Duke Ellington & John Coltrane: A Collaboration Between the Generations

World-renowned jazz pianist and composer Duke Ellington regularly partnered with other acclaimed jazz musicians during the early sixties. John Coltrane was no exception. In 1962, the pianist and the tenor saxophonist recorded the self-titled album Duke Ellington & John Coltrane. The recording got released in 1963 and would become the most successful collaboration Duke Ellington undertook during the early sixties. It’s a display of two jazz musicians from a different generation who, despite having a divergent background and relationship with music, communicate politely.

The recording was an opportunity for Duke Ellington to play with a quartet rather than with his usual big band arrangement. Ellington invited drummer Sam Woodyard and double-bassist Aaron Bell, who were both members of his orchestra in 1962, to support this studio session. John Coltrane invited two members of his Classic Quartet, drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Jimmy Garrison.

The album features acclaimed Ellington standards such as In A Sentimental Mood and some of his new compositions like Take the Coltrane (plays with his track Take the A Train). John Coltrane also added a new composition to the album’s track-list. His work titled Big Nick is a tribute to saxophonist George Walker “Big Nick” Nicholas who influenced Coltrane during his time with Dizzy Gillespie. “In thinking back,” Coltrane said, “it seemed to have something that would suit the style he likes to play in. But maybe not?”

“I was really honored to have the opportunity of working with Duke. It was a wonderful experience. He has set standards I haven’t caught up with yet.”

John Coltrane

In the early sixties, John Coltrane’s career and technical abilities peaked. For several years, he would release various historical jazz albums including Giant Steps (Atlantic, 1960) and My Favorite Things (Atlantic 1961). Coltrane was a perfectionist, carefully exploring harmonic progressions and multiple rhythms. He was confident in both playing and arranging. Still, while playing with Duke Ellington, he felt honored, imperfect, and challenged. Duke Ellington is a legend from an older generation, and his contributions to jazz were paramount. Pianist Benny Green once said that “Duke was put into the jazz world to separate the men from the boys.”

John Coltrane (left) & Duke Ellington (right)

John Coltrane’s Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album

Another lost John Coltrane recording which recently got discovered is the album titled Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album. The album got recorded on March 6, 1963, in the Rudy Van Gelder Studio. The recording got lost but surfaced in 2018. It was the family of his first wife, Juanita Naima Coltrane, who discovered the saxophonist’s personal copy.

The recording was made while under contract with Impulse Records and features Coltrane’s so-called Classic Quartet: McCoy Tyner on the piano, Jimmy Garrison on the bass, and Elvin Jones behind the drums. It was also with these musicians that he recorded the celebrated work A Love Supreme in 1964.

Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, John Coltrane and Jimmy Garrison

Why did we never hear the recording of Both Directions at Once before? The recording was never edited, mixed, or mastered into an album. It never got cataloged and, there was no cover art created. The tape simply was archived and never looked at again. So what happened?

Coltrane already released a session with Duke Ellington the month before, and the next day they had a session scheduled with Johnny Hartman. It is possible that both John Coltrane and Bob Thiele, the Head of Impulse Records, thought his other released albums of that period would supersede this one. There were not only the albums he released with Impulse Records to compete with. As Coltrane’s popularity peaked, his previous labels, Prestige and Atlantic, would release his old recordings. The album Dakar, recorded in 1957 and released by Prestige in 1963, is a good example of this.

Another speculation is that the track Impressions was still a work in progress and that Coltrane was not satisfied with the studio recordings of the song. Coltrane was patient and worked in phases. He carefully explored harmonic progressions and multiple rhythms. The deluxe edition of Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album features four alternate takes on the tune Impressions and, each take is different from the other. Later that year, he released the album titled Impressions. For that album, he is not using one of the studio takes. Instead, he uses a fourteen-minute-long version recorded live at the Village Vanguard jazz club in November 1961 (2 years earlier). This could indicate Coltrane was displeased with his attempt to record the song in the studio.

Why Impulse Records only released the album now and not, for example, after Coltrane’s passing in 1967, could have something to do with them having lost the original master tapes (hence the subtitle: The Lost album). The word goes around that they lost the tapes after merging with ABC-Dunhill and relocating their headquarters from New York to Los Angeles in 1968.

Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album got released in 2018 and features seven tunes from which two previously unissued tracks: Untitled Original 11383 and Untitled Original 11386. The numbering refers to the identification system used in the studio by Bob Thiele.

Aside from the standard one-disc version (left), also a two-disc deluxe edition containing several alternate takes got released (right). Spotlighted are the alternate takes of Impressions.

In 1963, all these musicians are reaching some of the heights of their musical powers,” said the saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, John Coltrane’s son, who helped prepare Both Directions at Once for release. “On this record, you do get a sense of John with one foot in the past and one foot headed toward his future.” – The New York Times

Previous articles about John Coltrane’s albums:

Record companies often decided not to release studio recordings. In my article below, you can find other examples of old recordings that were released recently:

Digging the Archives: Previously Unissued Jazz Recordings

There are various reasons for record companies to decide not to release an album. Labels such as Blue Note recorded more than they could release and had to prioritize. Sometimes recordings remained unfinished and would be completed when the time is right. Live recordings nobody knew existed surfaced decades later and were released to continue the musician’s legacy.

Here are five unissued jazz recordings that were released recently.

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Just Coolin’

Recorded in 1959 – Released 2020 / Blue Note Records

Just Coolin’ is the result of a unique but short-lived ensemble of The Jazz Messengers collective.

The studio album was recorded on a single day in March 1959 at the famous Rudy Van Gelder studio in New Jersey. However, Blue Note Records co-founder Alfred Lion decided not to release the album and instead record a live performance at the famous Birdland club in New York. The live album titled At the Jazz Corner of the World was released in 1959 and remained the only issued recording of this jazz ensemble until Just Coolin’ was released in 2020.

Thelonious Monk – Palo Alto

Recorded in 1964 – Released 2020 / Impulse Records

When jazz drummer T.S. Monk was contacted regarding an old concert recording, he was amazed by his father’s performance and the background story behind the session. Danny Scher, sixteen at the time, organized benefit concerts to raise money for the Peace Corps and construction projects in Kenya and Peru. Although many people did not believe it would actually happen, he successfully hosted a concert with the jazz titan, Thelonious Monk.

T.S. Monk, knowing most of his father’s live recordings, understood how unique this recording was and how it contributes to the legacy of Thelonious Monk. In cooperation with the label Impulse Records, he released the album in September 2020.

Tony Allen And Hugh Masekela – Rejoice

Recorded 2010 – Released 2020 / World Circuit Records

Trumpeter Hugh Masekela and drummer Tony Allen met in the seventies thanks to their associations with Fela Kuti (Africa ’70). In the decades to come, they talked about making an album together. In 2010, producer Nick Gold took the opportunity and recorded the encounter.

The recording remained unfinished and got stored in the archives. With Hugh Masekela’s passing in 2018, Tony Allen and Nick Gold continued working on the original tapes during the summer of 2019. They finished the recording at the same studio where the original sessions took place, the Livingston Recording Studios in London. The album got released in 2020.

John Coltrane ‎– Blue World

Recorded 1964 – Released 2019 / Impulse Records

For every admirer of the saxophonist, composer, and bandleader, this release is very welcomed. It gives another insight into the confidence Coltrane and his band had that year. 

The recording was commissioned for the film Le Chat Dans Le Sac and after the movie was put online for streaming, the search for the original recording tapes began. They were stored in the archives of the National Film Board of Canada. After discovering and clearing out the legal constraints, the music was released to the public in 2019.

The album features two alternate takes on the song “Naima“, a ballad he composed for his wife Juanita Naima Grubbs (married 1955-66) in 1959 and which was originally released on the album Giant Steps. Also notable are the three takes on his composition “Village Blues“, a song that was originally released on the studio album Coltrane Jazz.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time OutTakes

Recorded in 1959 – Released 2020 / Brubeck Editions

When author Philip Clark was researching for his biography Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time, he discovered previously unissued tapes from the recording sessions of Time Out in 1959. Time Out, a studio album by The Dave Brubeck Quartet, was the first jazz record to sell over one million copies.

Apart from alternate takes on Take Five and Blue Rondo à la Turk on the A-side, we get some newly issued materials on the B-side.

The outtakes give us a look into the creation of this iconic album. You can ask yourself: “What if the record label decided to release a different version of the song?”. Song details that fans are so familiar with today could have looked different.

Please visit the following articles for more details about each album:

John Coltrane’s Blue World

By 1964 saxophonist John Coltrane was one of the leading figures in jazz music. Mainly, thanks to his release of Giant Steps in 1960. Officially, he recorded and released two albums that year: the often-overlooked album Crescent, and the well-known masterpiece A Love Supreme. With the recent release of his recording Blue World, we can add a third “album” to the list.

Blue World, recorded in the Rudy Van Gelder Studio on June 24 (1964), is a composition for the movie: Le Chat Dans Le Sac (Gilles Groulx, 1964). The soundtrack was fully composed by John Coltrane. For the recording, he invited his classic 1960s quartet featuring McCoy Tyner on the piano, Jimmy Garrison on the bass, and Elvin Jones behind the drums. It was also with these musicians that he recorded Crescent (April/June 1964) and A Love Supreme (December 1964).

For every admirer of the saxophonist, composer, and bandleader, this release is very welcome. It gives another insight into the confidence Coltrane and his band had that year.

The album features two alternate takes on the song “Naima“, a ballad he composed for his wife Juanita Naima Grubbs (married 1955-66) in 1959 and which was originally released on the album Giant Steps. Also notable are the three takes on his composition “Village Blues“, a song that was originally released on the studio album Coltrane Jazz with Steve Davis on the bass. The Blue World recordings would feature Jimmy Garrison who replaced Steve Davis in 1961.

After Le Chat Dans Le Sac was put online for streaming, the search for the original recording tapes began. They were stored in the archives of the National Film Board of Canada. After discovering and clearing out the legal constraints, the music was released to the public in 2019.

Naima – John Coltrane Quartet – Belgium 1965

Thelonious Monk At His Best – Palo Alto

In 1968, the sixteen-year-old Danny Scher invited Thelonious Monk and his quartet to play a benefit concert at his high school in Palo Alto, California. The concert got recorded and now, more than 50 years later, the music was released. Palo Alto is a live recorded concert featuring Charlie Rouse on the tenor saxophone, Larry Gales on the bass, Ben Riley behind the drums, and composer Thelonious Sphere Monk on the piano.

When jazz drummer T.S. Monk was contacted regarding an old concert recording, he was amazed by his father’s performance and the background story behind the session. Danny Scher, sixteen at the time, organized benefit concerts to raise money for the Peace Corps and construction projects in Kenya and Peru. Although many people did not believe it would actually happen, he successfully hosted a concert with the jazz titan, Thelonious Monk.

T.S. Monk, knowing most of his father’s live recordings, understood how unique this recording was and how it contributes to the legacy of Thelonious Monk. In cooperation with the label Impulse Records, he released the album in September 2020.

In an interview with Brad Baker from jazz.fm91, T.S. Monk highlights that his father was mainly known as a live artist. Especially before being placed on the cover of Time Magazine in 1964, and the wider public was introduced to his music, Monk’s recording career was unstable. Unlike Miles Davis or John Coltrane who spent their careers with major labels, Monk didn’t rely on his recordings, the people who remember Monk will refer to his live sessions instead.

T.S. Monk claims that the recording at the Palo Alto high school is the best recording made during his father’s career. The way he plays, not knowing he was being recorded, was very rare.

All of those elements that the world loves about Thelonious Monk are present in this recording.

T.S. Monk (Thelonious Monk’s son)

“Danny Scher caught him on an exceptionally good day, and all of those elements that the world loves about Thelonious Monk are present in this recording”, T.S. Monk said, “his ability to work with time and shift and displace various phrases, the swing that all of his bands always had, the unique harmonics and melodic figures that he played… it’s just all there. It’s pure Monk, and it’s wonderful.

You can listen to the full interview with T.S. Monk here:

The quality of the recording is exceptionally good for its age, but it has limitations. It does, however, capture astonishing details you rarely receive when listening to a studio recording. During Monk’s original composition “Well, You Needn’t” you can hear Larry Gale singing along during his bass solo. In piano-exclusive parts, you can hear Monk tapping his foot. You hear the audience react to every interaction of the musicians. These minor details bring out the jazz and feeling of presence when listening to this dusty 50-year old recording.

The album on vinyl comes with a gatefold sleeve, a copy of the original program, a replica of the event poster, and a booklet including rare images of Monk and the band.