Coltrane in 1959

A Quartet In The Studio

Kind of Blue Recording Session – 1959

 

Coltrane is on the legendary jazz album from Miles Davis Kind of Blue. It was close to the end of his association with miles, right before he decided to go out on his own really for the first time.

The album Kind of Blue if considered by many critics as the greatest jazz album ever recorded. It is on a solo on this album that Coltrane truly finds his own voice. Rather than fight the slow, modal qualities of Miles Davis’ music, Coltrane bombards this steadiness with a barrage of powerful sounds, as fast as bullets coming from a machine gun. Critics had spoken about Trane’s “sheets of sound” period when notes came from his horn faster than anyone had ever seen. Here, his “sheets of sound” sound is tempered by the modality of Miles.

Many feel the best collaborative artists (like jazz musicians) work best when they are all of a common philosophy or belief system, or method for making music. Yet such was not the case with Coltrane and Miles Davis. It couldn’t be the same for Trane represented much of the old hard bop from the east coast that had tangled with cool jazz from the west coast in the music of Miles and Dave Brubeck et al.

The modal foundation of the music of Miles Davis was really about building foundational fictions under a work of art in progress. Like a piece of jazz music at during his time. Creating landscapes of music more than quick flashes of places on this landscape. The quick flashes of insight and exploration was in Coltrane’s court in their collaboration.

The Miles Davis album Kind of Blue is perhaps rightly the greatest jazz album because it is able to combine two great schools of jazz at the time into a new sound. This new sound is apparent throughout the album but perhaps most in the piece “So What” which combines the two styles so well into some new alchemical mixture.

In the beginning of the piece, the Miles Davis modalities of sound are stated. A very simple (yet mesmerizing) pattern of a continuous theme. At around 1:40 minutes into the piece, Miles comes in with his horn. We hear his statement of the theme. Then, the return of Coltrane at around 3:25 minutes into the piece, responding to what Miles has just stated with his horn. He does not leave the piece until around 7:08 minutes. Coltrane takes one of his longest solos. Certainly one of his longest in his association with Miles.

The contrast of the modal foundation of Davis with the powerful hard bop sax of Trane creates something new and special in jazz and it can be heard on “So What.” It offers a true combination of the cool style of the west coast with the hard, bop, Charlie Parker influenced music of the east coast.

On “So What” the exchange between Davis and Coltrane provide evidence for both sides in a musical battle being fought in the late 1950s. The battle between cool, modal jazz, and hot, non-modal jazz. The battle is put into the piece “So What” where it works itself out within a six minute period of time. In the end, the back and forth exchange between Miles Davis and John Coltrane on “So What” from the Kind of Blue album serves as one of  the greatest exchanges in jazz history. An example of a type of modern “call and response” communication. Both sides equal in the confrontation. Equal in the “call” and equal in the “response.”

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Cool jazz continues to rise in popularity during these last years of the 1950s. Yet, the fiery contrast of Coltrane and those not into the modal foundations of jazz like Davis. There was the rising popularity of Dave Brubeck and the Modern Jazz Quartet.

The period from April through December 1959 was filled with original music for Coltrane. The landmark albums of this time were Giant Steps and Coltrane Jazz.

Giant Steps is the first set composed entirely of Coltrane originals. At this time he was devoting more and more of his time to composing. He would usually start at the piano and run over chord progressions and sequences.

On the linter notes to Giant Steps, jazz critic Nat Hentoff wrote, “There is an extraordinary sensitivity in Coltrane’s work. Part of the fury in much of his playing is the fury of the search, the obsession Coltrane has to play all he can hear or would like to hear – often all at once – and yet at the same time make his music, as he puts it, ‘more presentable.’ He said recently, ‘I’m worried that sometimes what I’m doing sounds like just academic exercises, and I’m trying more and more to make it sound prettier.’ It seems to me he already succeeds often in accomplishing both his aims, as sections of this album demonstrate.”

The Coltrane family was living in a small house in the Queens section of New York. Trane was completely possessed by music and carried his sax around his neck everywhere he went. Strewn about his house were all types of books on many diverse subjects. His friend Sonny Rollins recommended Autobiography of a Yogi. Bill Evans had recommended Krishnamurti’s Commentaries on Living.

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