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Bebop

March 28, 2019

John Coltrane’s Pivotal Year

John Coltrane

AT THE END OF 1957, JOHN Coltrane had gotten his act together. Having lost his position with Miles Davis’ quintet in early 1957 due to a debilitating narcotics addiction, a newly clean and sober Coltrane would spend the later part of that year honing his skills alongside Thelonious Monk while appearing as a sideman on recordings for the Prestige, Blue Note and Bethlehem labels. Coltrane would also record his first LPs under his own leadership. Coltrane (Prestige 7105), and Cattin’ with Coltrane and Quinichette (Prestige 7158) were recorded just after signing with Prestige in the early part of
the year.

When John Coltrane signed with Prestige in early ‘57, he had previously agreed to sign with Blue Note — going so far as to accept an advance payment on his first LP for the label. Becoming an exclusive Prestige artist would require giving back that advance. Wanting to keep the payment, Coltrane convinced Prestige owner/producer Bob Weinstock to allow him to make the one LP he had agreed to. That album would become Blue Trane.

Having completed that obligation, Weinstock put John Coltrane to work through the remainder of 1957 ­— mostly as a sideman for pianist Red Garland. But in January of 1958, the tenor player would burst forth with a rapid fire series of Prestige sessions that would basically define his talent and solidify his place in jazz history.

The 37 selections that comprise the new set Coltrane ‘58: The Prestige Recordings (available on Craft Recordings LP or CD sets) feature ‘Trane along with his Miles Davis Quintet band-mates pianist Red Garland and bassist Paul Chambers, along with drummer Jimmy Cobb, who would be joining the Davis group the following year. Additional sidemen, mostly from Prestige’s extensive roster of jazz artists, include trumpeter Donald Byrd, drummer Art Taylor, and guitarist Kenny Burrell.

Producer Bob Weinstock knew he would not be able to hang onto Coltrane past the expiration of his first contract, so as he had previously done with Davis, Weinstock literally stockpiled recordings for release well into the future. These sessions (recorded between January 10 and December 26, 1958 ) would create a series of LPs that would ultimately be released over a period of literally seven years — the last of which (Last Trane) was released in the summer of 1965, where it would compete in the record bins with Coltrane’s recently recorded avant-garde albums Ascension and Kulu
Se Mama
.

The ‘58 sessions all follow the general Prestige Records format of extended jams based on recognizable standards and popular jazz compositions. Of the 37 selections recorded that year, Coltrane himself contributes only three tunes: “By The Numbers,” “Black Pearls” and “Goldsboro Express.” For someone who would be known as a prolific improviser and composer, this small number of compositions is likely due to the relatively large amount of material required to fill up seven marathon recording sessions. There would simply not have been enough time to write, arrange and rehearse many new tunes as fast as Prestige’s schedule required.

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Still, one can hear Coltrane stretching his abilities on many of the up-tempo tunes as well as deepening his emotional resonance on the ballads. For example, Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” which Coltrane would re-record several years later with Johnny Hartman on vocals for the LP John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, is performed very simply with soft rhythm backing, giving more emotion and poignancy to this recording than the later Hartman vocal version.

Most of these recordings feature the Red Garland trio as the rhythm section. Already accomplished for their backing of Miles Davis’ group, the trio would support many of Prestige’s sessions of the period. It is difficult to single out any specific tracks for Garland’s playing as the trio was consistently strong throughout everything they did throughout the ‘50s and early ‘60s — both as a stand-alone trio on their own Prestige LPs as well as backing the likes of Coltrane, Davis and others.

Many of Coltrane’s 1958 sessions would be broken up to create albums that took tunes from one session and paired them up with tunes from another date to fill out a full length LP. But on the session from March 7, Coltrane teamed up with guitarist Kenny Burrell for what became the New Jazz album Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane. Something of a sequel to 1957’s The Cats (New Jazz 8276), this session features the return of pianist Tommy Flanagan, but with a tighter rhythm section featuring Paul Chambers (bass) and Jimmy Cobb (drums) and omitting the previous LP’s trumpet. What had been a really good album the first time, becomes one of the few instances where the sequel is better than the original.

On December 26, 20-year-old trumpeter Freddie Hubbard joined the last Coltrane session for Prestige, making what is likely his first recording date. Appearing on the first three tracks recorded that day, Hubbard comports himself well on “I Do This Because You Are Beautiful,” “Then I’ll be Tired of You” and “Something I Dreamed Last Night.”

And with that last session on December 26 safely on tape, John Cotrane was gone. As Weinstock had anticipated, Atlantic Records scooped ‘Trane up at a much higher rate. Wasting no time, Atlantic recorded ‘Trane’s first LP for them just three weeks later on January 15, 1959.

After their initial releases, The 1958 Prestige sessions would be re-issued continuously in multiple configurations in a “mix and match” series of re-issues in the 1970s and ‘80s. With this new set (eight LPs or five CDs), the entire series of 1958 recordings ­— mastered from the original tapes — come spectacularly packaged in a portfolio reminiscent of a 78rpm album book. Complete with forty pages of historical photos and extensive liner notes by noted jazz historian/author Ashley Kahn, this pivotal year in John Coltrane’s recorded legacy can at last be enjoyed in its entirety.

Armand Lewis buys and sells rare Jazz LPs. He can be reached at mrbluenote@peoplepc.com






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