Sunday, July 23, 2017

Listening to Prestige 263: John Coltrane

This became a chop shop Prestige session, dismantled and used for parts. The five tunes recorded on this date eventually found their way onto three different albums. Both John Coltrane and Donald Byrd would go on to stratospheric careers--Coltrane as avant-garde icon, frequently called the most important jazz artist of his generation, Byrd to record BlackByrds, one of the best selling jazz albums of all time. But even in 1958, they stood out as two of the best young talents around, so it's not clear why this would have happened. Maybe Prestige was simply, during these growth years, more than they could press, distribute and promote,
Maybe Weinstock knew that, like Miles, Trane possessed a reputation that would only grow, and he figured it couldn't hurt to have some product to release at a later time. Anyway, in the 21st century, it mox nix. Music is streamed now, and the whole concept of albums is becoming obsolete.

The session featured two pop standards (Arlen and Mercer, Rodgers and Hart), one jazz standard ("Lush Life," composed by Billy Strayhorn when he was 16!), and two originals, each with an interesting pedigree. The assembled talent represented an intertwining of two of the most prolific feeder streams to New York jazz. Donald Byrd, Paul Chambers and Louis Hayes were all from Detroit. John Coltrane had spent his formative years in Philadelphia, where he had worked with Texas-born Red Garland. When Coltrane came back to New York from his second Philadelphia sojourn, this one to kick his heroin habit, he brought some musicians with him, and, for this session, some composers. "Nakatini Serenade" was written by Philadelphian Cal Massey, whose talent was known within the jazz community, but whose militant political stances would lead him to be shunned, in later years, by some white-owned record labels.

"The Believer" is the work of a 20-year-old, as-yet-unknown Philadelphian named McCoy Tyner. Tyner was two years away from making his recording debut with the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet, and the beginning of his work with Coltrane which would include "A Love Supreme." But clearly Trane was already listening to him.

Tyner's title presages, in different ways, the directions that each of the principals were to take. "The Believer" could fit in with the mystical/spiritual direction of the Coltrane school, which produced such titles as Trane's "A Love Supreme" and Pharaoh Sanders' "The Creator Has a Master Plan." Or it could belong with the funk-gospel jazz that Byrd and others were to make for Blue Note, like Horace Silver's "The Preacher" or Jimmy Smith's "The Sermon." It's neither, but it's a great, riff-based melody, and it gives both soloists, and the other members of the group, space to create.

"Lush Life" was the first track to see vinyl, in the 1961 album of the same name. It was also
released on 45, which must have taken considerable editing, since the original is 14 minutes long--especially when you consider it only took up one side. "I Love You" was the other. "The Believer, in its turn, became the tittle of an album, released in 1963 and also containing "Nakatini Serenade." These two releases coincided with the beginning of Coltrane's fruitful years with Impulse! Records. "The Believer" was also released on 45, b/w "Dakar.".

The Last Trane left the Prestige station in 1965, and included "Come Rain or Come Shine" and "Lover" from this session.

Listening to Prestige Vol. 2, 1954-1956 is very close to release. Order your advance copy from

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