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John Coltrane Quartet Plays Alabama:
I've noted before that there is lots of great jazz on YouTube these days, but it's pretty hard to find a strong musical performance that is complete, acoustically clean, visually compelling, and yet not already widely known. I posted a link back in December to Horace Silver's Quintet playing Senor Blues, and today I wanted to highlight this performance of the John Coltrane Quartet playing "Alabama."
  There's a famous history to this song that makes it all the more powerful as a work of art. It represented Coltrane's personal reaction to hearing about a church bombing in Alabama in the fall of 1963. As C. Michael Bailey explains in reference to the studio version:
  In the early morning of Sunday, September 15, 1963, a gaggle of malcontents planted 12 sticks of dynamite in a window well outside the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The dynamite exploded eight hours later killing Denise McNair, 11, and Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Addie Mae Collins, all 14, in the process galvanizing the Civil Rights Movement. Three months later, on November 18, 1963, John Coltrane stepped up to the microphone in fabled Englewood, NJ studio of one Rudy Van Gelder and over a McCoy Tyner Tremolo, blew his searing and definitive statement on the subject of the bombing-- "Alabama."
  The You Tube clip is of a live performance of the song at KQED studios in San Franscisco on November 1, 1963, two-and-a-half weeks before the studio recording, for Ralph Gleason's TV show, Jazz Casual. It features Coltrane's classic quartet, with McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums. The performance is fairly short and Tyner doesn't solo, but you can see more (including a strong Tyner solo) by watching the Quartet's performance of Afro-Blue from the same program.

  Where to go to hear more? If you like this performance but you're new to jazz, I would probably start with My Favorite Things, which is the most accessible Coltrane/Tyner pairing. The studio version of Alabama appears on Live at Birdland, which is a very strong album although an eclectic mix of performances. Finally, the undisputed masterpiece of the Coltrane quartet is A Love Supreme, which is justly celebrated as one of the top jazz albums of all time.
SteveMG (mail):
Thank you greatly for posting this.

Immensely powerful. Such beauty from such ugliness.

Such is life.

SMG
2.11.2007 1:43pm
Tom R:
Don't say "acoustically clean", Orin - you'll sink your Presidential campaign. (-;
2.11.2007 3:03pm
Wintermute (mail) (www):
Boff post, Orin.
2.11.2007 3:44pm
That Lawyer Dude (mail) (www):
Orin what a great post. I think Love Supreme and Maria are two of Coltrane's best. I will have to add Alabama to the list.
You have one of today's best young jazz sax players right on campus with you at GW. He is playing in the Latin Jazz band. Check him out, he loves Coltrane and Tyner too.
2.11.2007 4:21pm
That Lawyer Dude (mail) (www):
Make that Love Supreme and My Favorite Things. Maria is Sandoval's.
2.11.2007 4:39pm
Lev:
I'll see if I can download this one.

But I have to say, I have listened to Coltrane on and off over the years, and I don't see the attraction of his rapid and random scales.
2.11.2007 10:17pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
Trane's got nothing on Willie Hall.
2.12.2007 10:31am
John M. Perkins (mail):
I've recently seen "4 Little Girls" through Netflix. "Alabama" is probably the second most important song in the soundtrack, behind Joan Baez's "Birmingham Sunday."
2.12.2007 11:52am
Richard Gould-Saltman (mail):
I'd argue that the 1963 "Live At Birdland" version of "Afro-Blue" is an even greater recording than the standard version of "Favorite Things", (the rhythm section's playing is better) and the album also has the amazing solo cadenza on "I Want To Talk About You".

Taken with the recently uncovered live Monk/Coltrane Carnegie Hall tapes, these recordings pretty much refute any argument that Coltane, at that point in his career, was playing "random rapid scales". Rapid, yes. random? not a chance. Whether you like the later, more avant garde stuff or not, these, along with his work with Miles Davis, are masterworks of 20th Century music.

BTW, appropos of Dizzy Gillespie's remark that the way to play (or understand) instrumental music is to try to learn to sing it, I didn't really get a handle on the complexity of Coltrane's conception, even as early as "Kind of Blue", until I heard, and tried to learn, Jon Hendricks' vocalese version of the solos on "Freddie Freeloader"...


r gould-saltman
2.12.2007 1:52pm
dba dba:

Thanks so much for the link. What a treat on my lunch break.
2.12.2007 3:50pm
Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
YouTube has some great Barbero clips, too.
2.12.2007 11:21pm