photo & text by nacrowe
there is this seemingly effortless fluid LYRICISM to JOHN COLTRANE's sound up until he shot into space in the late 1960s and explored the outer reaches of his saxophone. i am well aware that his dynamic playing style was a testament to his preternatural abilities of IMPROVISATION, COLLABORATION and ACTIVE LISTENING. to merely state that he was a genius is to cut such efforts short, as was the case with the beat writers, who when confronted with BEBOP hailed such gifted musicians as COLTRANE, DIZZY GILLESPIE and CHARLIE PARKER with praise of being physically gifted which in itself was a tad bit racist. it denied them their own agency in the process.
regardless, COLTRANE's take on popular standards on MY FAVORITE THINGS (ATLANTIC, 1961) such as "SUMMERTIME," "EVERY TIME WE SAY GOODBYE" and the title track do have an a lilting and lifting feeling within the listener. his playing is highly lyrical as if his saxophone is intimately singing to you in hushed somber tones from across the room. its RELAXING and an absolutely INTOXICATING experience. i believe that it is this LULLING effect which allows him to glide through such complicated arpeggiated measures with little aplomb, slight diversions on a smooth journey through our inner consciousness. i personally enjoy it when i hear a musician make artistically merited yet highly technical musical decisions without such getting any special fanfare in terms of the composition. these are not guitar solos that are setup to be admired and obsessed over, COLTRANE's saxophone runs are more part of an overall experience or aesthetic that just washes over and subsumes you. once you notice something its on to the next thing.
like a lot of people, i thoroughly enjoy this period of COLTRANE's discography and highly recommend investigating not only MY FAVORITE THINGS, but also GIANT STEPS (ATLANTIC, 1960) and of course BLUE TRAIN (BLUE NOTE, 1958). not to mention his other collaborations with the likes of MILES DAVIS and MILT JACKSON during this period. you will not regret it.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
i spent a year in JAPAN teaching secondary ENGLISH at a BRITISH curriculum international school. it was an intense experience, partly because i was being schooled on the IB SYSTEM as i was teaching it. i had been abroad for years at that point, but JAPAN was the first time i truly felt isolated. not isolated out of want or need for something material, but socially it was pretty brutal. when i left a year later for MYANMAR it wasn't a difficult departure.
when decompressing after my work day in my apartment at night i would often sit idly and meditate, sometimes listening to JAZZ. for me COLTRANE, as well as THELONIOUS MONK, were my preferred co-conspirators. you just put it on and you were elevated to a plane above consciousness. it helped me because being alone in a foreign country you are cognizant of being watched and judged and especially being a teacher, you are hyper-aware of how you communicate. that thinking part of my brain was hard to shut off. from my personal experience, COLTRANE is intertwined with my experiences experiencing JAPAN.
until i watched the recent documentary CHASING TRANE (CREW NECK, 2016), i was wholly unaware of his reverence for JAPAN and their suffering, as well as the fact that his final tour was there as well. for me that seems fitting just because his music transmits a deep well of experience and emotion underneath a cool exterior that is inviting yet alien. you feel as if he is a shaman transporting you to a new level of consciousness. very similar to my exploration of zen meditation at the time.
the documentary itself is a fairly dry, yet faithful and loving ode to the JAZZ musician by his immediate family, friends and colleagues including SONNY ROLLINS, JIMMY HEATH, REGGIE WORKMAN, BENNY GOLSON and admirers like CARLOS SANTANA, CORNELL WEST, BILL CLINTON. his voice is played by celebrated actor DENZEL WASHINGTON.
a big theme is the spiritual nature of his music which is rooted in his formative experiences in NORTH CAROLINA where he was the grandson of two ministers. despite the fact that by age 12 most of the older generation (including his father) had all unexpectedly and tragically passed over a 2 year period, he carried on with an inner strength and resilience that followed him his whole life. helped him kick heroin and keep his focus on music and being a good father and husband. an incredible observation made in the film was his ability to utilize vocal phrasing patterns in his soloing, most notably in ALABAMA released after the BIRMINGHAM bombings in the late 60s which were partly based on MARTIN LUTHER KING's rhetorical stylings. traveling to NAGASAKI for a concert he was similarly glued to his flute in an attempt to transpose the rhythm of JAPAN for his later composition "PEACE ON EARTH."
it is always a pleasant surprise when life and art dovetail. now the connection between COLTRANE and JAPAN is set in my mind.
listen to the man's music. that's all i can advocate. it transcends speech, thought and hits to the core of life itself.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
with the resurgence in interest in vinyl records that has been going on for the past two decades in the wake of streaming, the mp3 and the obliteration of the compact disc as viable format, HARDCORE icon and vinyl aficionado HENRY ROLLINS has been teaming up with online retailer THE SOUND OF VINYL and UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP's promotions and outreach website UDISCOVER MUSIC to create a series of videos about his love of vinyl and those artist that create it.
ROLLINS' curating efforts over the past few years on this accord have included tutorials, artist recommendations and interviews with artists, directors and independent label owners. basically everything a novice would like to know about starting a collection and where to start, but were afraid to ask. ROLLINS at his age is over the industry, so he comes off as a no-bullshit, straightforward guide with no pretensions. and thank god for that since lord knows that elitism is what drives people away from record stores.
i enjoy watching these and my hope is that both companies expand such with other noteworthy curators. my suggestions: CHUCK D, BRIAN ENO, GEORGE CLINTON, DAVID BYRNE, AFRIKA BAMBAATAA, RICHARD DAVID JAMES, NEIL YOUNG, Q-TIP, CORNELIUS and JOHNNY MARR. one can only dream.
below are ROLLINS' record recommendations. in the future i'll post further articles highlighting some of his interviews. this is still very much a current and developing endeavor.
parodies by nacrowe
tonight's new episode of DEER GOD RADIO at 8PM EST on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC is focused on the celebrated BEBOP movement in JAZZ of the 1940s and 1950s. both highly experimental and groundbreaking, this era and style of improvisation is still looked at as a high water mark in AMERICAN CULTURE writ large. surprised it took me this long to finally get to it! thats on me.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW and CLASSICAL-ISH WITH NUTMEG are available here at the DEER GOD website.
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