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Coltrane in rehearsal. Note beer can at his feet. Original source unknown. Reposted from Marc Myers’ JazzWax.com.

I recently read Marc Myers’ post about John Coltrane—”Four Videos of John Coltrane.”  In his post he makes the point that there is much to be experienced by watching his live performances.  To make his point Myers includes four remarkable videos of live performances, and which I pass on to you.

First a few interesting points I’ve discovered about Coltrane’s continuing popularity.

December 9th of this year will mark the 55th anniversary of John Coltrane’s landmark 1964 recording of A Love Supreme, arguably still one of his most popular albums.

In fact Coltrane may be more popular than ever.

His recent sales of Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album released just a year ago bear this out:  The album reached no. 5 on Top Album Sales and No. 1 on the Traditional Jazz Albums charts, resulting in his first top 40-charting album on the all-genre Billboard 200 chart and his fourth No. 1 on the Jazz Albums tally.

Coltrane’s brilliance is well-documented through his surprisingly extensive discography.  It’s difficult not to consider how much more music he might have created had he not died 1967 at the age 40.

Miles Davis and John Coltrane onstage in 1960, in Chicago. Photograph by Ted Williams, from The New Yorker.

But Coltrane’s music is also well-documented through videos of his live performances. Thanks to youtube there are numerous videos of his live performances.  Trane lovers who have never seen him perform before can now experience his music from a different perspective.

As mentioned above, Marc Myers recently posted four particularly spectacular live performances on his Jazz Wax blog.

The first performance he shares is a 1960 performance of “On Green Dolphin Street,” John Coltrane on tenor, Wynton Kelly piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums. The clip is from the John Coltrane Jazz Icons DVD. The video shows a performance from a 1960 concert in Düsseldorf, West Germany, Coltrane’s first overseas trip as a part of the Miles Davis Quintet.  Interestingly, Miles sat out this performance:

Here’s “Walkin'” from the same performance:

Here’s a 1965 performance of “My Favorite Things” during the Comblain-la-Tour, Belgium.  This features Coltrane’s hypnotic soprano sax, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison, bass, and the brilliant Elvin Jones on drums. These are the same musicians Coltrane used a year earlier when they recorded A Love Supreme:

And here is the same band performing “Naima” during the same performance:

And finally, here is one of my favorite Coltrane performances taken from the 1963 Ralph J. Gleason television show Jazz Casual.  Gleason hosted a series of shows on jazz music on the National Educational Network (predecessor to PBS) from 1961 to 1968.  Coltrane’s A Love Supreme quartet performs “Afro-Blue, “Alabama,” and “Impressions”:

The availability of electrifying live-performance jazz videos like these give even the modest jazz aficionado a rare opportunity to witness for themselves jazz giants performing at the height of their jazz prowess.

Articles referenced in this post:

Zellner, Xander. “The set, recorded in 1963, also notches Coltrane his fourth No. 1 on Jazz Albums.”  July 10, 2018. Billboard.

Westervelt, Eric. “The Story Of ‘A Love Supreme.’” March 7, 2012.  All Things Considered. NPR.

Brody, Richard.  “Listening to Miles Davis and John Coltrane’s Final Tour.” March 5, 2018.  The New Yorker.

 

 

 

 

 

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Wes Montgomery playing his ubiquitous Gibson L-5

One thing I’ve learned over the years about guitar playing, especially in my often unsuccessful attempts at playing jazz and blues, is learning how to control the tone of your instrument may be the single most important lesson a guitarist can learn.  A guitarist may have an incredible vocabulary of notes and phrases, but without an understanding of tone and the subtleties of phrasing, the music risks mediocrity.

Tone (this is true for conversation as well) is “How” you musically say something, which I have learned is often more important than “what” you say.   Many talented guitarists, however, are less concerned with tone and phrasing than jazz and blues guitarists used to be. They often sound as if playing loud or fast or distorted is the main goal of their performance.  When I listen to such guitarists, I often feel as though I’m drowning in their incomprehensible sound.

Often, if tone and phrasing is achieved through electronics, amps, pickups, switches, the guitar itself and guitar gear in general, the tone takes on an artificial quality.  Sound equipment has become so sophisticated for guitars, that often achieving a specific “digital” sound becomes the “end” rather than a “means” to the goal of a musical performance.

The true jazz tone is a balance between the sweetness of an acoustic sound and the warmth of a tube amp, as illustrated by a truly great jazz guitarist like Wes Montgomery.  He is a true master of the jazz guitar tone.  The video below of a live performance, is a perfect example of how Montgomery uses tone and phrasing to achieve his distinctive jazz guitar tone.

The film illustrates how Montgomery creates this tone through his unconventional (for a sixties jazz guitar player) and highly influential right-hand technique.  We can see the close-ups with remarkable detail of his left and right hands, useful for aspiring jazz guitarists.  Entirely self-taught, Wes never uses a pick of any kind—only his thumb for chord melodies, single lines, and those chilling octave melodies.  Consequently, the sounds he produces are fat and warm—these are soulful, vocal-like tones that are almost impossible to reproduce with a pick.  Because he is so damn good, he makes it look easy, but, of course, it isn’t.  Even though we may be in awe of his virtuosic abilities, novice players can still learn something about how he executes his technique.  I think for beginners, and it was certainly true for me, playing with the thumb comes naturally.  Until recently, I never thought I could play melodies without the use of a pick, but I do it all the time now.

I heard somewhere that he had a double-jointed thumb, meaning that he could play both up and down strokes with his thumb the way a pick player would use alternate picking strokes with the pick.  I’ve tried it; it’s very hard.

The video really highlights the technique Montgomery uses.  We also get a peek into Montgomery’s interaction with his backup musicians who are obviously totally literate in the language of post-bop jazz.  We can their banter between songs. Right after they finish playing Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream,” (named after Kathleen Annie Pannonica Rothschild, one of the great patrons of bebop jazz during the 50s), Wes patiently explains to his piano player, Pim Jacobs, the chord arrangement for “The End of a Love Affair” right before they play the tune.  Montgomery is clearly the leader here, but even so, he is particularly generous by giving plenty of space to his musicians for soloing, and they do brilliantly.

The video: Session was taped in 1965:

Source for video and track list from Steftiaan Video Produkties

Songs performed with track times:  00:00:00 “(I Love) Blues”; 00:05:22 “Nica’s Dream”;  00:14:19 “The End Of A Love Affair ” rehearsal;  00:20:50 “The End Of A Love Affair.”

The amazing rhythm section accompanying Wes Montgomery include Pim Jacobs, piano; Ruud Jacobs, bass; Han Bennink, drums, all Dutch musicians.

http://www.birkajazz.com/archive/holland.htm

As a side note, The Netherlands has always had a reputation for producing remarkably talented musicians, always ready on a moment’s notice to sit in on an American jazz recording session.  I am reminded of one of Coleman Hawkins’ great recordings Dutch Treat, recorded in The Hague, Laren, and Hilversum between February 4, 1935, and June 14, 1938 (eighty-years ago!) during his European sojourn three years before the Second World War. In 1998 Avid records released the most comprehensive collection of his Dutch recordings in a double-disc anthology.

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Rio Lobo Guitar

I’ve written about Tommy Tedesco and jazz’s “unsung heroes” on this blog before.  It bears worth mentioning once again that many jazz musicians relied on their studio session work more than anything else to put food on their family’s table.  While Tommy Tedesco played guitar as a session musician on albums that garnered millions for well-known artists, he never had a successful recording career himself.

Sadly, Tedesco’s highly influential and often brilliant studio work mostly went unaccredited (cf. Denny Tedesco’s Wrecking Crew documentary and Guitar World‘s 2014 interview with him).  I recently discovered a powerful example of this when I watched the 1970 John Wayne western Rio Lobo.

The opening sequence was fascinating and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.  William H. Clothier, cinematographer for countless westerns, including many John Wayne westerns, and main title designer Dan Perri, who for many years remained uncredited as the creator of the guitar sequence (Perri, along with George Lucas is best known for creating the famous “opening crawl” main title sequence for the very first Star Wars film:  Star Wars:  Episode IV – A New Hope, 1977) collaborated on the Rio Lobo opening sequence.

The Rio Lobo title sequence shows a Spanish style guitar being played from a variety of different angles, including an “inside” shot of the guitar from behind the strings. Composed by Jerry Goldsmith, the guitar instrumental itself is a rather run-of-the-mill sentimental Spanish melody.  The musician is filmed while he fingers the chords and notes, using standard Spanish sounding arpeggios.

Curiously, I discovered that the guitarist was Tommy Tedesco, though he goes uncredited for his work.  However, the musician shown playing in the film, according to Denny Tedesco, is not Tommy Tedesco.  Tedesco never played using only his fingers; he only played using a pick.

Here’s the main title sequence to Rio Lobo:

How Tommy Tedesco’s playing ended up on the opening title sequence of a John Wayne movie is probably the same way he ended up playing on the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album:  as a dedicated studio musician willing to lend his virtuoso guitar talents to anyone who needed him.

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