Up until Monday and Tuesday May 22-23, 2000 my music life consisted of a few simple ingredients: guitars, drums and vocals. It had to be loud, it had to be fast and it had to make me want to bang my head. So how did jazz make it into my lexicon? Like so many high schools across the country, my high school often had a spring variety show where folks could audition and perform a song, a bit or some kind of talent on stage for two nights. This particular year a friend of mine was hosting and other friends were performing in their respective bands. I had the nights off from work and decided to check out the shows.
The first act was one of the most popular kids in the school, he played saxophone and knew he was too talented for words. I was ready to sleep through his song until he started to play “Blue Train” by John Coltrane. For the next 10 minutes I was hooked and when he came back during the second half to play “Mr. P.C.” I knew that I had to come back the second night to hear those songs again. Something had changed in me and I couldn’t put my finger on it just yet. So two weeks later I was at Newbury Comics with some friends when I heard “Blue Train” coming over the store speakers and thought some cosmic forces must be at work here. I marched to the front of the store and asked if I could get a copy of this album so the clerk took me to the jazz section and produced a copy of the album Blue Train. It was all downhill from there.
Coltrane is noted for being a creative force, an incredible musician, a fresh voice in the genre of jazz and a terrible heroin addict. Despite that last piece he was my gateway for Miles Davis, Eric Dolphy, Herbie Hancock, Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter. When I listen to his sound ,whether he is covering Rodgers and Hammerstein or playing some of his own material Coltrane takes me away to another time or state of mind.
For the rest of the month I’m going to talk about his work as a sideman in some of the most influential groups, his stages of solo material from hard bop to free jazz and I’ll touch on his legacy with Impulse Records label. I’m going to highlight some of my favorite albums from those times and with luck they are some of your favorites already or they will soon become permanent pieces of your collection. If jazz is still a mystery to you then you’d do fine by starting here with Coltrane and letting him lead the way.