Unlike the knotty difficulties in trying to untie the various knots in the Classic Quartet box of Impulse recordings, the Vanguard sessions represent something else in the canon of John Coltrane's work. In 1961, Coltrane was still experimenting with his quartet format and trying to work in the proper coloration of voicings needed to give his music the proper force and expression he pictured it to have. Something further than Giant Steps and My Favorite Things, but nonetheless shaped and textured by them. To try and discuss the music contained on these four CDs - to tell something about it that might in some way reveal it to you - would be completely stupid. What's more important is that the box itself exists and brings together most of the disparate pieces of a particularly strange puzzle, but not all. The music contained on these CDs represents tunes that were recorded for the eventual purpose of release on November 1-3 and November 5, 1961. The quartet does appear here - Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, and Jimmy Garrison - but there is also the addition of Eric Dolphy, since it was a quintet for these dates at the very least, an oud player on some tracks named Ahmed Abdul-Malik, and Roy Haynes occasionally sitting in on drums as well as Reggie Workman alternating in the bass chair. What it adds up to is some of the most exploratory music Coltrane ever recorded - and it was done not only in front of a live audience, but also in the presence of some mighty hostile critics. It was on this fire ground of the test that Coltrane revealed for the first time his interest - as well as Dolphy's - in the Indian motivic mode of improvisation, his fascination with the odd time signatures of African rhythms, and the manner in which he used scalar, modal, and harmonic forms as integrational aspects to both composition and improvisation. And while its full articulation would come on later studio recordings and in later performances, this laboratory effect offers plenty in the way of revelation here. Originally, the Vanguard performances were released on four different albums: Impressions (two of the four tracks it featured), Live at the Village Vanguard, The Other Village Vanguard Tapes, Trane's Modes, and From the Original Master Tapes. This is the first collection that brings together all 22 performances of nine different tunes recorded on those four evenings. Yes, there was a lot more music played during those evenings, but producer Bob Thiele recorded these performances with the probable intention of release. There are four versions of "India" and "Spiritual," three each of "Chasin the Trane," two of "Naima" (one of them very different from the Atlantic version, one with an inverted melody), two each of "Greensleeves," "Impressions," and "Miles' Mode," and one each of "Brasilia" and "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise." The obvious reason for comparison is the difference in color and tone between the Haynes/Workman rhythm section and the Jones/Garrison one. The other is how differently Coltrane and Dolphy would play together night to night. One evening Coltrane would open and close a tune, letting Tyner and Dolphy solo, and the other it would be the reverse, and the instrumental variations would shift from tenor to soprano in Coltrane's case to alto and bass clarinet in Dolphy's dig-his-bass clarinet solo on "Naima." Here on these four CDs are the exhaustive discoveries of a lifelong search and the beginning of a kind of restlessness in Coltrane's life that would consume him. Musically, the music found here is as fine as anything ever recorded in jazz history. These performances are remarkable in their certitude and in the generosity of their communication as well as in the depth and profundity of their statements. Forget the single-disc compilation, this set is one of the most important live sets from the '60s.
- Thom Jurek (All Music Guide)
========= from the cover ==========
We give names to places - it humanizes our world, identifies it, categorizes it, makes it more manageable. The name may be chosen carefully or casually, may have immediate meaning or may be an incomprehensible inheritance from alien - tongued ancestors. Whatever its source, the name we give soon becomes a handle for the place, a shorthand reference for a speck of geography, a man-made object, or just a physical space.
Some names grow beyond mere labels. Our history is a story of places and what happened there, and the names of those places become both the place and the resonance of its history, become a concentrated amalgam of location, event and human emotion. A few place names go even further, become not a symbol for a single event but a metaphor for a blend of many events, an evocation of something more, a quality, an emotion, a particular approach to art.
Jazz has its magic names, too, names which symbolize sounds, ideas, events - the Storyvilles, the Mintons. Few names, however, have grown to represent jazz as has the Village Vanguard, a small club in New York's Greenwich Village. Use that name as part of a truly magical phrase-Live at the Village Vanguard-and you achieve that metaphoric blend of multiple events and emotions, a single phrase to neatly identify the best of jazz in performance, the unfettered possibilities which always made nightclubs jazz's laboratory, jazz creativity caught in the act. Choose one event to exemplify the Live at the Village Vanguard metaphor, and most probably that event would be these recordings, made live at the Village Vanguard by saxophonist John Coltrane on four nights early in November 1961. Most readers of these notes are familiar with the journey that brought Coltrane to the Vanguard in November of 1961. That path started some 35 years earlier in Hamlet, North Carolina, where John Coltrane was born on September 23, 1926. Shortly after his birth the family moved to Highpoint, North Carolina, where Coltrane grew up. In June of 1943 they moved again, to Philadelphia, a large city with a vibrant musical scene; by then Coltrane was playing alto saxophone. He began playing professionally in 1945 but was soon drafted, working with the Navy band in Hawaii for a year.
Back in Philadelphia, Coltrane played with a variety of groups, including those of saxophonists Eddie Vinson and Earl Bostic. In 1949, he joined the final edition of Dizzy Gillespie's big band, and he stayed on as the trumpeter downsized to a sextet in mid1950. Now on tenor saxophone, Coltrane remained in Gillespie's small group until April 1951, when he quit to return to Philadelphia to study. Over the next few years he played with a variety of bands (notably Johnny Hodges' group) before (in late 1955) making a crucial decision to join a new quintet being formed by trumpeter Miles Davis.
Coltrane was with Davis for most of the next five years, developing a unique, innovative approach to the tenor saxophone while performing as a featured soloist. His contributions helped make Davis' group one of the major voices in modem jazz, while Davis in turn gave him plenty of room to grow. For almost all of 1957, however, Coltrane's employer was the iconoclastic pianist Thelonious Monk, whose long residency at New York's Five Spot with Coltrane is itself legendary. By the spring of 1960, when Coltrane left Davis to form his own quartet, his primary horn (tenor saxophone) had been supplemented with the smaller (and until - then rarely played) soprano saxophone, and recordings like "Blue Train" and "Giant Steps" had made the former sideman a leader in the development of the music.
Coltrane first recorded his "greatest hit," an Indian - flavored modal reworking of the pop song "My Favorite Things", late in 1960. By early 1961, when he moved to the newly-formed Impulse! label, his stature was such that he almost single-handedly defined the forward-looking, risk-taking image which the label has had ever since. After a first project involving an unusual brass-rich studio orchestra (the Africa/Brass Sessions), Coltrane was ready for another first: his first live recording as leader of his own group. The John Coltrane Quartet was by mid-1961 a cohesive unit with an identifiable sound. A key element in that sound was the accompaniment of pianist McCoy Tyner. Born in Philadelphia on December 11, 1938, Tyner first met Coltrane in 1955. The two stayed in contact through the balance of the decade, occasionally working together around Philadelphia. It was understood that Tyner would join Coltrane when the saxophonist finally left Davis, but Tyner went with the Art Farmer - Benny Golson Jazztet first, in 1959. When Coltrane finally left Davis the following year, he initially used pianist Steve Kuhn. "He didn't want to ask me to leave the Jazztet, because Benny and John grew up in the same area, and he didn't want to steal me," Tyner remembered years later. But Coltrane wanted Tyner's approach to accompaniment, and within six weeks Tyner was a member of the Coltrane Quartet. Tyner's crisp, complex single-note lines are well-displayed in the Vanguard recordings, but it is those characteristic block chords that instantly identify him- and the group. "He gets a personal sound from his instrument," Coltrane said later, "and because of the clusters he uses and the way he voices them, that sound is brighter than what would normally be expected from most of the chord patterns he plays."
While Tyner's open voicings with their de-emphasis of tonality were a perfect support for the tonality-stretching Coltrane solos, the saxophonist had by 1961 an equally well-matched engine for the group, the powerfully propulsive drumming of Elvin Jones. Jones is the youngest of a family of prominent jazz musicians from Pontiac, Michigan, along with older brothers Hank (pianist) and Thad (trumpet). Born in Pontiac, on September 9, 1927, Jones played around Pontiac and Detroit, moving to New York in 1956. He performed or recorded with such musicians as Donald Byrd, J. J. Johnson and (notably) as part of a classic Sonny Rollins Trio recorded live at the Village Vanguard in 1957.
In the fall of 1960, he replaced drummer Billy Higgins in Coltrane's Quartet, joining the band in Denver, Colorado. "...It reached the point where it was actually a jubilant experience, being on-stage with them," Tyner told me in 1979. "It was like going to a university when Elvin first joined the band....They played so well together, after a while there seemed to be almost an automatic communication." That level of interaction is already apparent in the Atlantic sessions from the fall, and it is a key element in the power of the Vanguard recordings.
Bassist Reggie Workman joined Coltrane in early 1961, replacing Steve Davis. Workman, born in Philadelphia on June 26, 1937, had worked with both Coltrane and Tyner there. He was a member of groups led by Gigi Gryce, Roy Haynes and Red Garland prior to 1961. Workman's strong foundation is a central part of the music, and his lithe lines are essential elements in such Vanguard performances as Greensleeves and Brasilia. In the spring of 1961, Coltrane began adding a second bassist to this core quartet, as first documented on Africa/Brass. In New York at the Vanguard that second bassist was Jimmy Garrison. Although born in Miami, Garrison also grew up in Philadelphia. He worked in the late fifties as a freelance musician in New York with a variety of musicians, including Philly Joe Jones, Benny Golson and Lennie Tristano, before joining Ornette Coleman's quartet in 1961. Garrison is heard extensively on the Vanguard tapes, especially on the originally-released Chasin' the Trane. Although Workman went on to tour Europe with Coltrane immediately following the Vanguard appearance, he left the band in December. Garrison replaced him, and remained until Coltrane's death in 1967.
Coltrane made one final addition to the basic quartet in mid-1961, when he extended an invitation to multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy to join the group. Dolphy, born in Los Angeles on June 20,1928, was a remarkably inventive musician on flute, bass clarinet and alto saxophone with a free, almost-speechlike approach. He and Coltrane first met in 1954 in Los Angeles, where Dolphy worked as a freelance musician, and they stayed in contact through the following years. Dolphy joined drummer Chico Hamilton's group in 1958, moving to New York City late the following year. He was a member of Charles Mingus' group through the end of 1960, and recorded with Ornette Coleman on the seminal double quartet album, Free Jazz.
Dolphy was a key part of the Africa/Brass sessions, and contributed solos to Coltrane's last recording for Atlantic (Ole). After playing in Europe in August and early in September 1961, he flew back to San Francisco, where he joined a Coltrane group that (temporarily) included guitarist Wes Montgomery. Dolphy and Coltrane "had been talking about all kinds of possibilities with regard to improvising, scale work and techniques," Coltrane told Nat Hentoff in 1962, and eventually "it made sense for Eric to come on in and work" with the group. "Having him here all the time is a constant stimulus to me," Coltrane added.
For the recordings themselves Coltrane added two more musicians to the basic group, playing instruments rarely heard in jazz. Bassist Ahmed Abdui-Malik, whose credits include work with Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk and Randy Weston, is heard on the oud, a Middle-Eastern lute which gives a distinctive drone flavor to several versions of India. Clarinetist and saxophonist Garvin Bushell, whose voluminous credits begin with recordings with Mamie Smith's Jazz Hounds in 1921, is here heard on oboe (in counterpoint to the theme of India) and on contrabassoon (Spiritual)-in marked contrast to his regular role as a Dixieland clarinetist at Jimmy Ryan's.
At the end of September, with Dolphy now on board, the Coltrane group moved south, playing two weeks at Los Angeles' Renaissance Club; headed east to Chicago's Sutherland; and finally arrived at the Village Vanguard on October 24, 1961. However, the radically new music produced by the group was not well-received by some members of the audience. Engineer Rudy Van Gelder (Coltrane's favorite engineer, and the man responsible for the clarity and presence of these recordings) vividly remembers "one of the waitresses in the place holding her ears and saying "I can't stand it any more, I can't stand it anymore." Thursday's audience included a reporter for the Swedish Radio network, Claes Dahlgren, whose puzzled reaction (published in the December 1961 issue of the Swedish music review Orkester Joumalen) is the only contemporary account we have from the Vanguard. His short report contains a wealth of details, including the number of microphones Van Gelder used (12), the fact that Roy Haynes had sat in, and the names of all the other musicians. Yet Dahlgren's admiration for Coltrane's earlier work had not prepared him for Chasin' Another Trane with Haynes; he describes it as "corny," likens the performance of John Coltrane to "simply playing Poika," and wonders if it's all "some sort of joke." This negative reaction to what is now considered "the most significant of the venue's events" (Barry Komfeld, writing in The Grove Dictionary of Jazz) shows clearly the difficulties Coltrane faced as his music evolved.
A much more hostile reaction came from critic John Tynan, who heard the group in Los Angeles. "Go ahead, call me a reactionary," begins his famous article, i:l happen to object to the musical nonsense currently being peddled in the name of jazz by John Coltrane and his acolyte, Eric Dolphy." Coltrane probably did not see this article (which appeared in the November 23, 1961 issue of down beat) until his return from the European tour which immediately followed the Vanguard engagement. The sharply critical review provoked a number of letters in down beat and ultimately led to an article with the odd title "John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy Answer the Jazz Critics" (down beat, April 12, 1962), unintentionally suggestive of a heresy trial. That controversy is great publicity is a truism, but any such value in this wave of hostility was offset by its detrimental effect on the music-Dolphy left the group around March of 1962, and Coltrane's studio recordings from 1962 are noticeably more conservative than the powerful Vanguard music.
The controversy was future tense, however, when Van Gelder brought his equipment to the Vanguard on Wednesday, November 1 st. Producer Creed Taylor had handled the first Impulse session (Africa/Brass), but by the time Coltrane arrived in New York, Taylor had left, replaced by veteran producer Bob Thiele. It was Thiele's idea to record Coltrane live, and he showed up (for his first face-to-face meeting with the saxophonist) intending to record just one night. But Thiele was quickly drawn into the music, and ultimately the microphones stayed in place for five nights, with recordings from four (November 1,2,3 and 5,1961), the last days of the engagement. By the end of the last night twenty-two different takes were in the can, although only nine different titles were actually recorded- up to four versions of some titles were captured on tape. All of that music, the John Coltrane group at peak form, is now available, here, for the first time.
Coltrane's destination in New York City, the Village Vanguard, sits a few doors up from Charles Street, at 178 Seventh Avenue South, in Greenwich Village. It is inextricably linked to founder and long-time owner Max Gordon, who wrote a book about it in the late seventies (not unexpectedly entitled Live at the Village Vanguard). Max's widow, Lorraine Gordon, now manages the club.
The Vanguard's history is casual, almost accidental, like a well-improvised solo. The Village in which it lies sits near the toe of Manhattan Island, a small area with a strong sense of community in the midst of one of the world's greatest cities. It has always been home to artists and bohemians, an atmosphere that may have attracted Gordon (who aspired to be a writer) in the twenties. Gordon first opened a club in 1932. and was successful at bringing in poets to read their work and meet. The first Vanguard opened on the strength of that earlier club's success, in 1934, but Gordon was prevented from getting the necessary cabaret license because of the room's limitations (it lacked the minimum two exits and two toilets). A closed speakeasy in a basement around the corner however met those requirements, and Gordon moved the club there in 1935. Thus, when Coltrane arrived to headline at the Vanguard in October 1961 (on a bill that included singer Ada Lee and pianist Mal Waldron's Trio), the club had been in existence in that location for more than a quarter-century. But jazz had only been the primary focus of the club for the last six of those years - for its first two decades the Vanguard had presented jazz mixed with cabaret, folk music, and comedy. In all of these roles the club seems to have benefited from some unusual quality of Gordon's, a willingness to listen, perhaps, or an unwillingness to value easy profit over musicians or performers that interested him. Most club owners are reviled Qustly or unjustly) as greedy, tin-eared hustlers with ears tuned to hear the sound of the cash register over the music. Insofar as so many musicians have recorded at the Vanguard-so many have made a point of playing there, again and again, and that for decades Thad Jones and Mel Lewis could convince the cream of New York's studio musicians to drag their instruments down the stairs every Monday for hardly more than carfare - suggests an ambiance that is not easily defined nor at all common. The recordings in this box may well be the most famous of the many made "Live at the Village Vanguard," but they are by no means the only ones, or even the first. Although Lorraine Gordon suggests that there may have been an earlier (and now lost) Stan Getz session taped at the Vanguard, the current holder of the honor of being first goes to the exceptional Sonny Rollins Trio recorded there in the fall of 1957. Coltrane recorded there a second time (1966), Bill Evans multiple times (the most legendary of those, his first, also from 1961, a scant four months before Coltrane and Dolphy arrived), and the endless list includes such notables as Dexter Gordon, the Gerry Mulligan Concert Orchestra, The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, Joe Henderson, and Ron Carter.
Like the music it has hosted so well over the years, most of the Vanguard is depth, below the surface. From Seventh Avenue South there is only a doorway, a small display case announcing the Current performer, and the long red awning, stretching across the sidewalk to the street. The music within is below, down a flight of fifteen steps flanked by red wails, The room Itself is oddly shaped, angled and '. sharp-cornered, the stage at the apex of a triangle, barely big enough for a quartet, let alone the collection of odd instruments John Coltrane brought during that first week of November. The "Green Room" actually the kitchen at the opposite end of the room from the stage, is the office, the break room, and usually the control room where engineers set up their equipment. Rudy Van Gelder, however, commandeered a table stage-side that November; on which he set up his equipment. "This was before the days of the remote trucks, you know," Van Gelder remembers; "I was right in there in the room, while I was recording - I had a little table, and they didn't like the idea of giving me a table because it took away their income - I'm talking about the club-owners. They had to dedicate a table for me for all my stuff.
It's hard to grasp the amount of good jazz available to the Vanguard's audience in the Village that fall.: The Five Spot had had Ornette Coleman's Quartet on-stage during the first weeks of October, and had followed it up with Cecil Taylor. Lennie Tristano and Lee Konitz were at the Half Note, and Sonny Rollins was at the Jazz Gallery - to name a few. For that matter, Ravi Shankar had offered a concert of Indian music only a month earlier. Audiences fed from such a smorgasbord were less likely to suffer John Tynan - like indigestion. And in fact Van Gelder recalls: "I, was curious about that, and I did ask one person, he was sitting there drinking, and his girlfriend, and I said 'Hey, do you like this music?' and he said 'yes, I do.' And this was at the crest of that whole thing."
Surprisingly, for one so closely associated with the club, Coltrane was not close to Gordon, which is perhaps why there are no Coltrane anecdotes in Gordon's memoir. According to Lorraine Gordon, "He was not a very communicative person, Coltrane. A lot of musicians here talk a lot, kid around a lot, and are super friendly, but Coltrane wasn't that way. He was a loner in a way, and quiet-introspective." Such reserve was no doubt a by-product of the intensity with which he made music-for Coltrane, music was the primary focus, almost an obsession. "I'm a different person, I can't be that way, "Tyner said in 1979."(But) I'm glad he was that way. It did advance the music a lot" Or perhaps even Coltrane felt some of the challenge, the spirit of that small stage. For the Vanguard is sacred ground, in a way, given a special quality by the sheer quantity of music which has washed through the room. If its walls could be played, if they could be spun on a turntable like outsized phonograph records, what echoes there would be. As if each musician has deposited something of himself on the walls, a layer of sediment, of lava, the sound and emotion. And if, like sonic archaeologists, we could dig down to those nights in November 1961, we would find a broad band of rare metals, like the residue of an exploded comet, left by the performances collected here. There is a danger in trying to write about the music itself, a danger in using words to capture such a strong nonverbal experience. Coltrane himself seems to have preferred to release his music without notes, perhaps because he preferred the plain and simple, perhaps because he felt the music was its own best spokesman. And in fact each listener must approach this music on its own terms, must hear it.
That said, it is still possible for a writer to comment on music, to provide listeners new to the music with a framework to organize their own personal responses to what can be overwhelmingly powerful, to share details and insights with listeners for whom the music is as familiar as the back of their hands. These recordings are, after ail, light-years from "smooth jazz"-this is gritty, life-or-death music (singularly unsuited to be background music) that grabs and shakes the listener, demanding concentration without distractions.