Saturday, March 11, 2017

Listening to Prestige 250: John Coltrane

Bob Weinstock got several years worth of albums out of Miles Davis when he booked the Contractual Marathon sessions--the last one appearing in 1961, two years after he had changed the shape of jazz completely with Kind of Blue, for Columbia.

He scheduled those sessions because he knew Miles was leaving. He may not have known Coltrane was leaving, but perhaps he knew that this was an eagle in flight, and he wouldn't be in his eyrie long. He recorded a lot for Prestige--14 more sessions either as leader or sideman, through the end of 1958 (with some sessions for Blue Note and Savoy thrown in). Then, like the MJQ before him, he decamped for Atlantic, and his second Atlantic session, in April of 1959, was Giant Steps. Like Miles Kind of Blue, Coltrane changed the shape of jazz. (Ornette Coleman would record Tomorrow Is the Question!, The Shape of Jazz to Come, and Change of the Century in the same year.) And as with Miles, Weinstock made sure that the bebop/hard bop tradition in jazz didn't vanish right away even as its leading practitioners moved away from it: Prestige was still releasing its stockpile of Coltrane material for more than two decades. The tunes from this session bracketed that discography, first released on 1961's Lush Life album (all but "Slowtrane"), then again on the 1972 double album, More Lasting than Bronze. "Slowtrane," aka the alternate take of "Trane's Slo Blues." "Slowtrane" is also on The Last Trane (1965); "I Love You" and "Like Someone in Love" on John Coltrane Plays for Lovers (1966). "I Love You" was on the B side of a 45 in 1960, the A side in 1966.

I won't say a lot more about Coltrane's music because there are so many more sessions coming up, including Prestige's very next session, the following week, which is one that changed my life. But this great stuff: Coltrane in a trio setting, with Billy Taylor's Earl May on bass, Art Taylor on drums. They do everything asked of them, and Taylor's lead-in on Cole Porter's "I Love You," followed by his punctuation of Trane's first solo, is especially noteworthy. But Trane is the main event. The cuts are between five and six minutes long, showing that while Trane became famous for the long and very long forms, he could say a lot in a compact, and in some ways more listener-friendly setting.

"I Love You" and "Like Someone in Love" are probably included on a compilation called John Coltrane Plays for Lovers because of their titles. but they are as romantic as they come. Modern jazz is supposed to be cerebral and intellectually rigorous, and it is, but on Jimmy Van Heusen's "Like Someone in Love," especially, you can be listening to and appreciating the musical complexity of Coltrane's soloing, and then he'll cut through and hit you in the heart as immediately as anything by the Five Satins or Billy Eckstine. In Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise's friend gives him a Miles Davis and John Coltrane tape to play as an accompaniment to lovemaking. Cruise puts it on, but after a minute, he says, "What is this shit?" and rips it out of the tape player. Jerry Maguire had no taste and no soul.


 Order Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 here.

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