Blue Train John Coltrane & Thelonious Monk
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- 1Blue Train10:43
- 2Moment's Notice09:09
- 4I'm Old Fashioned07:58
- 5Lazy Bird07:06
Info for Blue Train
Although most of saxophonist John Coltrane's career was on Prestige and especially Impulse!, in September 1957 -- making good on a handshake promise the previous year -- he was loaned by Prestige to the Blue Note label.
This was a practice which writer William Ruhlmann noted in his '95 Goldmine article on Coltrane's career, "a no more unusual matter in the small jazz world than the loaning out of contracted movie stars between Hollywood studios in the 1940s and 1950s".
If only an actor on loan could pull out performances as important as Coltrane did however on the 15th of that month.
He'd been in for recording on September 1 as a sideman in a sextet led by pianist Sonny Clark (which appeared as Sonny's Crib) but it was the session a fortnight later which was the more significant.
On that day in Rudy Van Gelder's studio in Hackensack in New Jersey, Coltrane recorded one of his most popular albums: Blue Train. It was an album he himself in 1960 -- by which time he'd recorded Soultrane (for Prestige) and the monumental Giant Steps (Atlantic) -- rated highly.
He was just a week and a day short of his 31st birthday, had released a few album on Prestige which had secured his reputation (if not being especially outstanding), but at the time was part of Thelonious Monk's group which had a residency at the Five Spot.
So he was used to playing long sets and solos, and being pushed.
For this session he brought in the rhythm section of bassist Paul Chambers and drummer "Philly" Joe Jones (who knew Coltrane from Miles Davis' band), pianist Kenny Drew, trumpeter Lee Morgan and trombonist Curtis Fuller.
The band was allowed rehearsal time (not common at Prestige but very much the Blue Note way) and the results show in five pieces which are polished and an object lesson in early Coltrane bop.
The title track opener is a spare blues and even Richard Cook and Brian Morton's Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD (which mostly dismisses the album as "a perfect example of the Blue Note effect, an over-valued record which bathes in the cachet of what turned out to be a fleeting association with the most glamorous label of the time") concedes this tune is a classic.
"A starkly powerful blues which propels Coltrane into his first unquestionably major recorded solo," they write. "Once heard it's a sound that is not easily forgotten, at once plaintive and urgent, hard-edged but also vulnerable."
Cook emphasizes this point in his book Blue Note Records; The Biography: "The opening four minutes of the record are still electrifying . . . it's a quite magisterial statement which Van Gelder captured in a sound more handsome than Coltrane had been hitherto blessed with."
If Cook and Morton are faint in their praise about the album as a whole (noting particularly that Fuller is not a proficient soloist), Blue Train has always been very popular with listeners, perhaps because some of what followed by Coltrane was a very difficult call. Blue Train remains approachable -- but not compromised -- hard bop and after the title track, two of the tunes, A Moment's Notice and exciting Lazy Bird have become jazz standards.
Some years later writer Zita Carno transcribed the Blue Train solo and presented it to Coltrane asking him to play it for her.
"I can't," he replied, "it's too difficult."
Interestingly that title track involved some studio splicing together of different takes (Drew's solo), a practice which became more common in the Sixties and beyond.
Reid Miles' gentle cropping Francis Wolff's reflective portrait of Coltrane on the cover doubtless enhances the album's stature. It looks like a moody jazz album and the blue wash through it adds to that impression.
If Coltrane would go on to greater heights in subsequent years -- and he only lived another decade after this album -- then this still, despite whatever shortcomings it has, remains a rare and especially enjoyable one in his vast catalogue.
John Coltrane, tenor saxophone
Paul Chambers, bass
Kenny Drew, piano
Curtis Fuller, trombone
Philly Joe Jones, drums
Lee Morgan, trumpet
Recorded at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey on September 15, 1957
Produced by Alfred Lion
Born September 23, 1926 in Hamlet, North Carolina, John Coltrane was always surrounded by music. His father played several instruments sparking Coltrane’s study of E-flat horn and clarinet. While in high school, Coltrane’s musical influences shifted to the likes of Lester Young and Johnny Hodges prompting him to switch to alto saxophone. He continued his musical training in Philadelphia at Granoff Studios and the Ornstein School of Music. He was called to military service during WWII, where he performed in the U.S. Navy Band in Hawaii.
After the war, Coltrane began playing tenor saxophone with the Eddie 'CleanHead' Vinson Band, and was later quoted as saying, 'A wider area of listening opened up for me. There were many things that people like Hawk, and Ben and Tab Smith were doing in the ‘40’s that I didn’t understand, but that I felt emotionally.' Prior to joining the Dizzy Gillespie band, Coltrane performed with Jimmy Heath where his passion for experimentation began to take shape. However, it was his work with the Miles Davis Quintet in 1958 that would lead to his own musical evolution. ' Miles music gave me plenty of freedom,' he once said. During that period, he became known for using the three-on-one chord approach, and what has been called the ‘sheets of sound,’ a method of playing multiple notes at one time.
By 1960 Coltrane had formed his own quartet which included pianist McCoy Tyner, drummer Elvin Jones, and bassist Jimmy Garrison. Eventually adding players like Eric Dolphy, and Pharoah Sanders. The John Coltrane Quartet created some of the most innovative and expressive music in Jazz history including the hit albums: 'My Favorite Things,' 'Africa Brass,' ' Impressions,' ' Giant Steps,' and his monumental work 'A Love Supreme' which attests to the power, glory, love, and greatness of God. Coltrane felt we must all make a conscious effort to effect positive change in the world, and that his music was an instrument to create positive thought patterns in the minds of people.
In 1967, liver disease took Coltrane’s life leaving many to wonder what might have been. Yet decades after his departure his music can be heard in motion pictures, on television and radio. Recent film projects that have made references to Coltrane’s artistry in dialogue or musical compositions include, 'Mr. Holland’s Opus', 'The General’s Daughter', 'Malcolm X', 'Mo Better Blues', 'Jerry McGuire', 'White Night', 'The Last Graduation', 'Come Unto Thee', 'Eyes On The Prize II' and 'Four Little Girls'. Also, popular television series such as 'NYPD Blue', 'The Cosby Show', 'Day’s Of Our Lives', 'Crime Stories' and 'ER', have also relied on the beautiful melodies of this distinguished saxophonist.
In 1972, 'A Love Supreme' was certified gold by the RIAA for exceeding 500,000 units in Japan. This jazz classic and the classic album 'My Favorite Things' were certified gold in the United States in 2001.
In 1982, the RIAA posthumously awarded John Coltrane a Grammy Award of ' Best Jazz Solo Performance' for the work on his album, 'Bye Bye Blackbird'. In 1997 he received the organizations highest honor, the Lifetime Achievement Award.
On June 18, 1993 Mrs. Alice Coltrane received an invitation to The White House from former President and Mrs. Clinton, in appreciation of John Coltrane’s historical appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival.
In 1995, John Coltrane was honored by the United States Postal Service with a commemorative postage stamp. Issued as part of the musicians and composers series, this collectors item remains in circulation.
In 1999, Universal Studios and its recording division MCA Records recognized John Coltrane’s influence on cinema by naming a street on the Universal Studios lot in his honor.
In 2001, The NEA and the RIAA released 360 songs of the Century . Among them was John Coltrane’s 'My Favorite Things.' (Source: www.johncoltrane.com)