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John Coltrane Quartet Plays "On Green Dolphin Street":
I haven't done any weekend jazz-blogging in a while, but here's a great clip: John Coltrane and the rhythm section of Miles Davis's 1960-era quintet playing "On Green Dolphin Street." Miles was touring through Europe at the time, with Coltrane on tenor, and this clip is of the group without Miles. Wynton Kelly is on piano, Paul Chambers is on bass, Jimmy Cobb plays drums.
The clip above is on this terrific DVD, available from Amazon. If you want to hear more audio, pick up any of the many recordings of the Miles Davis Quintet with Coltrane in Europe in 1960. Several concerts are available, and the ones I have are all pretty good, although the Stockholm concert is probably my favorite.
BT:
Jimmy Cobb is the only one from this group still alive. It's a great clip. Thanks.
11.15.2008 5:22pm
Skyler (mail) (www):
As a saxophonist, I have to remain baffled that anyone considers this man good, let alone the genious he is often described as.

He has the intonation one normally expects from 7th grade beginners on $200 horns.

His thin, often out of tune sound just grates on my ears.

Lord, his uper register is so weak and out of tune I want to drive ice picks in my ears to stop the pain.

Sure, he has fast fingers at times, but so do a lot of musicians who know how to make a beautiful sound.
11.15.2008 6:44pm
hawkins:

As a saxophonist, I have to remain baffled that anyone considers this man good


speechless
11.15.2008 6:49pm
OrinKerr:
speechless

As a saxophonist -- hey, at least through high school -- ditto.
11.15.2008 7:01pm
cirby (mail):
He has the intonation one normally expects from 7th grade beginners on $200 horns.

Or really great players, on very old recordings done on 16mm film shot for TV, with a frequency response worse than many modern cell phones...
11.15.2008 7:10pm
DiversityHire:
Coltrane makes me feel weepy. Skyler makes me want to cry.
11.15.2008 7:23pm
DiversityHire:
What's with the guy in the desert around 7.46?
11.15.2008 7:27pm
Skyler (mail) (www):
Cirby, the quality of the recording is not the issue. His upper register is out of tune and thin. His lower register sounds okay, but even his middle register leaves a lot to be desired. It's like he has a terrible horn and or mouthpiece. It's just not a musical tone in the upper register.

Frankly, I'm not into his style either, but that is less objective. The observation that his upper register is often out of tune and thin is objective and undeniable.
11.15.2008 8:10pm
R. Gould-Saltman (mail):
Interesting. Given the notable failure of the saxophone as a "classical" or orchestral instrument*, what's the standard against which we measure the "right" tone and sound for this instrument? 's gotta be jazz performance.


While Trane's tone here is sort of off, and admittedly suggests a bad horn or set-up, the suggestion by anyone who has seriously studied the instrument in the last half century that Coltrane was NOT a major innovator on the instrument at this point is (in order of descending respectability (a) a triumph of personal preference over artistic judgment (i.e., "I simply don't CARE what anyone else thinks, I DON'T LIKE IT!") (b) willfully ignorant of the history of music in the 20th century or (c) hopelessly Euro-centric.

Hey Orin, I bet you're an apologist for Pharoah Sanders, Roland Kirk, and Albert Ayler, too!




* which became apparent to me when I had an alto sax performance major as a roommate many years ago in college, and of which I was reminded when I saw Marcel Mule's "Daily Studies" for sale in a Paris music store two weeks ago
11.15.2008 9:02pm
R. Gould-Saltman (mail):
Hey, let's buy Skyler the Mosaic boxed set of Anthony Braxton!
11.15.2008 9:03pm
David McCourt (mail):
I really much prefer the cover of "On Greeen Dolphin Street" recorded by Miles Davis's sextet, of which 3/4 of this group is half, two years earlier. (Available on Columbia's "Miles Davis -- '58 Sessions"). The group includes Coltrane, Chambers and Cobb, adds Davis and Adderley to the front line, and -- a key improvement -- has Bill Evans on piano instead of Kelly. The result is a more interesting version, with a tighter rhythm section, and everyone on their game, with Coltrane also sounding much better.

This sounds more like the group going through the motions, and Coltrane is clearly having some problem. Cook and Morton say that right about then Coltrane "had had some important dental work done, and had to redevelop his embouchure." Sounds like it was still developing.

Professor Kerr, were you named with a nod to Orrin Keepnews, the founder of jazz label Riverside, and producer of the best work by people such as Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans, among many others?
11.15.2008 10:13pm
CrimLawStudent (mail):

Frankly, I'm not into his style either, but that is less objective.


I'm not sure that a denial of Coltrane's "genius" necessarily follows from your "undeniable" observation about Coltrane's intonation.

I'm under the impression that any meaningful attempt to understand Coltrane's music should really focus on the exploratory and emotional aspects of his performances.

Regarding his tone, just because it isn't (physically) pleasing to the ears, it doesn't mean that it can't be (emotionally/intellectually) appreciated.

About Miles, I'm a bigger fan of his second Quintet, with Shorter instead of Coltrane. In particular: Miles Smiles, E.S.P., Nefertiti, Sorcerer, and Filles de Kilimanjaro are all incredible.

Cellar Door Sessions and Live-Evil are fun too; Holland and DeJohnette are my heroes.
11.15.2008 11:29pm
Hoosier:
I'm not much of a jazz historian. But the debate about whether Trane was a genius reminded me of a different criticism of his music. Isn't it the case that a number of jazz aficionados, while admitting his incredible talent on the sax, consider him responsible for the loss of any distinctive rhythm in much of the improvisational jazz that followed him? And that they consider this a loss?

Anyone who knows more about this than I do--which would include most kindergarteners--have any thoughts?
11.16.2008 11:44am
Skyler (mail) (www):
Put me in that camp, Hoosier.
11.16.2008 12:03pm
BT:
Skyler which sax players do you approve of? Assuming of course you like Jazz at all. Along with Coltrane, I enjoy Gene Ammons and Eric Dolphy, very different players but wonderful for different reasons to listen to. Your ball.
11.16.2008 2:03pm
BT:
Skyler if you say Kenny G....
11.16.2008 2:04pm
Skyler (mail) (www):
You know there are plenty out there that know how to stay in tune. It's not that high of a hurdle. I'm no expert and I've been out of the jazz scene since college, a long time ago, but I still can recognize a good saxophonist when I hear one.

I like Paul Desmond, I like Grover Washington, I like Clarence Clemmons of the E-Street Band.

The problem is that jazz has waned and there are no jazz stars anymore. And with the post 50's jazz movement that did to music what Jackson Pollack and his ilk did to art, there are scarcely any jazz musicians that really make music anymore rather than just make cacophonous meanderings that are largely formulaic.

And yes, Marcel Mule was a god.
11.16.2008 2:42pm
CrimLawStudent (mail):
I'm no expert and I've been out of the jazz scene since college, a long time ago...
The problem is that jazz has waned and there are no jazz stars anymore.... [T]here are scarcely any jazz musicians that really make music anymore rather than just make cacophonous meanderings that are largely formulaic.


Hey there, I'm not sure how you're able to go from not being an expert to saying how there are not many jazz musicians that "make music anymore"!

Honestly, I don't even know where to begin.
11.16.2008 2:55pm
Skyler (mail) (www):
That's easy Crimlawstudent. I'm not an expert because the state of jazz today is not much worth listening to anymore, outside its vestiges in popular music. Most of those who try to continue the art of jazz are going down a stream that leads to nothing interesting.

However, I do know saxophones. I know that if you compare the power and range of Clarence Clemmons to the weak, thin, out-of-tune wimpiness of John Coltrane, there is a very clear choice between who has mastered their instrument.

Now, if you actually like the style of jazz that Coltrane makes then it's clear that he was very innovative and infuential. There's no getting around that. As a musician of somewhat bad tastes he was quite good. As an instrumentalist, he really couldn't hack it.
11.16.2008 3:17pm
CrimLawStudent (mail):
If by "jazz stars" you mean commercially successful artists whose music could somehow be placed within the "genre" of jazz (excluding "smooth" jazz), then I'd disagree.

See: Herbie Hancock, Frisell/Scofield/Metheny, Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Keith Jarrett, Holland, Corea.

(Of course, jazz is far more commercially viable in Europe.)

But I would certainly concede that jazz isn't as "mainstream" as it was in its heyday... though, are we to evaluate substance on the basis of popularity? If anything, I find there to be a negative correlation here.

So if we could reinterpret "jazz stars" to mean artists who are putting out artistically-relevant or paradigm-challenging work, then I'd have to disagree!

See: Avishai Cohen (bassist or trumpter), Sex Mob, Charles Lloyd, The Bad Plus, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Zorn and anything from Tzadik, David Binney, Cuong Vu (of course, I could list hundreds of artists here; these are but a few that come to mind. There are a ton of interesting Nordic jazz players too.)

It's not like you have to live in NYC to be down with what's hip. The internet is an extremely effective tool for searching out jazz artists.
11.16.2008 3:24pm
CrimLawStudent (mail):
I'm not an expert because the state of jazz today is not much worth listening to anymore, outside its vestiges in popular music. Most of those who try to continue the art of jazz are going down a stream that leads to nothing interesting.

I don't understand: doesn't it require some (great) degree of expertise to make the broad claim that "no contemporary jazz is good"?

Regardless, I vehemently disagree. What is your evidence to support this grand assertion?

As an instrumentalist, he really couldn't hack it.

I'd echo hawkins and Professor Kerr's sentiment in response to this.
11.16.2008 3:33pm
CrimLawStudent (mail):
I apologize if I sound snarky here, but with regard to your level of expertise on jazz, I find the list of saxophone players that you cite to be telling: Grover Washington is more or less a smooth jazz player (pioneer?) and the E-Street band has (mostly?) nothing to do with jazz. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I can't stand Bruce Springsteen. I mean, I get it, you were born in the USA, you can stop singing it.

But I'm a snob who doesn't care for anything that isn't challenging; forgive me.
11.16.2008 3:45pm
Skyler (mail) (www):

though, are we to evaluate substance on the basis of popularity?


I don't see why not. People vote with their dollars and their presence at concerts as to what they like.

Popularity isn't the end all of measuring artistic worth, but it's a starting place. If jazz is available all over the internet, and it is, and people are being exposed to it so freely, why isn't it selling? Because by and large it has marginalized itself to a non-melodic style that just isn't very fun or interesting to listen to.

There will always be hidden gems out there that aren't popular because they are a little different or because they haven't had sufficient exposure, but when an entire movement such as modern jazz has declined to the extent that it has after being so popular for so long, that's an indication that the style is not appreciated as a whole.

But this is all beside the point. Most of the musicians you list are not saxophonists. I was referring to Coltrane's inability, or refusal to master his instrument. If you like the style of his music, that's between you and your iPod. If you think that he knows how to play a saxophone with the authority of someone who knows what an embouchure is, then you're just flat out wrong.
11.16.2008 3:47pm
Skyler (mail) (www):
Crimlawstudent,

I was referring to the saxophone instrumentalism of the individual artists. Whether you like Bruce Springsteen is irrelevent. Clarence Clemmons knows how to exploit the full range of the saxophone and stay in tune. So do these others.

And yes, even Kenny G, as sappy as his music is, knows how to play the instrument. You can be a musical snob all you want, but to me your snobbery is an indication that you like to imagine that you have good tastes when in fact you seemingly can't discern the basics of music, which is to control the instrument that makes the music.

As for whether the E-street band has anything to do with jazz, the truth of the matter is that rock and roll is just a variation of jazz. It is where real jazz went when Miles Davis started doing too many drugs and lost his way. Some rock is better than others, of course, but it is still a variation of jazz, just as modern jazz is a variation of what jazz used to be before it became snobbish and unmusical.
11.16.2008 3:58pm
CrimLawStudent (mail):
Ah, I meant that list of artists to be a response to your averment that "the state of jazz today is not much worth listening to anymore." Listen to any of those artists, and you might need to issue a retraction!

Needless to say, I don't find your argument terribly persuasive. Critical review and popular standing are hardly synonymous as methods for analyzing artistic work.

Anyways, I guess we are speaking a different language.
11.16.2008 3:58pm
CrimLawStudent (mail):
You can be a musical snob all you want, but to me your snobbery is an indication that you like to imagine that you have good tastes when in fact you seemingly can't discern the basics of music, which is to control the instrument that makes the music.
I don't really think that's fair of you to say, but hey, it's the internet, fire away!
11.16.2008 4:09pm
CrimLawStudent (mail):
I do think it's unfortunate that you've closed the door on an entire genre of music because of your (non-expert) stubborn attitude about how you perceive the state of jazz music to be.

You might be a happier person (at least to the extent that you might gain some utility from discovering new music) if you were a bit more open-minded about it!

I wonder if your attitude about the genre is something we extrapolate to the mainstream audience? Perhaps there is some resentment towards the "elite" music of contemporary jazz?
11.16.2008 4:15pm
OrinKerr:
Skyler,

In my experience, pretty much all of the great arts, ranging from music to theater to visual arts to food, are acquired tastes. That goes for beer and opera as well as modern jazz and modern art. Indeed, in many areas of art, people react one way the first time they experience something but then have a very different reaction over time. I'm curious, what's the role for acquired tastes in your vision of art?
11.16.2008 4:24pm
Skyler (mail) (www):
Orin, there's certainly truth to what you say. Complex rhythms and melodies can be difficult to understand, and there is a degree of sophistication that is required of the listener.

Just like with beer, there are many beers that are appreciated more with increased exposure. But there is no amount of Corona you can drink that can make it taste better. :) Modern jazz is like Corona beer. If you put a lime into the intonation people may think its sophisticated when in fact it's simply masking the bad taste.

CLS, I'm not an expert in the names of current artists because I've stopped paying much attention. I've also stopped playing my saxophone since my jazz days in college. I've studied jazz quite a bit back then and whereas I'm not as good as I used to be and I don't follow it much anymore, I do know that whether you like jazz or not, there are some immutable rules about playing the horn -- you have to be able to control it. Coltrane fails that test.
11.16.2008 4:35pm
CrimLawStudent (mail):
For the sake of the historical record, Miles Davis used drugs (off and on) his entire career.

Rock and roll is a derivative of blues. So is jazz.

Bitches Brew (which is what I'm assuming you are referring to?) was one of Miles Davis' most commercially successful albums.
11.16.2008 4:47pm
CrimLawStudent (mail):
Skylar,

I think the story here is that we approach music from two entirely different perspectives. In my opinion, I can't see how one is right over the other. (I'm a musician too; I've spent some time studying jazz during my undergraduate days at Eastman.)

As for immutable rules and artistic endeavors, all I can think of is Duchamp's Fountain.
11.16.2008 4:53pm
Skyler (mail) (www):
Touché, CLS. I'm more of the school that a urinal is not art.
11.16.2008 5:04pm
CrimLawStudent (mail):
It must be an acquired taste!

No, wait...

I'm a fan of the "performance artists" who actually tried to urinate on it.
11.16.2008 5:16pm
OrinKerr:
Skyler says: "Modern jazz is like corona beer."

Corona is one of those hugely popular beers that people who don't like beer drink because it doesn't taste like anything. Do you really think modern jazz is like that?
11.16.2008 6:04pm
Skyler (mail) (www):
No Orin, that would be stretching the analogy futher than the lightly humorous amount that I intended.
11.16.2008 6:25pm
CrimLawStudent (mail):
IMO, Corona:Beer :: Smooth Jazz:Jazz.

The (type of) modern jazz that I'm referring to would be something complex or organic, like a trappist ale or a lambic.

Speaking of which, Professor Kerr, any specialty beer stores in the D.C. area come to mind? I've been scouring the area, but I haven't found anything besides the typical wine/liquor stores. I'm spoiled; I used to live by a beer-grocery store that organized its beers by country of origin.
11.16.2008 6:34pm
hawkins:

Speaking of which, Professor Kerr, any specialty beer stores in the D.C. area come to mind?


Chevy Chase Liquor Store on Connecticut Ave has a good beer selection.
11.16.2008 6:38pm
Skyler (mail) (www):
Actually, here's a better beer analogy.

My favorite beer is Negra Modelo. It's not really too different from New Castle for those of you not down south and have never drunk it.

But because it is a Mexican beer just about everywhere you buy it they will put a lime in it unless you ask them not to do so (and you really have to insist!). The reason for lime in beer is because either the citrus enhances the flavor, such as with some Belgian beers (I'm not of that opinion, but people do say that) or because the beer is so bad and comes in a clear bottle and the flavor stinks from light exposure, which is the case with Corona.

A beer like Negra Modelo does not really lend itself to having fruit added. But it is done solely because that is supposed to be what you do to any beer made in Mexico.

Likewise modern jazz. People who follow jazz stand around and speak in amazed tones about "emotion" or "intellect" when in fact the music is often atonal, unmelodic, dischordant, dissonant, and the solos are ad lib but are formulaic and predictable.

There is a place for all of that in music, to be sure. Dissonance has an effect. Breaking from melody has an effect. But modern jazz seems to have dissociated itself with beauty for the sake of consciously being dissonant, unmelodic and arhythmical. Jazz musicians have taken the idea of jazz and stuck a lime in it all the time for the sole reason that they like to call it jazz. There is no more beauty in jazz.

I'm overstating the issue, of course, but that is the trend. And this tape of Coltrane playing out of tune and with such a thin tone aptly illustrates the phenomenon.
11.16.2008 6:48pm
Hoosier:
CrimLawStudent

But I'm a snob who doesn't care for anything that isn't challenging; forgive me.

The wounds are still too fresh, Crim. But perhaps someday.
11.16.2008 6:49pm
CrimLawStudent (mail):

There is no more beauty in jazz.

Blah blah, beholder, eye, blah...

You know, a lot of modern jazz, if not a majority of it, isn't atonal/unmelodic/discordant.

Of the modern (current) jazz trends, I can discern three general directions: traditionalist (à la Wynton Marsalis; is this "modern"?), fusion-oriented (not just rock-jazz, but rather jazz that is influenced by other genres, such as electronica, rock, klezmer, classical, ambient music, hip-hop), and exploratory (which includes the avant-garde jazz which you are lamenting).

Anyways, maybe we don't have the same "modern" concept in mind here.

The wounds are still too fresh, Crim. But perhaps someday.

QQ
11.16.2008 7:19pm
CrimLawStudent (mail):
BTW, Professor Kerr,

I'm not sure, but you might be interested in this. Perfect timing... the night before the final.
11.16.2008 7:27pm
David Warner:
OK,

I'm not sure I can entirely concur with your theory that all Great Art is an acquired taste, or even most.

True Great Art acquires you.
11.16.2008 8:15pm
OrinKerr:
CrimLawStudent,

Thanks for the tip re the concert -- sounds interesting.

In terms of beer places in DC, it depends on the neighborhood. In general, though, the Whole Foods Markets are pretty good (better than you might expect). In the DuPont area, Cairo Liquors on 17th near Q is excellent (or at least used to be, back when I lived right near there).
11.16.2008 9:25pm
Duncan (mail):
Skyler: "My favorite beer is Negra Modelo. It's not really too different from New Castle for those of you not down south and have never drunk it."

So, basically you have terrible taste in beer and in music... I mean, look, at a certain point you like the beer you like, and you like Kenny G. That's OK of course- there's no cure for bad taste, after all.

I'm not actually a huge devotee of Coltrane- I'd rather listen to Joe Henderson, for instance, any day. But on a purely technical level- if you think that 'Trane is not completely in control of his instrument you really can't be much of a tenor or soprano player.

You might not like what he's doing, and you might not like the tone he's chosen. But only a very poor woodwind player could fail to note that he is in complete control of his instrument. The multiphonic stuff he did toward the end of his life is _insanely_ difficult. I can only think of one other player who has been able to do it as well- that would be Trane's collaborator Sanders, who is, IMHO, a better player than Trane was (and is sadly reduced to small club dates these days, since he is alive, and thus not a legend).

I'm curious- what sax(es) do you play, and what is your range on your axe of choice (since you mention that you are a sax player and base your argument on that I think this is a fair question)? Can you play freely in the altissimo register? One of the great things about the saxophone is that you can choose how in tune you want to be (as long as you don't want to be truly in tune, 'cause that's very tricky.)

Also- the sax has not been a failure as an orchestral instrument. It was invented too late to have been written for by most of the greats, so there's a chicken and an egg problem.
11.17.2008 12:33am
OrinKerr:
Duncan,

Just a random comment: I happened to listen to Joe Henderson's "Page One" today for the first time in a year or so. (I've had it for years and I've listened to it hundreds of times, just not recently.) Henderson's playing is truly incredible on that album: Every note is just right, and it's incredibly thoughtful. Just an amazing performance.
11.17.2008 12:47am
Hoosier:
David Warner:

True Great Art acquires you.


That should read: "In Russia, True Great Art . . . "
11.17.2008 2:54am
John Howard (eggandsperm.org) (mail) (www):
Maybe this was a bad night for Coltrane. I had the same reaction watching that video, the rhythm section sounded good but they seemed to be going through the motions, and then Coltrane came in and sounded sick and tired (and it's coming out of my laptop, which makes everything sound thin and weak) so I stopped watching. Maybe it got better but who cares. Were you talking about this clip or about his records, Skyler? Certainly, the records looked cool, and his heroin reputation made them seem more interesting, but he must have played pretty well on some of them, right? I only remember Love Supreme for the bass line and vocals, and remember the sax line only because Roger McGuinn played it as the lead of Eight Miles High (and McGuinn's boosterism of Coltrane to white college kids might by why his reputation seems out of whack with his playing).
11.17.2008 3:55am
Duncan (mail):
Ah- well that's a great album- good enough that had he released nothing after it would have established him as a great player. But I actually think that as good as it is, it's a minor album as far as Henderson's discography goes. One of the great things about Henderson is that he gets better with every release, at least for a long time.

When I was a bit younger someone told me that I ought to take one player as a model and consciously copy them. At the time Henderson was completely eclipsed by Coltrane, as far as reputation went. But I always liked him better.

It's very hard to explain how one goes about developing a tone on the saxophone. It has something to do with the physical incidents of the instrument- mouthpiece, reed, axe... every serious player messes with the incidental factors endlessly (well, maybe not the axe, unless they are wealthier than the average saxophonist). But it is mostly about having a certain tone in your mind (or in your ears) while you practice- a tone that you measure yourself against. I always thought that Henderson had the best tone of any tenor player I'd heard.
11.17.2008 4:16am
Duncan (mail):
John Howard:

Coltrane's reputation is not really based on his appeal to "white college kids". If Coltrane should be criticized it is for the opposite reason- some of the music his reputation rests most heavily upon is close to incomprehensible to non-musicians. And in his later period- well, I don't know what to say about his last couple of appearances at Newport, for instance. You should listen to them and judge for yourself. To me he sounds like a woman wailing for her demon lover; like a child lost past redemption; like a man emerging from a dark wood who climbs a hill, one foot firm behind one that moves as the planet that guides all men throws just enough light into the sky that he knows a guide will meet him at the crest. Other people think he sounds more like a cat set on fire.

Anyway, part of his reputation is based on his ability to play lucidly over what are still called "Coltrane changes", at an insane tempo. You might not like how that sounds- no one could argue with you if you didn't. But what he was doing was something that no other sax player in the world could have done at the time. Roger McGuinn is a very minor figure in comparison.
11.17.2008 5:28am
Skyler (mail) (www):
Duncan, I never said I liked Kenny G. I simply said that, like most saxophonists, he knows how to play in tune. I consider this a fundamental skill that should not be ignored no matter how ingenious other aspects of one's music might be. To play out of tune and with a wimpy tone is unforgiveable.

"But on a purely technical level- if you think that 'Trane is not completely in control of his instrument you really can't be much of a tenor or soprano player."

Oh, I have no doubt that he's doing exactly what he intends to do. But he doesn't convince the listener of that fact.

Oh, and using the term "axe" really makes you sound so cool. You're so hep.

"Other people think he sounds more like a cat set on fire."

And yet you think my statements here are so out of line.
11.17.2008 9:51am
Bill N:
Wow, I return to my computer on Monday, enthused by a new installment of "jazz blogging," only to find a thread devoted in large part to dumping on Coltrane and contemporary jazz in general. These 1960s European recordings with Miles (and I agree, Stockholm Concert is the best) always seemed to me to be transition period for Trane. He was moving from the Prestige/Atlantic post-bopish stuff to the sound that that most defines him in the later Impulse recordings. He often seemed unsure of himself, even in the Stockholm sessions, but that, to me, is the beauty of it--listening to an artist working out a new sound or set of ideas. Not everyone's cup of tea, but a fascinating window on the creative process. You would be justified in saying "hey, Trane, take it to the shed and come back when you are done," but I like watching the sausage being made.

Some of the aesthetic arguments here remind me of the moldy fig v. bebop battles of the 1940s-50s. "Those doggone beboppers have gone and stolen our music, playing all this atonal, unlistenable, unmelodic, consciously
discordant 'music.' They don't even know how to play their instruments--just listen to Dizzy Gillespie's, Miles Davis's or Bird's tone! Bring back dixieland!!!" For that matter, "real" saxophonists used to complain that Lester Young didn't have a manly enough tone--too weak and reedy. What's old is new...

I certainly understand how some might not like Coltrane's later style. I didn't like much of it until I was exposed to what it came from, and still don't get "Om" or "Sunship" (not enough structure). Try Newport 63 for an entre into some of the more adventurous stuff. But to say that he didn't have command of his instrument reveals more about the commentator than the target of the comment.

And as for "blaming" Coltrane for the discordant nature of much of modern jazz, I would actually put more "blame" on Ornette Coleman. When he titled his Atlantic album "The Shape of Jazz to Come," he was quite prescient. "Sheets of sound" can only take you so far, no matter how brilliant; you need space, too, which Coleman, like Basie before, skillfully incorporated into his musical vision. And the interplay of sound and space, to me, is at the heart of much of modern, experimental jazz.

And thanks for the mention of Joe Henderson--I think I'll go listen to some!
11.17.2008 11:50am
R Gould-Saltman (mail):
JAZZ GEEK TRIVIA FOLLOWS:

By the way, CrimLaw, Cellar Door/Live-Evil isn't Holland/DeJohnette, it's Mike Henderson/DeJohnette. While I personally LIKE Holland's Fender-bass work (including the wah-wah/fuzz box stuff on the Isle of Wight performance) he himself, and the Master of Darkness himself, apparently weren't crazy about it.

. . . and anyone who doubts Coltrane's powers as an improvisor, go and get a transcription of the solo on say, Freddie Freeloader. Learn it, bearing in mind that what you're doing is the same as copying all the words in Moby Dick, as compared with actually writing it. If you can't sight-read on an instrument, learn the Jon Hendricks vocalese version. Then come back and talk about Coltrane's lack of musical skill....
11.17.2008 12:48pm
David Warner:
Hoosier,

"True Great Art acquires you.

That should read: "In Russia, True Great Art . . . ""

No, you still get to set the price for the acquisition. I will admit that several Russian artists have made attractive bids, some of which have been accepted.

The larger point is that the Greatest of All the Artists had little difficulty filling his pit with those who no doubt required little training to appreciate his Art.
11.17.2008 3:34pm
CrimLawStudent (mail):
R Gould-Saltman,

Whoop, you have the right of it. Looking at it now, I realize that Holland wasn't with Miles for that long of a time.

Regardless, I love Holland's work, especially the albums with Billy Kilson (who, regretfully, has been touring with Chris Botti).
11.17.2008 4:01pm
R Gould-Saltman (mail):
CLS:

The Miles albums with Dave Holland, though, were my introduction to jazz, and to the use of upright bass in fusion, back in 1970-71, and were pretty startling.

There's a moment towards the end of "Pharoah's Dance" on Bitches Brew, when, as the assembled (3?) e-keyboard players work up a head of steam, and Harvey Brooks lays down a one-note ostinato on Fender bass, Holland comes rumbling up out of the very bottom of his range on upright bass; the effect is almost like slow volcanism, and still makes my (remaining) hair stand up now, 38 years later...
11.17.2008 4:41pm
jazz to law:
For those with a knowledge of what came before John Coltrane, his genius is self-evident. We take for granted what he accomplished because so many sax players today have incorporated so much of John Coltrane's advances into the jazz language. Go listen to Ben Webster, Lester Young or Coleman Hawkins and you'll see what I mean. (Not to diminish the greatness of these players) Speaking as a former professional saxophonist who studied jazz and classical saxophone at music school, I can appreciate some of Skyler's comments, particularly about tone production. I think most professional jazz saxophonists would agree that Coltrane's tone is thin on many of his later recordings. What is helpful to keep in mind, though, is that it is documented that Coltrane experienced significant pain with his mouth/teeth later in life, which negatively influenced his tone. I would encourage people to compare Coltrane's tone on the above video with that of his recording on Blue Train. I think his tone sounds the warmest and fullest on Blue Train and, in my mind, is one of the best sounds you could get out of a saxophone with a jazz mouthpiece. Concerning intonation, I would point out that there is much greater latitude for acceptable intonation when playing jazz saxophone mostly because the inflections (scooping into and out of notes) prevalent in jazz are unacceptable in classical saxophone. Accordingly, some of the dissatisfaction with Coltrane's intonation may be due to his use of inflection. Additionally, he practically pioneered (with Dexter Gordon perhaps pointing the way) a style with virtually no vibrato (except terminal vibrato) that tends to be more revealing of pitch. Keeping these things in mind, I think his intonation is great. Also, don't judge his intonation from live concerts (some of which were played outside) - listen to studio recordings.

Despite my discounting of Coltrane's tone, he still my favorite jazz saxophonist. This is mostly because he pioneered modal improvisation (along with Miles Davis). Case in point: listen to the solos of John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley on Miles Davis' Kind of Blue album. This was one of the first albums featuring modal improvisation (improvising for long periods where the chords do not change, as opposed to bebop where they change constantly). John Coltrane gets it, Cannonball doesn't. It sounds like Cannonball is trying to force a square peg (bebop) into a round hole (modal). (I hate to say that because Cannonball is one of my favorite sax players.)
11.18.2008 6:56pm
Thales (mail) (www):
Hoosier:

"I'm not much of a jazz historian. But the debate about whether Trane was a genius reminded me of a different criticism of his music. Isn't it the case that a number of jazz aficionados, while admitting his incredible talent on the sax, consider him responsible for the loss of any distinctive rhythm in much of the improvisational jazz that followed him? And that they consider this a loss?

Anyone who knows more about this than I do--which would include most kindergarteners--have any thoughts?"

I am going to get savaged for this by some jazz cognoscenti, but I actually think the Ken Burns Jazz documentary is quite a good historical introduction, and told mostly from the perspective of someone (Wynton Marsalis) who thinks that Trane was one element of the "wrong turn." I happen to disagree vehemently and think he was a genius, but the documentary remains the best holistic integration of pictures, music and thoughtful interviews (some great stuff from Studs Terkel, among many others) I've seen on the subject (despite its many omissions and shortcomings).

Re On Green Dolphin Street. Simply a great song, and lends itself to many wonderful interpretations including the one Orin posted. I also recommend the version by the Keith Jarrett Trio on his At the Blue Note box set from around 1994.

Orin, a lot of people really appreciate these posts digging up these performances. To me it is using YouTube for a much higher purpose than its usual political gotcha or humorous amateur video (or simple serial piracy of current TV shows). So thanks for continuing to do it.
11.21.2008 12:15pm