There are so many options that it is difficult to know what to bring you today to observe the great saxophonist John Coltrane’s (1926-1967) 90th birthday. Among Coltrane’s hundreds of recordings and videos, no doubt everyone who listens to him has at least one favorite. The Rifftides staff has chosen two. In the spring of 1957 Miles Davis had fired Coltrane from his quintet because his heroin habit was causing problems on and off the bandstand. A month or so later, Coltrane stopped using heroin. By March of 1958, he was back with Davis and into what critic Ira Gitler indelibly labeled his “sheets of sounds” period.
Our first choice is from the spring of 1958, when Coltrane seened to be enjoying life. The enjoyment was apparent in his playing. Recording as a leader for the Prestige label, he included “Rise ‘N Shine,” a tune that went back at least two-and-a-half decades. This is unlikely to be mistaken for Paul Whiteman’s hit 1932 version. Is there repetition of phrases in Coltrane’s solo? Yes, but his exhilaration more than compensates. The band is Coltrane; Red Garland, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; and Arthur Taylor, drums.
Coltrane rejoined Miles Davis in the sextet that recorded the best-selling 1959 album Kind Of Blue before forming his own quartet and moving deep into the ecstatic, searching spiritualism that characterized his music in the last years of his life. With McCoy Tyner, piano; Jimmy Garrison, bass; and Elvin Jones, drums, in 1964 Coltrane recorded a suite called A Love Supreme. The Impulse album became a huge seller frequently identified as one of the greatest of all jazz recordings. The next July at the Antibes Juan-les-Pins Jazz Festival in France, the quartet gave its only live performance of A Love Supreme. Here it is, as presented on a Jazz Icons DVD. In the concert, Coltrane’s compositions “Naima,” “Ascension” and “Impressions” precede what survives of the live A Love Supreme.
In his final two years, Coltrane entered denser and more obscure precincts of spiritual expression. That led the late critic Jack Fuller to describe Coltrane’s music in his final period as having achieved the sound of the universe. And that sound, Fuller wrote, “is random noise.”
Have a good weekend.