Not long after John Coltrane died forty years ago this week, Cannonball Adderley was the guest on Jazz Review, a radio program I did in New Orleans. He and Coltrane had forged a bond in the late 1950s as members of the Miles Davis Sextet. I wrote about their relationsip in a profile of Adderley in Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers:
With Davis, Adderley began to alter his conception. Miles often leads in strange and reticent ways. But he was never reluctant to tell his sidemen when he didn’t like their playing. He told Cannonball he played too many notes, that when a note is played it should mean something. And Cannon, ever open, curious, receptive, listened more and more carefully to Davis’s playing and to his criticisms. Miles’s economy and his harmonic subtlety began to make themselves known in Adderley’s playing. After John Coltrane was added to the band, Cannon’s harmonic development accelerated through exposure to one of the most restlessly creative soloists in the history of jazz. The saxophonists rubbed together and threw off sparks. For a stunning instance of the way Coltrane infuenced Adderely, consult their solos on “Two Bass Hit” (Columbia) .
By the time of the epochal Kind of Blue session in 1959, the innocence in Julian’s solos had not been deflowered, but it had been tempered with deep insights into the possibilities of chords, with the wisdom that leads to a realization that one note can simultaneously serve more than one chord, with the knowledge that a pause may make a point more effectively than a trill. Cannonball became a more conservative player in the sense that he learned to hold something in reserve, but a more daring one in his harmonic aspects.
Cannonball told me on the air, “It’s still very hard for me to talk about him, except to say I learned more from him than from anybody.”
I remember waiting that night in 1967 for Adderley to say more about Coltrane, but he swallowed hard and waved me off. I introduced a piece of music. While it played, he told me that when it was over, he’d rather talk about something else, it was too soon to talk about John.
Unlike Cannonball and Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Coltrane were not student and teacher, but equals. They shared Miles Davis in their backgrounds, but their approaches to improvisation were independent of one another, distinctive saxophone offshoots of a common source, Charlie Parker. In Like Sonny, a short film he put up on the Rollins web site yesterday, journalist Bret Primack explores the relationship between the two men. Rollins appraises Coltrane’s importance, and there are insights from saxophonists Jimmy Heath and Paul Jeffrey. The mini-documentary includes footage of Coltrane and Rollins playing–not together–and audio of Coltrane talking about Rollins. To view it, go here and marvel that four decades following his death, Coltrane’s presence in music is as powerful as that of his old friend who plays on.