Trane Revisited

In my humble opinion, John Coltrane’s signature tune, “Giant Steps”, from his seminal 1959 album by the same name, is one that, when played or heard on the radio or music box, demands that you just stop whatever you’re doing, put down the newspaper or magazine, quit talking or texting, sit down somewhere, and take notice! No matter how many times I’ve heard “Giant Steps”, that’s exactly what I do. In just a brief four minutes and forty-eight seconds (4:48), what Coltrane does with the harmony and melody at such a breakneck tempo, going through chord progressions and displaying technical wizardry, is simply amazing… and makes you want to hear it over and over again. I get the “impression”, no pun intended, that he had a few things on his mind, he had something to say (with his horn), he said it, and he moved on! “Giant Steps” was one of those tunes that, while I was fully immersed in Jazz Fusion in the late 1970s, but also intellectually curious as to find out where exactly this “Jazz” came from, stopped me dead in my tracks, along with “Sweet Clifford”, “Song For My Father”, “You Go To My Head”, and “The Eternal Triangle”. Wow!!! What was that??? Interestingly enough, the ”Giant Steps” album was recorded around the time of Miles Davis’ “Kind Of Blue” sextet recording, of which Coltrane was a member, as well as Davis’ previous quintet (e.g., Prestige label). Coltrane was also a prolific composer, contributing numerous standards and classics to the straightahead Jazz repertoire, including (chronologically): Straight Street, Pristine, Blue Train, Lazy Bird, Moment’s Notice, Cousin Mary, Grand Central, Mr. PC, Naima, Some Other Blues, 26-2, Countdown, Equinox, Harmonique, Impressions, After The Rain, Alabama, A Love Supreme, Central Park West, Satellite, Wise One, and Dear Lord. Quite an impressive list, I might add… His various recordings on the Prestige, Blue Note, Atlantic, and Impulse labels covered the different styles/phases of his evolution as an artist: straightahead/bebop, classic, “Sheets of sound”, ballads, spiritual, and avant garde. Coltrane’s early 1960s quartet, featuring McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones, is historically one of the greatest groups ever. His brief “apprenticeship” under Thelonious Monk and their historic 1957 “Live At The Five Spot” recordings, as well as the Carnegie Hall concerts later that year, which was not discovered until 2005 by accident, are all historically significant. In 1960, Coltrane recorded a modal Jazz version of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things”from the 1959 musical The Sound Of Music that became a Jazz classic, his first time featured on soprano saxophone. His collaboration with Duke Ellington in 1962 resulted in the beautiful ballads, “In A Sentimental Mood” and “My Little Brown Book”. And his 1963 collaboration with crooner Johnny Hartman gave us the quintessential masterpieces, “Lush Life” and “My One And Only Love”. His socially-conscious (or “woke”) and eerily-played composition, “Alabama”, was in response to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, in September 1963 that killed four young Black girls, ages 11 to 14, and injured many others. In 1965, Coltrane created the deeply spiritually-inspired four-part suite, “A Love Supreme”. “Part 1: Acknowledgement”, whose four-note bass line is played in different keys, along with the monkish-type chant, is unforgettable and forever resonates in the back of one’s mind. By the way, the 2016 film, titled “Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary”, is outstanding and must-see cinema!!! Over the years, I’ve made it a point to schedule NYC Jazz trips near and around John Coltrane’s September 23rd birthday as some Jazz venues, especially Smoke and Birdland, honor his music, artistry, legacy, and contributions to Jazz by booking a week’s worth of current artists, young and old, who are intimately familiar with his work. Although John Coltrane passed in July 1967, before my foray into Jazz, his music certainly lives on through albums, CDs, iTunes, and YouTube. Over the past several years, however, perhaps due feelings of nostalgia or pining for a direct bloodline to John Coltrane, I’ve tried to catch his son, Ravi, in concert as often as possible. An outstanding tenor/alto saxophonist in his own right, Ravi bears a keen and striking resemblance to his dad. I first saw him perform with his mother, Alice Coltrane, in November 2006 at the Masonic Auditorium as part of the S.F. Jazz Festival in a beautiful and unforgettable concert. I first saw his group, a quintet, perform in October 2008 at the Yerba Buena Center, again, as part of the S.F. Jazz Festival. Even though Ravi has fronted various groups and alignments during this period, featuring several outstanding Jazz musicians playing different types of music, my personal favorite group alignment is his quartet, including pianist David Virelles, bassist Dezron Douglas, and drummer Johnathan Blake, playing straightahead Jazz. Man, these Cats can play!!! I affectionately call Johnathan “the fastest gun in the east”for his unbelievably swift and powerful drum rolls! Dezron is one of the most in-demand bassists around, and David, who I’d never seen perform before, brings fresh and innovative ideas to the piano. To me, this quintessential Ravi Coltrane Quartet reminds me the most of his dad’s late 1950s sound. Unfairly (and perhaps wishful thinking on my part), during its concerts, I’m ALWAYS sitting there just hoping and praying that Ravi will play all of his dad’s classic tunes. :v) When Ravi once played “Giant Steps”, with a few changes interspersed during its opening, I literally got goose bumps! I’ll also never forget another time when I saw this group perform at the Village Vanguard in October 2014. It had been swingin’ real hard from the jump, when between songs late in the set, Ravi turned around and looked at Johnathan and Dezron, not sure if they knew the next tune or arrangement. Dezron glanced over to David and then to Jonathan, then assuredly nodded to Ravi, saying “We got this!” And they did!!! :v)

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