Monday, June 7, 2010

The Coltrane Legacy DVD/John Coltrane Live In '60& '61 & 65 DVD

The Coltrane Legacy DVD/John Coltrane Live In '60 & '61 & '65 DVD
Antonio G. Pereira © 2010 Antonio G. Pereira

There are two marvelous DVDs that have been made about John Coltrane. The Coltrane Legacy (Video Artists International) and John Coltrane Live In '60 & '61 & '65 (Reelin'In The Years Productions)
The Coltrane Legacy was produced by Burrill Crohn, the business partner of well known Filmmaker David Chertok . The Coltrane Legacy DVD (originally released on VHS) contains very rare footage of John Coltrane in performance, and interviews with associates who knew him. The interviews (interspersed with the music at intervals) with Jimmy Cobb (who performed with Coltrane in Miles Davis' band), Reggie Workman and Elvin Jones (who worked with Coltrane when he formed his own ensemble), are fascinating and very informative (and in Elvin Jones' case, very moving); concerning what kind of person John Coltrane was. It's obvious when you hear his colleagues talk about him, that John Coltrane was someone special, and gifted with something beyond the ordinary; as if guided by the hand of a Higher Power, which is why, one suspects, his music touches so deeply. The songs on The Coltrane Legacy are, 'So What', footage from a Television Special of Miles Davis recording his album, Kind Of Blue. 'Everytime We Say Goodbye', The John Coltrane Quartet recorded Live on German Television. This is John Coltrane, Reggie Workman, McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones. 'Impressions' and 'My Favorite Things', footage from the same German Television Program, with the Quartet augmented by Eric Dolphy. 'Afro Blue', 'Impressions' and 'Alabama'. The John Coltrane Quartet a few years later, now consisting of John Coltrane, Jimmy Garrison, McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones. These recordings are from Music Journalist Ralph J. Gleason's PBS series, Jazz Casual; which was produced for PBS in San Francisco. (The entire show, by the way, can be purchased on DVD. Go to The Internet Archive  type  into The Wayback Machine and click, Take Me Back ). The Miles Davis footage is quite stunning, and Gil Evans can be seen conducting the Orchestra, with Miles, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, and other band members, along with Coltrane, taking their turns soloing. The footage from German Television of The John Coltrane Quartet is wonderful, and you can see the band flowering with Eric Dolphy. Then the footage from Jazz Casual is very exciting, as you see the Quartet in it's prime. (From the glimpses of Ralph J. Gleason, you can tell of his obvious love for the music.) This particular footage is of note, because you see the Quartet performing Coltrane's (at that time) brand new composition, 'Alabama'. (In an interview segment, Elvin Jones explains how the song came about.) Just before thundering into a crescendo on drums, there is a profile of Elvin Jones' face, as he listens to Coltrane's heartbreaking notes of anguish; on the deaths of four little Black Children, killed when their church was bombed by Racists. (Many years later, you can hear Jimi Hendrix play the same kind of anguished notes {this time incorporating rage} in his interpretation of The Star Spangled Banner, at the Woodstock Festival; expressing in music, what America had become. A Battlefield. {See the book, Woodstock Dream by Elliot Landy. Published by teNeues Publishing Group teNeues Verlag GmbH + Co. Kampen, Germany .Woodstock Vision by Elliot Landy. Elliot Landy }) The Coltrane Legacy is quite a powerful DVD, and the version of 'Afro Blue', performed on Jazz Casual, is nothing short of Majestic.
John Coltrane Live In '60 & '61 & '65, is the other DVD collection. From the first gorgeous piano introduction by Wynton Kelly of, 'On Green Dolphin Street', where he is joined by Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb, and then John Coltrane, the DVD sails off to a great start. These recordings are from German Television, and Coltrane is backed by Miles Davis' band, whom he was touring with for the last time. Delightfully bluesy and swinging, it's a wonderful performance of the song. Next is a take on 'Walkin' (A recording originally done on the album, Walkin'/The Miles Davis All Stars - Prestige Records. Check the Summer 1985 Japan Swing Journal Miles Davis Special Issue titled: Oh Miles; for the most detailed Record and CD Discography on earth, and with very rare photographs of Miles Davis and members of his bands from the'40s through the'80s, and full colour photographs of Miles relaxing at his home in Malibu and sketching colour artwork.), and the band really starts to cook, and follows it up with a Miles Davis composition, The 52nd Street Theme; named for the string of Jazz Clubs that used to occupy that New York Block, during the 1940s and '50s. And you begin to see the musician's delight in trading solos. A beautiful version of 'Autumn Leaves' is next, and the band is then joined by Stan Getz, for 'Moonlight In Vermont'. (These performances are gorgeous to look at, as well as hear. The cameramen on German Television took great care in filming these performances.) Stan Getz does a delicate and beautiful solo during 'Moonlight'. It's quite fascinating to watch the quick facial exchange between John Coltrane and Stan Getz, as the band completes 'Moonlight In Vermont', and Oscar Peterson replaces Wynton Kelly on the piano stool, and John and Stan both hear Oscar begin to play the first notes of Thelonious Monk's quirky and delightful tune, 'Hackensack'; (written with reference to Rudy Van Gelder's Recording Studio). Here are John Coltrane and Stan Getz, loving every moment of this. Both contemporaries at a crossroads. Shortly after this tour of Europe, Stan Getz went off in a direction of collaborating on Bossa Nova with Brazilian Innovators of the music; including Antonio Carlos Jobim, Luis Bonfa, and especially Joao and Astrud Gilberto. John Coltrane would take his music into a highly Spiritual direction, incorporating Black American Spirituals, African and East Indian music. It was an incredibly productive time for what was termed as 'Jazz' music; which moved to a completely different level, as the stage was set for a new and gloriously fruitful and fateful direction, of what eventually would become known as 'New Music', that would last for many years to come, and interestingly, from which Miles Davis would emerge in the 1970s as a major innovator, once again. (There were those who would disparage Coltrane for moving music in an "ethnic" direction, and would look on as the events of the 1960s would prove differently, as America changed forever; and those who didn't want anything to change musically, socially, culturally, and politically, found themselves smoked out into the open. Coltrane's new composition, 'Alabama', performed on Ralph J. Gleason's, Jazz Casual PBS program, being a prime example of the artist expressing what was wrong and desperately needed to be corrected, and in turn, a harbinger of drastic changes that would come.) 'Everytime We Say Goodbye', 'Impressions', and 'My Favorite Things', which follow, are the same performances of the John Coltrane Quartet with Eric Dolphy, from The Coltrane Legacy DVD; but done with Digital Mastering, so the picture and sound are much clearer. The interviews with Coltrane's band members however, make The Coltrane Legacy DVD as much a treasure as the Coltrane Live in '60 & '61 & '65 DVD. Finally, the performances which end the Coltrane Live DVD are from a 1965 concert in Belgium. We catch John Coltrane playing 'Vigil' (from his album Kulu Se Mama) and soloing in full flight with a frenzy. (Elvin Jones in the moment, delighting in rapturous drumming.) Followed by an exquisitely gorgeous version of 'Naima'. (Coltrane bending notes with a vengence.) And a beautiful version of 'My Favorite Things'. (McCoy Tyner conjuring Middle Eastern chording from his piano during his solo.) Though some of this footage has deteriorated with time and even with Digital Mastering, could only be restored but so much, it is nevertheless exciting to see. The performances leave you breathless, and are the kind Coltrane was noted for, by those who loved his music. It's wonderful that these performances survived. The booklet included with the DVD is full of beautiful photographs. The Forward by Michael Cuscuna (who you might remember from the original Albert Ayler Quartet recordings on Arista-Freedom, The Albert Ayler Septet Village Theatre and Village Vanguard Live Recordings on Impulse Records, and the Limited Edition Releases on Mosaic Records), is informative. The text by Ashley Kahn is passable from a business point of viewing the music therein, but lacking in understanding what took place in this music, and most importantly, 'why'. The final notes by the team at Reelin' In The Years, are quite good, and their dedication to what they are doing, shows.
There are several books about John Coltrane, which make wonderfully informative reading. Chief among them is, Chasin' The Trane by J.C. Thomas. Published by Da Capo Press N.Y. Here you find Coltrane's life in detail, told with the author's masterful and exciting prose; with interviews with just about every major artist, close friend, and relative who knew him. This is a book you can't afford to be without when learning about John Coltrane. Other books of interest are, Coltrane: A biography by Cuthbert Ormond Simpkins, M.D. Published by Herndon House Publishers (Distributed by Lawrence Hill & Company, Westport Conneticut) Dr. Simpkins has written an incredible biography, full of marvelous information, and a treasure of photographs; tracing the life of John Coltrane. John Coltrane by Bill Cole. Published by Schirmer Books (A Division of Macmillan Publishing Co.) The most detailed book with it's emphasis on Coltrane's music and it's creation. As Serious As Your Life: The Story of the New Jazz by Valerie Wilmer. Published by Lawrence Hill & Company, Westport Conneticut. British Music Journalist and Photographer Valerie Wilmer's book covers the developments in Jazz with emphasis on John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, Earl Cross, Bill Dixon and many others. A wonderful book with a wealth of information, and excellent photographs. The chapter on John Coltrane, alone is worth the price of the book. And finally, Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music by Frank Kofsky. Published by Pathfinder Press N.Y. There is an extensive section of the book, devoted to John Coltrane, the members of the Quartet, and finishing with a fascinating interview by the author, with John Coltrane himself. Frank Kofsky speaks of Coltrane in a deeply moving retrospective light.

You can find additional coverage and Live footage of John Coltrane, at his website:

John Coltrane discovered something within music that makes him stand out in much the same way that Jimi Hendrix would later distinguish himself. He was able to tap into not only the spiritual, but combine it with the emotional; and translate it into a universal language that others could understand and feel, which is not an easy thing to do. One has to be a remarkably special human being, to be able to do this. (See the parts of Alice Coltrane's interview with Jazz and Pop magazine from Sept. 1968, cited in Chapter 14 of Dr. C.O. Simpkins' biography, Coltrane, where she discussed John Coltrane's composing techniques.)

We are truly blessed to have this music in our lives.

I shall remember the beauty of John Coltrane's recording of 'Central Park West', and it's effect on me the first time I heard it, for the rest of my life.

Antonio G. Pereira

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