“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons. In this edition, Art Blakey tells a story of Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane that took place during the 1957 recording session of Monk’s Music.
In a March 29 post on Slate, Fred Kaplan writes about the newly released bootleg recording of Miles Davis’ quintet (featuring John Coltrane), The Final Tour, a four-CD box set of live concerts in Europe from 1960. The tour happened a year after the release of Kind of Blue, so many of the tunes played during it is from that classic album. According the Kaplan, the music found on this Columbia/Legacy set is “radically different” and such a “jarring departure” from the album that “it demands we revise the conventional wisdom about these two musicians (Miles and Coltrane) and fills in some blanks…in the story of jazz, and where it was going, in those pivotal years.”
Kaplan’s essay includes a critique of the music itself – but of particular interest is his reminder of the
All those good times
might’ve been what Duke
had in mind when vamping
his silky-fingered B-flats,
letting Coltrane counter
until tenor notes cluster
close to the
In Robbie Robertson’s entertaining biography Testimony, the rock guitarist tells a short story about a conversation he overheard Bob Dylan having with The Byrd’s Jim (a.k.a. “Roger”) McGuinn concerning John Coltrane’s influence on McGuinn when he wrote “Eight Miles High.”
The setting was Los Angeles, 1966, during a Dylan tour that employed Robertson and, among others, bandmates Rick Danko and Richard Manuel, who are referred to in the excerpt. The “Levon” in the story was the drummer Levon Helm, who left the tour after a month out of frustration of playing with Dylan during his initial “electric” period, when folk music purists routinely
The purpose of motion begins,
A clear mind, aware and in focus,
Ahead, the optical pathway lies empty and silent,
Slow at the start, breathing steady,
Stepping through the changes,
Favouring a motif,
As the intensity builds,
Yes, it is hot,
night sweats beneath
Spanish moss and the terror in trees
now knowing no cover of darkness
to greet a Sunday morning
under the stairs
16th Street Baptist Church.
and the siren wails
For years, the autobiography proved elusive,
speeding east like the double-jointed run
that skipped from white keys to black,
soldiers chased from Central Avenue battles.
Then the book took a rest, hiding out
in a nondescript store among academic texts,
tomes whose covers bore geometric shapes.
Cardboard screamed orange, red, and white,
the slow burn of a
I watch my hand remove the phone from the wall above the couch’s arm and there is a sweat in my ear as I hear a distant Miles Davis. I am called by the distorted voice of Miles Davis rasping my name.
John, he says, are you busy?
I let my eyes blur into my mother’s sofa, melting a monotonous no out of my mouth toward the receiver. I feel the room sloshing peacefully in waves around me and the buzzing of my lips from my mouthpiece and reed. My saxophone sits strewn across the floor along with my
Longtime accomplished New York Times music critic Ben Ratliff has left the paper. He was a terrific writer who had the ability to pique my interest in an artist in short, reliable, and often brilliant reviews.
I had the privilege of meeting him a few times over the telephone and in person. He joined me in a 2003 conversation with Bruce Lundvall and Joshua Redman about the business of jazz music, talked with Paul Morris about his book Jazz: A Critic’s Guide to the 100 Most Important Recordings, and in 2008, we talked about his book on John Coltrane, The Story of a Sound, which is published