“I’m the kind of person who jumps around when he talks because everything is connected.”

— Wayne Shorter, qtd. in The Washington Post

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…)

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…)

Part of a sequence of records showing a master improviser at the height of his powers
Sonny Rollins, Newk's Time (Blue Note, 1957)
Sonny Rollins, Newk’s Time (Blue Note, 1959)

In his autobiography, Miles Davis remembers taking a New York cab with Sonny Rollins: “the white cabdriver turned around and looked at Sonny and said, ‘Damn, you’re Don Newcombe!’”, confusing the saxophonist with the Brooklyn Dodgers star pitcher. Davis goes on: “Man, the guy was totally excited. I was amazed, because I hadn’t thought about it before. We put that cabdriver on something terrible. Sonny started talking about what kind of pitches he was going to throw Stan Musial, the great hitter for the St. Louis Cardinals, that evening”. Rollins’ resemblance to the player became the origin of a nickname ‘Newk’, by which he was known by Davis, Charlie Parker, and the wider jazz community.

Newk’s Time, a Blue Note album recorded on this day in 1957, was Rollins’ third album for the label and anticipates his landmark live recording Night at the Village Vanguard that November. (more…)

Revisiting the jazz innovator’s much overlooked minor classic
Ornette Coleman with his saxophone during a rehearsal for The Empty Foxhole, September 1966. Photograph: Francis Wolff.
Ornette Coleman with his saxophone during a rehearsal for The Empty Foxhole, September 1966. Photograph: Francis Wolff.
Ornette Coleman‘s The Empty Foxhole was recorded at the Van Gelder studio 50 years ago today. It was his first studio recording for the Blue Note label, and the avant-garde composer wastes no time performing trumpet, violin, and his signature alto-saxophone. Longtime collaborator Charlie Haden (who followed this website before he passed away) appears on bass. But the personnel is perhaps most notable for the debut appearance of Coleman’s son, Denardo, on drums: he was just ten years old at the time.

(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…)

miles-davis-quintet-wayne-shorter
Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter

“The Miles Davis Quintet of the 1960s has long been praised as one of the most advanced small groups in jazz history, and anyone seeking to test the claim can choose from an abundance of evidence: studio albums, concert and club recordings, multi-disc collections. This fall will bring a new addition: “Freedom Jazz Dance — The Bootleg Series Vol. 5,” a three-CD boxed set.”

More at The New York Times.

Save

It’s a little known fact that bebop trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie actually ran for president of the United States back in 1964:

“What began as one of Dizzy’s famous practical jokes, and a way to raise money for CORE (Congress for Racial Equality) and other civil rights organizations became something more, a way for Dizzy’s fans to imagine an alternative to the “millionaire’s-only” club represented by Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater.”

Open Culture

The White House, henceforth to be known as the ‘Blues House’ would comprise the following cabinet: (more…)

“Miles Davis would have celebrated his 90th birthday today. And though he’s been gone for 25 years (hard to believe), he remains arguably the most influential figure in jazz. How influential? Glad you asked. A new website called “The Universe of Miles Davis” has tried to quantify and visualize Davis’ influence by combing through Wikipedia, and finding every English-language Wikipedia page (2,452 in total ) that links to the main Miles Davis entry on Wikipedia”

More at Open Culture.

Michael Wood (The London Review of Books) reviews Born to Be Blue and Miles Ahead
The places were Philadelphia and New York, the names were John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Bill Evans and a few others, heirs to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, spoken of with awe in every version of the story. Something called West Coast jazz, thought by many to be an oxymoron, was making itself heard in the persons of Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Shelly Manne and Dave Brubeck. Davis made the albums Birth of the Cool in 1957 and Kind of Blue in 1959.

(more…)

NPR asks Professor Sean Jones to weigh in on some of the jazz trumpeter’s key innovations
709f4-horace-silver-miles-davis
Miles Davis and Horace Silver at Rudy Van Gelder’s improvised studio

Miles Davis died in 1991, but his influence on music is still being felt. The new film Miles Ahead, produced, co-written, directed by and starring Don Cheadle, is giving a new audience a fresh take on one period in the musician’s career.

Davis himself wasn’t the most humble about his musical sway. At a White House dinner in 1987, the jazz musician was asked what he’d done to deserve to be there. Davis wrote in his autobiography that he replied, “Well, I’ve changed music five or six times.” (more…)

Read the list at udiscovermusic.com.

Michel Martin (NPR) interviews actor and director Don Cheadle about his recent film, Miles Ahead
don-cheadle-as-miles-davis
Don Cheadle as Miles Davis in Miles Ahead (2015)

Miles Davis never had just one sound. Though his body of work remains singular and unmistakable, he changed gears time after time in a 50-year career. A few times — half a dozen, by his own estimation — he managed to take the entire music world with him. But just like the music, the man himself contained multitudes. Davis was brash. He was abusive. He could be downright mean.

Somehow, actor Don Cheadle manages to capture all of this in a new film called Miles Ahead, which he also wrote, produced and directed. Cheadle says the last thing he wanted to do was make yet another biopic that tries to cover its subject’s entire story but only skims the peaks. Instead, he says, he aimed for a valley — a period in Davis’ life when he was struggling to reconnect with his muse — and used it as a prism for the artist’s unique relationship with craft. (more…)

From Ted Gioia’s article on Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist novel, Nausea
jean-paul-sartre-nausea-penguin-modern-classics
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…)