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 Soultrane

The second half of the nineteen-fifties defined John Coltrane’s career and helped him come into prominence as a musician and arranger. Underlined is the time as a member in Miles Davis’ First Great Quintet and later sextet, and the period working aside Thelonious Monk. Many recordings featuring Trane‘s support on the tenor saxophone got listed as the most acclaimed and influential jazz albums in history.

Coltrane’s legacy before moving to Atlantic Records in 1959 got well documented by Prestige. The record company released a couple of acclaimed studio albums, including Coltrane’s first album as a leader titled Coltrane (Prestige, 1957), and his recording with pianist Red Garland named Soultrane (Prestige, 1958). In 1957, Coltrane also recorded the album Blue Train with the record label Blue Note while he was still under contract with Prestige.

The album Soultrane got described as a demonstration of Coltrane’s late nineteen-fifties “sheet of sound” (Ira Gitler, DownBeat Magazine). The term is dedicated to John Coltrane and represents the unique improvisational style he developed while working with Thelonious Monk. He loosened up the demanding chords and harmonies of hard bop while maintaining loyalty to its traditional values. Coltrane was given the freedom to improvise when playing along with Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis.

Thelonious Monk, Nellie Monk, and John Coltrane (image courtesy of T.S. Monk)

Soultrane” originally refers to a ballad written by pianist Tadd Dameron. The song appears on the studio recording Mating Call (Prestige, 1957), an album featuring Dameron on the piano and Coltrane on the tenor saxophone. However, the song was not added to the track-list of Soultrane. Prestige Records titled the album merely because it plays with the name and could represent a collective work.

The album got recorded together with Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Art Taylor (drums). The songs featuring on the album are Good Bait (Tadd Dameron, Count Basie), I Want to Talk About You (Billy Eckstine), You Say You Care (Leo Robin, Jule Styne), Theme for Ernie (Fred Lacey), and Russian Lullaby (Irving Berlin).

Previous articles about John Coltrane’s albums:

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:

Dee Dee Bridgewater’s Debut Album: Afro Blue

Dee Dee Bridgewater, born Denise Garrett (1950), is an award-winning singer-songwriter with a career encompassing jazz, soul, and disco. Her debut studio album Afro Blue is a timeless soul-jazz masterpiece that highlights her exceptional vocal abilities. The album features a song collection compiled from various music genres. Most songs are arranged by jazz trumpeter and Dee Dee’s husband, Cecil Bridgewater.

The vocalist was only 23 years old when she recorded the album in Tokyo. The album got released in 1974 on the Japanese label Trio Records (PA-7095). It got reissued a couple of times on different labels and exclusively in Japan, which made it a long sought-after item for record collectors. In 2020, the record label Mr Bongo partnered with Trio Records and released the album on vinyl in the United Kingdom on June 19. 

The album features various acclaimed jazz songs such as Horace Silver’s Love Vibrations (1970), Little B’s Poem by vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson (1965), and of course, the title track Afro Blue, a jazz standard by Mongo Santamaria (1956).

The Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria originally recorded Afro Blue in 1959 and, the song became the first jazz standard built upon the African 3:2 cross-rhythm called hemiola. The composition got released on Santamaria’s album Mongo (Fantasy, 1959). The recording, however, is instrumental and lyrics were added later that year.

Songwriter Oscar Brown Jr. is the creative hand behind the lyrics you hear in Dee Dee Bridgewater’s version. The lyrics were added to Mongo Santamaria’s original and got initially recorded by Abbey Lincoln, who released the song including lyrics, on her fourth studio album titled Abbey Is Blue.

Apart from Dee Dee Bridgewater and Abbey Lincoln, various other musicians recorded and released the song. Among them, Cal Tjader (who recorded with Mongo Santamaria), Robert Glasper and Erykah Badu (who bring a contemporary version with altered lyrics), and Roberta Flack (who using Coltrane’s arrangement of the songs).

John Coltrane performed his arrangement of Afro Blue in 1963 together with Elvin Jones (drums), Jimmy Garrison (bass), and McCoy Tyner (piano) at the Birdland jazz club in New York. This is the same quartet with whom he recorded the albums CrescentA Love Supreme, and Blue World the following year. The song recording got released on the album Live At Birdland (Impulse Records, 1964).

Here are videos of live recordings of Afro Blue by Mongo Santamaria and John Coltrane’s Classic Quartet. Dee Dee Bridgewater’s full album is available for stream via YouTube.

Mongo Santamaria – Afro Blue
John Contrane – Afro Blue
Dee Dee Bridgewater – Afro Blue – Full Album

Youthful Enthusiasm: The Cooker by Lee Morgan

Trumpeter Lee Morgan was only 19 years old when he led the recording of his Blue Note original album titled The Cooker. The album is a demonstration of Morgan’s early bop-oriented influence and contains improvisation that communicates to the listener. He is playing with a kind of youthful enthusiasm and spontaneity.

Morgan plays exceptionally well for his age. When comparing this album to his previous work, we can notice the speedy development of his skills as a musician and bandleader. Lee Morgan will soon grow to become the greatest hard bop trumpeter in jazz history. He would be listed next to other trumpet legends like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.

Bebop pioneer Dizzy Gillespie was also his mentor. He hired the 18-year-old Lee Morgan to replace Joe Gordon in his big band. Morgan’s solo work was spotlighted during the many live performances of A Night In Tunisia, a Gillespie original and signature of bebop. The Cooker opens with this song, and his solo for this album is claimed to be the best recording of Morgan’s career.

Aside from performing with Dizzy Gillespie, Morgan also recorded in the studio during that time. He recorded several albums with jazz icons Hank Mobley and John Coltrane. His most notable work is the recording of Coltrane’s Blue Train in 1957 (Blue Note 1577), which got recorded in the same studio, and only 2 weeks before Morgan recorded The Cooker.

In 1958, Gillespie’s band split, and Morgan joined Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers where he continued to develop his talents, now mainly as a composer. He brought a new potential to the band as they returned to Blue Note and released the jazz standard Moanin’ (composed by Bobby Timmons).

The Cooker got recorded in the Van Gelder Studio on September 29, 1957. It was the fifth Blue Note recording of the young trumpeter as a leader. He got the support from bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones, who he knew from the Blue Train recordings two weeks earlier. Pepper Adams joins on the baritone saxophone, and Bobby Timmons sits behind the piano during this vigorous recording session.

The album (BLP 1578) got released in March the following year. It features five tracks including A Night In Tunisia (D. Gillespie), Heavy Dipper (L. Morgan), Just One Of Those Things (C. Porter), Lover Man (R. Ramirez), and New-Ma (L. Morgan).

In April 2020 the album got reissued as part of the Blue Note Tone Poet Audiophile Vinyl Reissue Series (Blue Note 81578). An initiative from Blue Note Records President Don Was. It’s a reissue series of all-analog vinyl records mastered from the original master tapes.

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

John Coltrane’s Giant Steps

John Coltrane’s masterpiece, Giant Steps, turned sixty in 2020 and this was celebrated with an anniversary deluxe edition LP. Let’s have a brief look at how the album came to life and how Coltrane developed, personally and musically, before being able to compose one of the most influential jazz albums of all time.

John Coltrane went through a lot before he was ready to create his masterpiece Giant Steps. Starting his musical journey in 1949 under the spell of Charlie Parker, and later Dizzy Gillespie, he felt dissatisfied, even dejected. In 1954, Coltrane joined The Miles Davis Quintet where he was encouraged to think more harmonically. This was an important milestone in the yet-to-be-written composition of Giant Steps as he was introduced to new possibilities in chord progressions.

Coltrane had a drug addiction and was dismissed from the band (together with drummer Philly Joe Jones) in 1957. Being sacked by the number one musical influencer, Miles Davis, was a wake-up call. With the help of friends and family, Coltrane took steps to get his life back in order. He started rehearsing with the celebrated Thelonious Monk and this not only helped him recover from his addiction but also helped him develop artistically.

“Working with Monk brought me close to a musical architect of the highest order”

John Coltrane in an interview with DownBeat (1960)

Fully recovered and evolved, Coltrane rejoined Miles Davis’ band in 1958. The following year, they recorded Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, an album that is claimed to be the most important album in jazz history.

Giant Steps was recorded less than a month after the sessions of Kind of Blue (1959). Giant Steps, consisting entirely out of Coltrane original compositions, was released in 1960, and despite being a perfect contrast to Kind of Blue, it became a mighty equal.

Working with Thelonious Monk, and recording Kind of Blue with Miles Davis, were both giant steps John Coltrane took before he mastered the skills to compose and record the album that innovated jazz harmonically and rhythmically.

Five Biographical Documentaries Of Jazz Titans

It’s not an easy task to capture the life of jazz titans like John Coltrane or Miles Davis into a ninety minutes cut. There is a lot of ground to cover before you’re able to give the audience a peek into their minds. Some directors and screenwriters managed to provide us with the best possible overview. They captured the essentials that contribute to their legacy.

Here are five biographical documentaries of true jazz titans where they successfully documented the story of the artists.

Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary

2016 / John Scheinfeld (director & writer)

Chasing Trane is an epic portrait of the legendary forward-thinking saxophonist who innovated and influenced jazz music in many ways. This story explores the impact of Coltrane’s life on the music he made.

It’s a classic, well-made biographical movie built on personal interviews with his children and grandchildren, friends, and fellow musicians. It creates honest insights into the life of the jazz titan.

John Scheinfeld’s documentary includes footage of Coltrane’s performances and uses the musician’s own words, read by Denzel Washington. At times, it analysis Coltrane’s compositions and his unique way of playing.


Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

2019 / Stanley Nelson (director & writer)

This documentary is a reflection on the musical career of Miles Davis and the birth of cool jazz. It captures the story of the talented trumpet player who introduced the world to a new style of jazz by blending it with modern classical ideas. An approach that would shape bebop into something everybody can listen to, a sub-genre not limited to jazz fans alone.

It is not an easy task to capture the story of Miles Davis on film. Davis was actively shaping jazz music for six full decades. The documentary attempts this via interviews with family members, friends, and musicians such as Quincy Jones.

I Called Him Morgan

2016 / Kasper Collin (director & writer)

I called him Morgan” are the words of Helen Morgan in an interview she gave two decades after she shot and killed her common-law husband, Lee Morgan.

The documentary is not a study into the life of hard bob trumpeter Lee Morgan. Instead, It’s a drama narrating the relationship between him and Helen. Via interviews with former band members and friends, we get a picture of what caused the fatal shooting of this celebrated musician who featured in bands with Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey.

Lee Morgan’s story is spellbinding. A young talented musician who struggled with a drug addiction and got murdered. This is the story of a musician who obtained his place in history next to Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis, as one of the greatest trumpet players in history.


Charles Mingus: Triumph of the Underdog

1998 /  Don McGlynn (director & writer)

This project took nine years to complete and is the first comprehensive documentary about the life of jazz musician Charles Mingus.

Charles Mingus is known for being a great bass player, bandleader, and composer. The documentary highlights Mingus as a composer. A musical genius with many ideas and innovative ways to use music. Mingus created unusual complexity in writing by using different layers and combining multiple rhythms. His high-sounding music feels chaotic, and yet, its structure has many similarities with classical music.

The story is told from the perspective of people who were close to him and features many video recordings of Charles Mingus where he is talking about his music.


Quincy

2018 / Alan Hicks & Rashida Jones (directors & writers)

The documentary plays in two different worlds. One is the present-day world of Quincy Jones as a composer and producer who accomplished everything and is loved by everyone. It shows an intimate setting where he is surrounded by family and friends. The second revisits Mr. Jones’ career as a jazz arranger and multi-instrumentalist. We peek into the different stages of his life via flashbacks and discover details about his friendship with Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra.

The documentary features people impacted by Mr. Jones. He was a mentor for Micheal Jackson, launched the career of Will Smith, and discovered Oprah Winfrey.