Letting Coltrane Be Coltrane
Thoughts on new live music from a legendary musical group
I'm a music lover (in case you couldn't tell), and I've been anxiously awaiting the new release of archived live recordings from Miles Davis' first great quintet. It's the last volume in a series of six (four-disc set) which I'm sure his fans will be pretty excited about.
Over the years, I've been particularly fond of the Miles Davis Quintet, ever since my father introduced me to it back in 6th grade. The group, comprised of Davis on Trumpet, John Coltrane on tenor sax, Paul Chambers on bass, Red Garland (and sometimes Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans) on piano and Philly Joe Jones (later Jimmy Cobb) on drums, represents a hallmark in music history. The personnel here includes Wynton Kelly on piano and Jimmy Cobb on drums. What this group accomplished in a span of nearly a decade was monumental and defined the sound of its era. As Miles was always a forward-thinking musician, he frequently experimented with sounds, particularly the modal style of the late 50's, beginning on his album Kind of Blue and continuing with other notable musicians soon after into the 60's and 70's. But perhaps the addition to the group of saxophonist John Coltrane was one of his greatest accomplishments—- up to a point, one could say. Coltrane was known for his daring musical abilities, breaking through the traditional tenor sax sound and delivering "sheets of sound" as music critics of the day referred to them. As is evident from the above-linked review:
"But none bear the audible friction between Davis and Coltrane on almost every number of this four-disc set..You can hear the sideman straining to push past Davis—the man primarily responsible for realizing that Coltrane could be Coltrane.
Audible as well as physical tension. The story goes that Coltrane’s musical experimentations didn’t fare too well with Miles. Miles, in his ever-so-charming way, made a simple suggestion:
Coltrane: “I don’t know Miles whenever I play I get so caught up in the music, I can’t stop..What should I do?”
Miles: “Take the f—- horn out your mouth!”
Classic Miles. Sounds pretty easy doesn’t it? The point being that Coltrane's new sound wasn't aligned with the direction in which Miles was heading musically. However, it is still refreshing to hear a master musician working out the kinks of his playing and evolve into the legend that he was.