John Coltrane’s Village Vanguard Performances and Soundtrack at a Time of Transition in America


Sixty years ago at this time, for two weeks without Monday, from October 24 to November 5, 1961, John Coltrane’s group – Coltrane on tenor saxophone and soprano, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, Elvin Jones on bass drums – played at Village Vanguard, a jazz club that still exists in the same location on South Seventh Avenue in Manhattan. (Coltrane’s son Ravi led a band there last week.) Four nights in November were recorded by Impulse !, Coltrane’s new label at the time. A culling of those nights was released as a single LP in February 1962, with just three tracks. It was about the “Spiritual”, serious and easy, which then helped to define a kind of music called recently “spiritual jazz”; his version of the standard “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise”, which (via this recording) helped define the mainstream of jazz; and, for the entire B-side, the volatile 12-bar F-blues called “Chasin ‘the Trane,” which starts abruptly, as if it were a tape splice, and flies out into slits, not defining nothing and being indebted to nothing. It ends when it ends and maybe it could go on for a lot longer. He does not know the meaning of “sufficient”. Sometimes it gets unbearably exciting. It may make the listener think: what exactly is going on here?


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