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Artist Profiles

Celebrating John Coltrane

By Published: October 13, 2005
Kahn had interesting insights into how Coltrane might have participated in the music scene today. "I don't think he'd look at the jazz scene, I think he'd look at the music scene, Kahn said. "I think he was already thinking about music in ways that were not categorical, or genre specific. If you notice what he was doing with stuff like Kulu Sé Mama, integrating poetry and spoken word into his music; he would look at stuff like hip-hop and go 'Oh, that makes sense'. [H]e certainly was someone who was willing to do overdubs and the more modern studio techniques. [If] you look at the way the way that he was taking certain phrases and then repeating them, motifs and repeating them again and again, it's not that far off from what samples do. There's a lot of stuff in today's music that, at least the motivation behind it, would have been familiar to Coltrane.

Drummer Rashied Ali joined Coltrane's band in 1965, replacing the legendary Elvin Jones. He, too, has a firsthand perspective on the great saxophonist. Especially in the way he wound up joining the band.

"I'd been wanting to get with John Coltrane's band for a long time, Ali reflected. " So I played around in New York for about a year before I started going to Coltrane's gigs, because I was pretty busy working for different people: Don Cherry, Paul Bley, Bill Dixon, Albert Ayler.... A couple of times I noticed that Coltrane would be in the audience watching us. He would come down, he was listening to all of us younger cats in those days because he was really interested in the music that we were doing because it was all coming from him, anyway. So he had a bunch of little disciples and he was interested in what they were doing.

"Coltrane used to play at the Half Note. One day I got lucky because Elvin [Jones] didn't show up for [a set], and John said 'Hey, Rashied, you wanna play, and I'll pay?' Of course! So I jumped up there and I got to play with John and it was history then after that. My first gig was at the Village Gate, and ironically it was [the day of] that first big blackout that New York had (in November, 1965). I was going 'Wow, man, what kind of luck you got? The first gig you get with Coltrane and there's a blackout!' I went to the club anyway, [and] they had candles and everything there, but that was a little too dangerous so they cancelled the gig until the next day.

"I was a real Coltrane fan at the time, so I learned a lot from [him]. I learned a lot about how to deal with music, how to actually carry myself and be honest with myself, and how to stay focused on what I'm doing. He was the most focused person I've ever seen. I mean he never stopped playing. When he wasn't playing he was practicing . He would come on the bandstand already sweating because he had played his gig in the dressing room. After awhile I found myself practicing before I played, just trying to keep up with the stuff he was doing. He was a real father figure to me. He gave me a lot of advice, a lot of things that worked out for me today. I'm still reaping the benefits that I got from Coltrane.

Ali corroborates Workman's description of the energy level on the bandstand. "Oh man, it was incredible. We'd play a tune for an hour. Coltrane would play a 35 minute solo. The music was so different that it turned off a lot of the old Coltrane fans. At the same time, we played in clubs where they loved the music, embraced the music. And Trane was actually working toward a different audience. The audience was getting younger, possibly because his band was a younger band, and he started writing stuff for that kind of thing.

"I just learned a great deal about an inner sense philosophy of life, and being very humble and appreciative of whatever gifts you have, [and] trying to do the best with what you have, Kuhn said. "I was very much influenced by ideas he had and the way he approached music. Mainly it was the fact that he was so dedicated to his art. That impressed me the most. There was no bullshit at all with him. He was very quiet, and he told me later on he respected me as a musician, that's why he hired me. He was a sweetheart of a man, and I loved him as a person and certainly as a musician. What he contributed to the music carries on.

"What they can learn from him was endurance, and the love of what they're doing, Ali said. "Coltrane had so much love in the music, and he built his endurance up in order to play that music. He wrote a tune called "Pursuance and that's what he did, man. He pursued the music. When you're pursuing something, and you're going after it, you're gonna run into a lot of change, especially if you're trying to make something happen out of it. That's what I think all musicians [should do]. I don't care what they're playing, they should always be looking forward.

Visit John Coltrane @ AAJ.

Photo Credit
Mosaic Images

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