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Coltrane's Music

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The John Coltrane career, from the very start and right on up to 1965, had been propelled by his more or less clear image of what he was after.
After listening often to his recordings, I first heard John Coltrane live at Birdland in June 1962. My interest had developed earlier in my young life in my home country of Sweden, considering that broadcast jazz there at the time was restricted to a half-hour broadcast on the national radio each week. It was also possible to tune in on the fading Voice of America radio-transmitter in Tangiers, Africa on the short wave band Sunday nights at ten o'clock (always opening with the Ellington band playing "Take the A-Train"). Those of us in Europe who have passed 50 will remember "Jazz-Glimpses from the USA" (with "Early Autumn" as a theme song). Malmo, Sweden-born Claes Dahlgren was a true missionary, and at the end of 1959 he interviewed Coltrane who then, while surrounded by countless negative judgements, had started on a journey to the stars, a tour-de-force which tragically lasted only seven or eight years until his untimely death. He had achieved some notoriety earlier with Monk and Miles, but the real ascension towards the stratosphere began around 1959-1960 with the creation of his classic quartet with McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, and eventually bassist Jimmy Garrison.

By then, the jazz situation in Sweden was improving, but mainly in Stockholm. In the provinces, development was many years behind, except for reviews of recordings and concerts. Like Claes Dahlgren, I was born in Malmo, where the critics in the daily papers had ears only for mainstream music. They covered jazz in general pretty well but there was an almost fascist aversion against that which stood out, which was different, progressive. It works this way today too: you are not often impressed when reading music reviews (could it come from bad education? Are those who select the critics influenced by their own shortcomings? Is there still fascism of mind to be traced?). Claes Dahlgren's interview was my first encounter with the music of John Coltrane. It was a short part of the show, maybe ten minutes, made by the time during or shortly before the recording of My Favorite Things. Claes, then in good company, probably didn't grasp fully what Trane was into, but he still had the greatness to include him. Credit goes to such men. To me it spoke directly to the spinal core, I was hooked, a 13-14-year-old Trane-aholic.

The beginning of Coltrane's greatness coincided remarkably with the solving of his tooth-problems. [Coltrane had had dental problems that sometimes interfered with his playing.- eds.] During the Miles/Monk years, he suffered from tooth-pain so severe that for some periods he couldn't perform at all and that was one of the reasons for Miles to sack him the first time, drug problems another. Generally, in those days, he was a confused man and it was not until he married Naima, got his teeth and drug problems sorted out and converted to Islam (unclear to me in what order) that the pieces fell into place. The pieces of his "jig-saw-puzzle" also included sorting out the members of the quartet. Elvin Jones happened to be handy when one drummer didn't show at a recording date. Coltrane signed up bassist Reggie Workman after Paul Chambers turned him down twice. Only the young McCoy Tyner was fronted as Trane's first choice. But he framework was assembled; the road lay open. The transition emanating from this random course of events was wondrous, left was a forlorn bop-era, not yet in wrecks but soon enough.


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