John Coltrane and the Great Choice to Be

I believe I have heard what may be one of the most important and defining moments in jazz history. For years now,.This live cut of Miles Davis with John Coltrane has haunted me. Many people have asked the question,."just what went down at the OLYMPIA anyway? In 1960,.Miles Davis had an incredible 21 or 22 day tour with his quintet in Europe,.playing EVERY night (can anybody imagine getting a tour like this today? I know it was hard work for them,.but shit,.SIGN me the hell up!). We all know that this was Trane's last stand with Miles,.and that Miles had to work to get him to do it as Trane was already on the path to himself,.and that Trane told him this was his What may we ask,.were the musical dividends?

John Coltrane and the Great Choice to BeAll roads lead to Bye Bye Blackbird,.the second song after a run down of walkin',.(I always liked the Wayne versions better on that one.) Lets take apart and deconstruct the Blackbird with 2 things in mind..1) that according to Lewis Porter,.Blackbird was dropped from the program the whole rest of the tour,.(the OLYMPIA was the first night),.and 2),.what Horace Silver told Dave Douglas,.in that many people get the wrong message from Trane:behind his relentless search and stacking up of chords on chords,.there was a beautiful voice leading going down.While that may be true,.I feel Trane was really on a quest to just SLASH and BURN anything in the way of him becoming,..TRANE.I think Trane became himself on this night in 1960,.on stage,.with Miles Davis,.in Miles band,.in front of a huge crowd in Europe.There were clearly pro and anti Trane forces in the house,.voiced by the crowd.(reminds me of Jameel Moondoc telling me about the Mary Lou Williams/Cecil Taylor concert..MOON,.who was there,.said the right side of the house was all Mary Lou.The left side,.C.T.)..Lets put blackbird under a musical microscope with my special lens,.and see if we cant strike GOLD.

After a very short,nice,polite Wynton Kelly piano intro,.("Hi!,.come on in,.were not here to hurt anybody"),.Miles introduces us to the blackbird,.a sweet,.and gentle Bird,.by playing the simple,gentle melody as only he can,.on harmon mute,.up close,.nice and tight,.on the microphone.In seconds we are all put on 100% notice,.we're in MILES WORLD,.it's his house,.and he starts the MUSICAL SEDUCTION.25 seconds in,.the crowd breaks into applause under the music.("This is why we are here,.we love being guests in Miles home,.were happy to be here").At the end of the first melody/chorus,.a nice easy break,.and we stroll through the park with Miles on a sunny day,.and the tempo is just.Perfect..You can even feel the sun on your skin,.and that gentle breeze,.oh,.just right.Miles stays with us for a full 5 choruses,.a great host.(Mr PC,Jimmy Cobb,and the Real Wynton are happy to oblige and serve us while were In Miles house).After the bridge on the last chorus,.Miles takes seven steps outside of character,.and plays a little more aggressively,.It seems there's a STORM coming on the horizon..

At 4:50 we meet John Coltrane on the street,.and Brother John has a serious expression on his face..(Is anything the matter man?,.are we cool?)..The wind starts to pick up and the rustle of dead leaves that haven't been bagged yet can be heard.The Clouds are starting to block the sun,and the temperature drops just a hint.You could also call this a COSMIC SHIFT.(This is like the TECTONIC PLATES shifting to me).Trane introduces himself as a friend of Miles,.and shows us what they have in common.("I'm in Miles world,.just like you").Thus ends the first chorus with brother John.(Miles has gone to the kitchen to get us a beer perhaps,.)

On our second chorus,.John introduces us to 2 notes that don't resolve too well,.and everything starts to feel FAST,.even though the tempo is right where it was,.(and stays).("Well,.now that we have been introduced,.let me show you what else I've found in here..Miles doesn't look for this stuff,.but I HAVE to keep looking,.I LOVE finding things..") John ends chorus 2 with 2 simple in tune blues phrases..("were friends right? Come with me a little further..") It's like saying hello and goodbye at the same time.

Chorus 3,.John starts sending the little blackbird through some serious nosedives and rapid accents.Shes flying all over the place and really getting a workout,.almost like a warning of some kind.This is My Favorite Things level improv now..("Now that we know each other a little bit,.it's time for you to meet my real self,.somebody I'm still getting to know a little better,.one note at a time")

Chorus 4:SHEETS of Sound are coming down,.and the sky opens up at last revealing a heavy rain.The birds sing even louder,.celebrating bath time.("take shelter if you need to,.but this is where I'll be in Miles world at the moment,.I love it out here,.where I MUST be").Wynton and the crew enter on the bridge and let us know they're still together and that everything is going to be OK.They back off again after the bridge,.and John Almost resolves some of these torrential phrases.

Chorus 5:John is at the foot of the mountain top now,..("I can see the top!! Lets go!!") He tries to continue the search in the upper register AND be miles lyrical at the same time! GOLD.The crowd tension rises,.which you actually hear.The unrest is palpable.("Are you going to now take more choruses than Miles himself in his band!?,.This ISN'T why I came over today!,.wait,.do we like this? Can we like this? Are we ALLOWED to like this? Miles!,.Is this OK?!!") (("I HOPE,.you brought your umbrella,.cause it's ON now.")).

Finally,..the CHORUS OF TRUTH,.and one of the BRIGHTEST moments in Jazz History,.chorus SIX,.(the Lovers card).The crowd now lets john know he's crossing the line.Everybody gathers around and stares at the line and John crossing the border,.LEAVING Miles world,..never to return(?).We reach the bridge at 9:37 and John reaches a strong note outside the safety zone,.a dangerous note.He chooses to NOT resolve it,.and then REPEATS it,.over,.and over.("I HAVE GOT TO BEE FREEE,.I HAVE GOT TO BE FREE,.EVERYBODY LET ME BE,.SET MEEE FREEE.!")....and then at 9:50 after the bridge,.john goes to ANOTHER out note,.HIGHER,..LOUDER,.JAZZ AT THE PHILHARMONIC,.OUT STYLE,.He repeats and repeats.As the chorus ends,.the crowd ERUPTS..("well,.we have got to admire anybody willing to stand by their convictions in this way..In Miles house? You are a BOLD and STRONG man,.who has EARNED our Respect.)..and also..("this is outrageous! How dare Trane make me feel something differently? I'm angry and upset,because I'm AFRAID.") ((I have news for them,..John was gonna do what he had to do anyway..))

chorus 7:Just outside of Miles World,.the crowd is in a state of chaos and a little panic...TRANE is now HIMSELF,.and doesn't let up!! during the bridge,.the crowd again voices their opinion,.and trane turns down the heat.After the bridge,.Trane plays beautiful,lyrical phrases,.in time,.in key,..and ends perfectly,.no different than Miles himself would..("Thanks for taking this trip with me everybody,.I Love Miles too,.and could play like that if I wanted to,.but I CHOOSE to be me")...There is no way,.I feel,.that John Coltrane knew he was carrying the entire history of jazz on his shoulders,.and that his choice would have impact on Jazz like an asteroid hitting Earth,.like BIRD,.and OC after that.(Everybody playing today was there in a way,.I thought it was great,.but the lincoln center guys left pissed.)

After TRANE,.Wynton Kelly came by,.but the party was over.After 3 choruses,.he decided to turn the lights off,.Miles comes in on the bridge,with a short,abstract version of the melody,.and ends the Tune alone.Even Miles didn't know how to respond to what went down,.and he starts off round midnight solo to regain control,.but,..the deed,.has been done.FOURTEEN MINUTES had passed....and they had at least 20 more nights,.in a row,.to continue this public conversation,.one of the most important in jazz history..

John Coltrane was now on a spiritual quest,.and music was his vehicle for transformation. He would not stop,.as his music brought him closer to himself,.and closer to God,.one note at a time..He had made the TRANSITION.Many of us traveled with him,.and some of us still do......and now I can connect Trane to Louis Armstrong,.and let jazz become itself:::Louis made a record with Dave Brubeck called,."the Real ambassadors",.and on this record is a song called They say I look like God.In one of Louis Armstrong's brightest.moments.,.he sings,.
Then God gave man,.the Great choice to be..
Alone on Earth,..or one,..with thee..

Published at Brilliant Corners Wednesday, January 13, 2010

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