THE DOZENS: JOE LOVANO SELECTS ESSENTIAL JOHN COLTRANE by Ted Panken (editor)



                     Joe Lovano, by Jos L. Knaepen

It was fitting that saxophonist Joe Lovano would contribute his Baker’s Dozen John Coltrane selections during a week’s residence at Birdland by Saxophone Summit, a collective group comprising Lovano, fellow saxophonists Dave Liebman and Ravi Coltrane, pianist Phil Markowitz, bassist Cecil McBee, and drummer Billy Hart. As documented on the 2008 issue, Seraphic Light, the ensemble explores both the compositions of John Coltrane and Coltrane-inspired originals by the band, channeling the questing spirit that exemplified the entirety of Coltrane musical production.

Seraphic Light appears a year after Kids: Live at Dizzy’s Club [Blue Note], a duo recital by Lovano and master pianist Hank Jones, the older brother of Elvin Jones, who changed the sound of the drums and cymbals (to use Lovano’s pet descriptive phrase) during his five years propelling Coltrane’s world-historical quartet. As on their pair of Blue Note quartet collaborations, I’m All For You and Joyous Encounter, Lovano and Jones (then midway through his ninth decade) play with tremendous creativity on challenging mainstream repertoire from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s—the oeuvre of Thad Jones, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, and Tadd Dameron, songbook standards, hymns.

John Coltrane by Robert Casumbal - www.robertcasumbal.com

                                  John Coltrane
                          Artwork by Robert Casumbal

On Symphonica, his 19th Blue Note date, scheduled for September release, Lovano uncorks far-flung solos on six of his works, each given an intricate arrangement by Michael Abene for Germany’s top-shelf WDR Orchestra to interpret with precision and soul.

This trio of releases is consistent with the 56-year tenor saxophonist’s career-defining penchant for drawing inspiration from the full complement of styles that comprise the jazz timeline—playing them convincingly while alchemizing them into his unmistakable sonic identity. In Lovano’s remarks on 13 Coltrane selections spanning 1955 to 1967, from the onset of Coltrane’s recorded career (“Ah-Leu-Cha”) until the end (“Venus” and “Expression”), it is quickly apparent that his lifelong immersion in this corpus of music has been crucial in guiding him along that path.


John Coltrane: Good Bait

Track

Good Bait

Artist

John Coltrane (tenor sax)

CD

Soultrane (OJC-CD-021-2 and Prestige 16PCD-4405-2)

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Musicians:

John Coltrane (tenor sax), Paul Chambers (bass), Red Garland (piano), Art Taylor (drums).

Composed by Tadd Dameron

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Recorded: Englewood, Cliffs, New Jersey, February 7, 1958

Albumcoverjcoltranesoultrane

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

This is from Soultrane, one of the first significant Coltrane records that I lived with as a real young player and listener. "Good Bait" was written by Tadd Dameron, who’s from Cleveland, where I’m originally from. My dad played with him. Hearing Coltrane’s incredible, lengthy exploration on “Good Bait” inspired me, and taught me a lot about how I would have to deal with this music, and learn to play the saxophone. It’s a timeless recording that sounds as fresh today as when I was a kid.

As a saxophonist myself, understanding all the things you have to deal with to execute your ideas, I realize that every stage of the way is a different development period, and Coltrane’s experience and journey to that moment in 1958 was intense. He had come up playing Tadd Dameron’s music, playing with Johnny Hodges’s band, Dizzy’s band, Miles’s band, Monk’s band, and he was just starting to form a conception about who he was and how he wanted to present himself in the music. Playing with Thelonious Monk got him to be even more articulate than he was doing on his own. His execution, articulation, rhythm, phrasing and ideas were all one, and his tone was crystallizing—he was fusing together all of the elements of playing music and playing the saxophone. He was a virtuoso on his instrument, and he was able to communicate his ideas in lengthy open solos. “Good Bait” is a prime example of him really stretching out and playing through that piece of music with his own approach.

Reviewer: Joe Lovano


John Coltrane: Three Little Words

Track

Three Little Words

Artist

John Coltrane (tenor sax) and Milt Jackson (vibes)

CD

Bags & Trane (Atlantic 1533)

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Musicians:

John Coltrane (tenor sax), Milt Jackson (vibes), Hank Jones (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Connie Kay (drums).

Composed by Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar

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Recorded: New York, January 15, 1959

Albumcoverjcoltranebags_trane

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

It’s incredible to hear Coltrane play on standard songs with this rhythm section. Hank is very free in the harmonic sequence, and is feeding him harmonies and voicings; Coltrane is taking him places that give him ideas and open up what he’s playing harmonically as well. Also, Milt Jackson is one of the great lyrical improvisers in jazz music, and to hear them balance and play off of each other on a tune like “Three Little Words,” playing a few choruses each, sustaining the mood, was a beautiful journey on their part. Digging Coltrane playing standards showed me the depth of repertoire that he knew, how much ballads and the blues were in everything he played, and how it all came through in his solos. No matter what he played, his focus on the material and the people he played with drove him and fed him ideas. It wasn’t just what he was practicing on his horn, even though that was a big part of the way he played.

Reviewer: Joe Lovano


John Coltrane: Chasin' the Trane (master take)

Track

Chasin' the Trane (master take)

Artist

John Coltrane (tenor sax)

CD

Live at the Village Vanguard (Impulse AS-10)

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Musicians:

John Coltrane (tenor sax), Eric Dolphy (alto sax), McCoy Tyner (piano), Reggie Workman (bass), Elvin Jones (drums).

Composed by John Coltrane

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Recorded: Village Vanguard, New York, November 2, 1961

Albumcoverjcoltraneliveatvv

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

All the different versions of “Chasin’ the Trane” through the years from Coltrane’s live recordings hit that same incredible level of creativity on the blues. It was a whole side of the Impulse record, Live at the Village Vanguard, and Coltrane plays from start to finish—Eric Dolphy comes in at the very end. Later, they released other takes where Dolphy plays and McCoy plays. The first time I heard this, I listened to it all day. I kept putting the needle back at the beginning of the recording. After a while, I realized it was a blues. I was a teenager, and the energy, the focus, and the swinging, beautiful exploration of Coltrane’s choruses was really some magic. Moving to New York, playing at the Village Vanguard with the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, presenting my own groups there, recording live there, feeling the spirits in that room—it goes back to that first time, checking THAT piece out.



        John Coltrane, artwork by Michael Symonds

Trane was moving on in his playing and his approach, becoming a leader, having his own band, focusing totally on what he wanted to play. That in turn created a lot of ideas. He was always dealing with how he played, as well as what he was playing, and his approach widened through the years. We all study the elements in the music, and deal with things today that we dealt with on Day One. If you don’t do that, then I don’t think you can really play with the depth of your soul. If it only becomes a technical thing to get around your horn and execute what you’ve practiced, you’re not executing your feelings. Coltrane went through periods earlier-on where he was documented as a very technical player. But every step of the way, you hear the evolution of how his feelings came out in his music, through hundreds and hundreds of songs. That was a beautiful study for me. The soulfulness of his playing, of his journey, came out in his playing at every moment.

Reviewer: Joe Lovano


John Coltrane: The Night Has a Thousand Eyes

Track

The Night Has a Thousand Eyes

Artist

John Coltrane (tenor sax)

CD

Coltrane's Sound (Atlantic/Rhino: R2 75588)

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Musicians:

John Coltrane (tenor sax), McCoy Tyner (piano), Steve Davis (bass), Elvin Jones (drums).

Composed by Jerry Brainin and Buddy Bernier

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Recorded: New York, NY. October 26, 1960

Albumcoverjohncoltrane-coltranessound

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

"The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" feels like a totally integrated quartet—the form of it, the feelings, the way the rhythm shifted, Coltrane's ideas throughout the sequence of the harmonies, the different inflections that Elvin Jones was playing, the way McCoy comped, little pedal points in the bass. It wasn't just Coltrane soloing over that tune or with a rhythm section. This track was instrumental in my discovering the approach to playing within the group you're in, whether you're soloing or not. As a young player, I played a lot of drums, and practiced saxophone and drums at the same time. Playing along with Elvin and McCoy and Coltrane on that recording on drums taught me everything about form and following the line and the soloist. Doing that taught me a lot about everything.

Reviewer: Joe Lovano


John Coltrane: Body and Soul

Track

Body and Soul

Artist

John Coltrane (tenor sax)

CD

Coltrane's Sound (Atlantic 8122-71984-2)

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Musicians:

John Coltrane (tenor sax), McCoy Tyner (piano), Steve Davis (bass), Elvin Jones (drums).

Composed by Johnny Green, Edward Heyman, Robert Sour & Frank Eyton

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Recorded: New York, October 24, 1960

Albumcoverjohncoltrane-coltranessound

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)



       Coltrane for Kenyon
     (by Michael Symonds)

My dad played Coleman Hawkins’s solo of “Body and Soul” and he knew it back and forth. I’d hear him play those lines all the time when I practiced. Hearing Coltrane’s interpretation, his own perspective through incorporating his different harmonic sequences of “Giant Steps,” developing different ways of modulation through the harmony, which he was doing on a lot of standard songs during that certain period, was beautiful. It taught me a lot about substitution chords, how to incorporate those things as you’re playing through any given tune—and how it related to the blues as well. It’s one of the most soulful, beautiful versions of that tune.

Later on, Dexter Gordon used them. Dexter gave Coltrane a mouthpiece early on. It might have been the mouthpiece that he was using during a certain early period with Miles. Coltrane was one of Dexter’s disciples, along with Bird and others. You could hear Dexter in Coltrane’s playing at a certain point, and later you hear Coltrane in Dexter’s playing. That mix teaches you a lot about what an amazing, multigenerational, multicultural music this is. We all influence each other in different ways at different times in our careers and personalities.

Reviewer: Joe Lovano


John Coltrane: Vigil

Track

Vigil

Artist

John Coltrane (tenor sax)

CD

Kulu Sé Mama (Impulse A 9106)

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Musicians:

John Coltrane (tenor sax), Elvin Jones (drums).

Composed by John Coltrane

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Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, N.J., June 16, 1965

Albumcoverjohncoltranekulusemama

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

My dad had Kulu Se Mama, which this track is from, so I didn’t have to buy it. He listened to this all the time. I was very lucky that my dad had a hip record collection, and had these records from the different periods of Coltrane. He met Coltrane in the early ‘50s and played a jam session with him in Cleveland. Coltrane was playing alto; he was in town with a blues band led by a guy named Gay Crosse, who was a Cleveland cat. During that time, you might stay somewhere for a month or two and play every night. Anyway, they were one year apart—my dad was born in 1925, and Coltrane in 1926. So they came up in the same generation, the same music. My dad played at this session with Coltrane, and he never forgot that, man. So through the years, he had all his records. But Kulu Se Mama was one that my dad loved to listen to.

This piece, “Vigil,” is a duet with Elvin Jones. It was incredibly well recorded. My dad had a nice stereo with speakers all over the basement, so wherever you were down in our basement it was great sound! So when you listened to this in our basement, at forte, it was like they were in the room with you. The sound of the drums and the way they played together was so beautiful and organic. It might have been one of the first times I really heard a saxophone-and-drums duet on a recording.

In 1965, when this recording was made, he seemed to fill the room with his tone in a different way. In the early ‘60s, he was playing through his horn and flying around his horn—his sound attacked you, it came at you. As he developed more towards the end of his life, his tone was more majestic, and had a much more spiritual and open feeling to it—to me. Even though he was still playing some ferocious, incredible things around his instrument, his sound was even more beautiful and deep than it had been. That’s what captured me on this duet as well.

Reviewer: Joe Lovano


John Coltrane: Venus

Track

Venus

Artist

John Coltrane (tenor sax)

CD

Interstellar Space (Impulse ASD 9277)

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Musicians:

John Coltrane (tenor sax), Rashied Ali (drums).

Composed by John Coltrane

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Recorded: Englewood, N.J., February 22, 1967

Albumcoverjohncoltrane-interstellarspace

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

This is a duet with Rashied Ali on drums, playing brushes. It’s a ballad-like, lyrical, rubato piece, and the way they improvise together is so captivating and beautiful, you want to keep listening to it over and over again. Interstellar Space was a recording of four duets, four planets— "Mars," "Jupiter," "Saturn," and "Venus." I brought this recording home and played it for my Dad, and he really dug it. After I moved to New York in the mid ‘70s, one of the first places I went was Rashied Ali’s club, Ali’s Alley. I’d been playing a little with [pianist] Albert Dailey, and he told me he was playing a gig there with ‘Shied and that I should come, which I did. I sat in with him that night. It was one of the thrills of my life at that point, calling home and telling my dad I sat in and played with Rashied Ali!


                John Coltrane, photo by Herb Snitzer

On “Venus,” compared to a piece like “Vigil” from a year and a half earlier, which had a certain energy and swing and drive that Elvin and Coltrane hooked up on, Coltrane was dealing with a new approach to rhythm and flow—playing counterpoint within the rhythm. It was still swinging and moving in a certain forward motion, but it wasn’t a quarter-note swing beat. It was a very open beat that gives you a lot of room for expression. In a way, Rashied Ali was playing more like a soloist along with the soloist, but they were finding all kinds of beautiful unisons within the counterpoint that they were creating with each other. From that moment, I’ve been trying to develop that way of playing in my expression. Those directions put me in a path to play with Paul Motian through the years. At that same period in the ‘60s, Paul was also exploring a very free approach in his accompaniment on drums, flowing with the soloist and not just playing the beat that everyone expects you to play. Feeling the beat and then improvising with it.

Reviewer: Joe Lovano


John Coltrane: Chim Chim Cheree

Track

Chim Chim, Cheree

Artist

John Coltrane (soprano sax)

CD

John Coltrane Plays (Impulse AS-85)

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Musicians:

John Coltrane (soprano sax), McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass), Elvin Jones (drums).

Composed by Robert B. Sherman & Richard M. Sherman

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Recorded: Englewood, N.J., February 17, 1965

Albumcoverjohncoltraneplays

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

This is an amazing version of “Chim Chim Cheree” on soprano saxophone—the groove, the interplay, the flow of the quartet. To come off having such success with “My Favorite Things,” and then to play an interpretation of “Chim Chim Cheree” that was so wide open and exploratory, and just, like, SERIOUS. He wasn’t playing it just to play it. You could feel that he was into exploring what could happen off of that theme, and the way they put it together is a beautiful, joyous journey. This was in 1965, and one of his later studio recordings on soprano. His sound and approach and focus on that horn on this recording was instrumental in giving me confidence to try to play other instruments and explore the possibilities of tonal energy that comes off of the different horns you play. During that period, when I was a teenager, 16 or 17, I’d heard James Moody live and Sonny Stitt live and Rahsaan Roland Kirk live. Sonny Stitt played alto, and then put it down and played tenor. Moody picked up the flute. Rahsaan played all these horns, not only at the same time, but to play each one as his voice for the moment. The focus of sound and energy from the instrument came through. I really felt Coltrane’s focus and sound on “Chim Chim Cheree,” the energy that the instrument gave him, how he executed ideas off that inspiration.

Reviewer: Joe Lovano


John Coltrane: The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost

Track

The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost

Artist

John Coltrane (tenor sax, percussion)

CD

Meditations (Impulse A-9110)

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Musicians:

John Coltrane (tenor sax, percussion), Pharoah Sanders (tenor sax, tambourine, bells), Jimmy Garrison (bass), McCoy Tyner (piano), Elvin Jones (drums).

Composed by John Coltrane

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Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, N.J., November 23, 1965

Albumcoverjohncoltrane-meditations

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

If you break down that melody and just play it like a scale, it’s a simple, beautiful meditation on those intervals and themes, played through all the keys. That’s another record that my dad really loved, and he went down to the basement to put it on a lot, so I heard it often without actually listening to it myself. At the time, I was trying to learn how to play the saxophone, so I was more into Bird and Diz, earlier Coltrane, and Sonny with Max, but subliminally, from hearing this piece in particular, “The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost,” all of a sudden I found myself practicing a different way without even thinking about it—just simple little things on the horn that I was working on, but playing them in different keys, practicing them in a more peaceful way instead of just running through them technically on the horn. There were some things in that approach that have stayed with me, that I’m trying to develop to this day.

Reviewer: Joe Lovano


John Coltrane: Dear Old Stockholm

Track

Dear Old Stockholm

Artist

John Coltrane (tenor sax)

CD

Impressions (Impulse A-42)

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Musicians:

John Coltrane (tenor sax), McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass), Roy Haynes (drums).

Composed by Dean Andres Fryxell

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Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, N.J., April 29, 1963

Albumcoverjcoltraneimpressions

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

I love this version of “Dear Old Stockholm” with Roy Haynes on drums, and I listen to it a lot. A certain freshness and different feeling happens when Coltrane plays with Roy Haynes. His ideas take different shapes rhythmically and melodically. His recordings with Roy Haynes inspired me to realize that the music within the music comes from the people that you’re playing with at the time. Through the years developing with the people that I’ve played with, especially drummers, like Ed Blackwell, Billy Higgins, Mel Lewis, Paul Motian, and Elvin Jones, I’ve realized that you can play the same tune, but when you have a different feeling in the rhythm section, you should play with a different feeling as a soloist. On this version of “Dear Old Stockholm,” I love the ending, the way they play over the form, the way they explore. They could have played that all day and night.

Reviewer: Joe Lovano


John Coltrane: Expression

Track

Expression

Artist

John Coltrane (tenor sax)

CD

Expression (Impulse A-9120)

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Musicians:

John Coltrane (tenor sax), Alice Coltrane (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass), Rashied Ali (drums).

Composed by John Coltrane

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Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, N.J., March, 1967

Albumcoverjcoltraneexpression

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

This is from Coltrane’s last session meant to be released. We just recorded it with the Saxophone Summit on our latest release, Seraphic Light. It’s a continuous melodic flow. When you’re playing that theme over and over, alone on the saxophone, implying some of the harmonies and roots, it’s like the most beautiful prayer.

I don’t think Coltrane ever explored this tune much in concert. This date was near the end of his life, and he might have brought it in for the first time at the recording session for the whole group. Now, of course, he and Alice might have been playing it as a duet, which I would love to have heard. Alice came into the band after McCoy and played with a harp-like approach, playing the full piano in her accompaniment, which seemed to relax Coltrane—he played off of more of the spectrum in the harmonies. He was playing a harp-like approach also at that point. They always talk about sheets of sound. When you slow that down, it becomes very harp-like, very open. Now, on the duets, Interstellar Space, which was done in the same month or week of 1967, he was playing through things very quick, with flurries of notes throughout the harmony, whereas he stretched them out a little bit on “Expression.” I think we would have heard another side to Coltrane had he lived and been able to develop during the ensuing years.

"Expression" was one of the songs that inspired me to find a way to play through harmonies in a free-flowing manner, without a quarter-note or metronome-type beat—an open beat, but still moving through a sequence of chords. I learned a lot about trying to approach improvising with that aspect of meter. I’m scratching the surface on that now.

Reviewer: Joe Lovano


John Coltrane: Impressions

Track

Impressions

Artist

John Coltrane (tenor sax)

CD

The 1961 Helsinki Concert (Gambit 69275)

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Musicians:

John Coltrane (tenor sax), Eric Dolphy (bass clarinet), McCoy Tyner (piano), Reggie Workman (bass), Elvin Jones (drums).

Composed by John Coltrane

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Recorded: Helsinki, November. 22, 1961

Albumcoverjcoltranehelskinki

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

While I was on tour with McCoy Tyner in April 2008, I found this in a record shop in Basel, Switzerland. I’d never seen it before. This version of “Impressions” starts the concert. It’s at a slower tempo, almost like the tempo at which they played “So What” with Miles. It’s an amazing, short version of this tune with no solo by McCoy. I love the way they play the theme together and the way Eric answers and plays in the spaces of the melody. Coltrane plays around nine beautiful choruses, then Eric comes in and plays nine or ten choruses himself—some of the most beautiful Eric Dolphy with Coltrane on record. After Dolphy, Coltrane comes back in, and plays another two or three choruses before they take the theme out. You can feel that Coltrane was inspired just by having Dolphy on the scene. He hands it over to him in a way where he’s saying, “Okay, man, what have you got to say?” Then when Dolphy ends his chorus, Coltrane has to come in and play again because it’s at this beautiful place in the whole structure of the piece.

Coltrane came up in an era where you played in bands with other saxophone players a lot, and he recorded with a lot of different saxophone players. Some of it was documented—there was a great record with Johnny Griffin and Hank Mobley; he recorded with Al Cohn and Zoot Sims and Hank Mobley as a quartet; did a record on alto with Paul Quinichette, Pepper Adams, and Gene Ammons; and of course the sextet with Miles and Cannonball and the quintet with Cannonball—but I’m sure through the years he was in tons of bands, and many jam sessions and situations where you shape the music together spontaneously right at the moment with other saxophone players. Later, his collaborations with Pharaoh Sanders, Archie Shepp, and others really stand out as some really beautiful collaborative group explorations. Throughout his career, I think he enjoyed, as I do, feeding off other people, especially if they have a strong personality and ideas and have their own statement. So it was great to hear him with Dolphy and have Eric’s voice, not only on alto, but bass clarinet and flute.

Reviewer: Joe Lovano


Miles Davis (with John Coltrane): Ah-Leu-Chah

Track

Ah-Leu-Cha

Group

Miles Davis (with John Coltrane)

CD

Round About Midnight (Sony SRCS 9101)

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Musicians:

Miles Davis (trumpet), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums).

Composed by Charlie Parker

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Recorded: New York, October 26, 1955

Albumcovermilesdavis-roundaboutmidnight

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

Of course, we’ve heard Coltrane, Miles, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums as a combination on many recordings through the years. I love the way they play on this tune (which I’m pretty sure was derived from the sequence of “Honeysuckle Rose”-“Scrapple From the Apple”), the way it’s structured with the little drum-breaks and all the nuances—the beautiful feeling in the beat and the way they moved through the harmonies. They weren’t just playing over chords and playing 32 bars. They were exploring a way of playing together.

It was Miles’ group, someone has to be the leader, to organize things, but it’s really the community of players that make the music. Each one of my ensembles has been inspired by that particular realization about what is happening on the scene, creating situations for the community I live in. My nonet has a certain repertoire, a certain community of players. We’ve been playing together for years. Now, I’m the leader. I’ve organized and developed my career to a point to be able to put it together. But it’s the community of players that is making music, too. In 1956, Miles and these guys were living this music together, and you can feel how much they loved to play together. Round About Midnight was one of the first records that totally captured me and gave me a lot of ideas, and I wore it out two or three times.

Reviewer: Joe Lovano



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