extensive back catalogue. Featuring interviews with some of the biggest names in jazz (Sonny Rollins, Wynton Marsalis), the documentary includes family movies that promise to reveal a new side to one of the towering artists of twentieth-century music. [Read More]

The first recording session for Davis’ jazz masterpiece took place on 2 March 1959
Miles Davis, Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959)
Miles Davis, Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959)

On this day in 1959, trumpeter Miles Davis entered the Columbia 30th Street Studio in New York to record Kind of Blue. He was joined by John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley (alto saxophone), Paul Chambers (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums), Bill Evans (piano), and Wynton Kelly (piano on the bluesy second track, ‘Freddie Freeloader’). The album, which was completed in April later that year, would go on to become the bestselling jazz record of all time. (more…)

The avant-garde reedist’s iconic outing for Blue Note Records was recorded on this day in 1964
Eric Dolphy, Out to Lunch! (Blue Note, 1964)
Eric Dolphy, Out to Lunch! (Blue Note, 1964)

On this day in 1964, Eric Dolphy entered Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, to record one of Blue Note Records’ most distinctive and iconic records. Joined by Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Bobby Hutchinson (vibraphone), Richard Davis (bass) and an eighteen-year-old Anthony Williams (drums), Dolphy brought along his alto saxophone, bass clarinet, and flute for the date.

Out to Lunch! is the culmination of a sequence of recordings that explored the possibilities of avant-garde jazz in the early 1960s, from Dolphy’s first album as leader, Outward Bound (New Jazz, 1960), to Out There (New Jazz, 1960), to his 1961 recordings at the Five Spot and 1962’s Far Cry (New Jazz). Across these works we can hear the artistic development of Dolphy as a restless and inventive talent. Out to Lunch! nods a debt to bebop in its tribute to pianist Thelonious Monk (‘Hat and Beard’), and acknowledges the classical flautist Severino Gazzelloni (‘Gazzelloni’), but while the album negotiates the legacy of bebop and post-bop music it simultaneously reaches towards freer musical forms. (more…)

The most important sound engineer in jazz history has died, aged 91
If you’ve ever heard a jazz record, chances are you’ve heard the work of Rudy Van Gelder. But you wouldn’t have heard him playing the drums, the piano, the saxophone, or the trumpet (although he had lessons in his youth) – and you wouldn’t have heard him singing into the microphone. That’s because he was the microphone. In a manner of speaking. Born in New Jersey on 2 November 1924, Rudolph (Rudy) Van Gelder became the most prominent sound engineer in American jazz history. He recorded just about every major figure in the canon, including Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Sonny Rollins.

(more…)

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Teju Cole

“I think the big musical moment happened for me in my second year of college, after I went to the US. That was when I really got into both jazz and classical, at the same time. I was amazed at how well certain things held up to repeated listenings: Coltrane, Mahler, Beethoven. Not long after came ‘world music’, and I had a similarly stunned reaction to my first encounters with the likes of Ali Farka Touré and Oumou Sangaré.”

More at The Quietus.

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“I’ve found you’ve got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light.” — John Coltrane

Recommended Records

  • A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965)
  • Blue Train (Blue Note, 1958)
  • Giant Steps (Atlantic, 1959)

Read More: John Coltrane: Becoming “a force for good” • A Love Supreme: 51st Anniversary • A Love Supreme: Rare Photographs of John Coltrane • Writing a Life of John Coltrane

john-coltrane

“I want to be a force for real good. In other words. I know that there are bad forces, forces that bring suffering to others and misery to the world, but I want to be the opposite force. I want to be the force which is truly for good”

— John Coltrane

A television interview with the African-American scholar, first broadcast in 2000

Tenor saxophonist reflects on a career spanning more than 65 years
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Sonny Rollins

One of the last in a generation of jazz greats, Sonny Rollins once thought music could change the world. His optimism about humanity has since vanished but, at 85, he still has much he wants to say.

The “Saxophone Colossus”, a nickname that was also the title of his seminal 1956 album, is among a handful of sax players including John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins who defined the instrument, with Rollins creating a heavy-charging, mordant style that was also readily experimental.

The hard-working tenor saxophonist has taken several extended sabbaticals, most famously when he temporarily retired – yet would practice on New York’s Williamsburg Bridge. He later moved to India and Japan to explore spirituality. (more…)

From Ted Gioia’s article on Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist novel, Nausea
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Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea

In general, Sartre is more committed to philosophy than to fiction, even here in the pages of his greatest novel. But when the story lags, the intensity of the intellectual debate flares up to compensate—so much so, that Nausea is essential reading not just for students of literature, but also for anyone interested in the evolution of Sartre’s views on a range of philosophical issues.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this book is Sartre’s decision to supply a happy ending. His horror story ends with a way out of the nausea. I am less than convinced by this turnabout in our suffering Mr. Roquentin, but as a longtime jazz lover, I am secretly pleased at the cure for the existential nausea. A jazz record featuring a singer and saxophonist does the trick—to be specific an old recording of “Some of These Days.” I only wish Sartre had been more specific about the names of the musicians on the date (he doesn’t identify any of them). I would love to hear the jazz record that trumps Freud, cures the ill, and solves existential angst. (more…)