In creating the list for 1000 Recordings, one of the biggest challenges was fully representing the work of artists with large discographies. It was impossible to cover, or even mention, all of the significant titles from someone like Miles Davis or a band like Radiohead. The best I could do was focus on a few stellar examples, and hope that the curious listener would venture from them into other titles. Here are the titles featured in 1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die (starting on page 182):
A Love Supreme
John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman
(under Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane: At Carnegie Hall, pg. 542).
Obviously, that's not a full accounting of a torridly productive artist. Coltrane's playing evolved at warp speed -- by the time the public caught up to one of his approaches, he was onto the next. As a result, it was impossible to reflect his overall contribution, much less each of his “periods,” with just a few titles. This playlist is designed to offer a fuller picture of Coltrane’s evolution and also his influence – it ends with several selections from tenor players whose playing contains some glimmers of Coltrane inspiration.
For an overview of Coltrane’s development, the listener would ideally start with his work as a sideman in Davis’ group (represented on the playlist by “If I Were a Bell” from Relaxin’), move to the book’s first entry, Blue Train, and then into Coltrane’s own standards records for Prestige (1958 Lush Life, which includes his intense and lyrical take on “I Hear A Rhapsody”). These show the saxophonist’s mastery of gestural shape, his pursuit of clarity not just in terms of tone but also ideas. In his most memorable solos, we marvel not just at the individual notes and lines, but the ways the lines coalesce into shapes, often stunningly memorable shapes.
From there, it’s important to spend a moment appreciating Coltrane at the height of his impressively technical “sheets of sound” powers – via “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” recorded in 1960 for Atlantic but not released until 1964, on Coltrane’s Sound. Also on the playlist is a “holy grail” record studied by almost everyone interested in jazz: The harmonically intricate Giant Steps, represented here by “Countdown.” (Many have asked why this album isn’t on the list. Short answer: Coltrane tears it up but the rest of the group struggles a bit, and I felt it was better to introduce Coltrane with recordings that are uniformly breathtaking, not just during the saxophone solos.)
That brings us to 1961, and the beginning of Coltrane’s association with Impulse Records. Among the key titles from that first year is a rousing live set recorded at the Village Vanguard, as well as the first of many more conceptual projects, Africa/Brass. In 1962, Coltrane followed that with a duet with Duke Ellington, and a pair of his most plaintive and beautiful studio efforts, Ballads and John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman. If asked to generate an open-ended list of “essential” recordings, I’d include both of these; together, they represent a pinnacle of jazz ballad playing. During roughly this same period, Coltrane sought ways to express spirituality through music; that led to his 1964 classic A Love Supreme (the opening section, “Acknowledgement,” is on this playlist). To cover his later, less structured works, I picked the rubato “Welcome” from 1965’s Kulu Se Mama, and “Consequences” from Meditations – and though the records from this period are a bit erratic, there are treasures on every one of them.
The last selection features Trane’s collaborator Pharoah Sanders, one of several tenor players who extended Coltrane’s notions into different realms. He’s the first artist in the section of the playlist devoted to “branches” emanating from the tree of Coltrane. Also here is a Coltrane-inspired classic by Archie Shepp from his spirited tribute album Four For Trane; a lovely modal tune in a Coltrane mood by Wayne Shorter (“Deluge”), and a version of the standard “Yesterdays” featuring underrated tenorman Joe Farrell working alongside Coltrane’s longtime drummer, Elvin Jones. Next is a slice of one classic record by the David Murray Octet, Ming, that shows Murray at the peak of his improvisatory powers. We end with one of the most disciplined disciples, the great Steve Grossman, and his version of “I Hear A Rhapsody” recorded in 1986.