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White Lightning

40 years ago today

33 posts in this topic

John Coltrane left this world.

Let's all spin some of his music today,

John-Coltrane-Poster-C10105765.jpeg

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Thanks for all the amazing music, John.

Guy

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Still remember the pain when I caught the news as it came off the AP wire that evening forty years ago :o

The pain is still here!

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Nice article from Fridays Guardian

'He took it further than anyone'

It's 40 years since John Coltrane's untimely death. John Fordham celebrates a jazz legend, while below saxophonists young and old chart his unrivalled legacy

Friday July 13, 2007

The Guardian

The plumbing of a saxophone seemed like too cramped a channel for the river of emotion John Coltrane sought to drive through it: he always sounded as if he were trying to expand the metalwork with the sheer force of his feelings. Coltrane's huge, yearning tone, sermonising intensity and revolutionary technique allowed him to sound like several saxophonists rolled into one; but for all that, he always sounded as if he was striving for what still lay out of reach. It wasn't just the search for more music, or a different music. It sounded like the search for another world, and another life - which is why Coltrane is revered more than ever, inside and outside jazz, 40 years after his premature death from liver cancer at 40, on July 17 1967.

Marginalisation and both music-biz and high-art economics oblige jazz musicians to be realists - often very funny ones - which is part of jazz culture's downbeat appeal. But within that pragmatic climate, Coltrane was perhaps the nearest thing to a guru or a saint the music has ever known. He looked serious, soulful, sometimes haunted. He had profound religious convictions. His sound could be witheringly beautiful, and the contrast of his frantic urgency with the yielding delicacy of his ballads seemed to encompass a very wide span of what it means to be human. He had spent much of the 1950s battling addictions, and a combination of his faith and his music - which he was convinced was a healing force - had been the route out. Coltrane combined the cry of the blues with the social role and meditational murmur of the Indian classical forms he studied as meticulously as he studied European classical music and jazz. The chemistry worked so well that, late in his short life, he briefly found himself both a guru and a pop success. His classic, prayer-like 1964 album A Love Supreme made the charts, influenced rock and fusion players and a very large number of hippies, and earned Coltrane Grammy nominations for both composing and playing.

John Coltrane was born in Hamlet, North Carolina, on September 23 1926, and moved with his family to Philadelphia after high school. He played alto sax in pre-rock "jump" bands in the 1940s, joined Dizzy Gillespie and the Ellington saxist Johnny Hodges' bands as a tenor player, and then Miles Davis's legendary first quintet in 1955. Both Hodges and Davis had trouble with the young Coltrane's heroin and booze addictions, but as a former user himself, Davis cut him more slack. In the trumpeter's band, Coltrane blossomed from a somewhat stiff-sounding hard-bop student of the leading tenorists Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins into a saxophone visionary.

Frustrated - as Davis and Ornette Coleman were - by the limitations of improvising over pop songs and Broadway hits, Coltrane sought an alternative. Davis and Coleman looked for simplifications, more lyrical melodies released by pared-down structures like simple modes or spontaneously shifting tonal centres. Coltrane went the other way: harmonic mazes like the hurtling Giant Steps that changed chords almost every beat; multiphonic techniques that allowed Adolphe Sax's single-line instrument to play several notes at once. It could have been an arid technical exercise. But Coltrane's tireless practice regime was devoted to the guiding cause of increasing the sax's intensity and emotional range.

With the almost telepathically sensitive partners he gathered around him from 1961 to 1965 (pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones), Coltrane turned the jazz recital into something more like an emotionally heated collective trance, often with headlong tenor-sax solos that might continue unbroken on a single theme for an hour or more. Coltrane also popularised the lighter, somewhat oboe-like soprano sax (mostly unused since the days of the great New Orleans swinger Sidney Bechet), and the breadth of his musical and cultural references widened the audience for jazz.

As British saxophonist John Surman has pointed out, jazz was world music right back at the beginning of the 20th century, when musicians from around the globe crossed paths in the seaport of New Orleans. But its rapid early developments soon hardened into styles, from which the music needed to be rescued if its improvisers' spark was to stay alive. Coltrane heard that need, and split the music open for new influences to pour in, as they still are. A substantial slice of what's considered world music today might never have happened without him.

Where would Coltrane have gone next?

Soweto Kinch

Saxophonist, rapper, composer

He was somebody with a rare amount of integrity and sincerity, which is matched only by great leaders of that period such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. One of the biggest losses of his passing was his ability to influence people in a political sense, to enfranchise black people in America in a particular way. I think he would have gone on to spawn a load of new music - obviously jazz, but beyond that as well - and given people a different sense of empowerment. We're feeling the loss even now of somebody that great, somebody that iconic - especially now, actually. Just look at the state of modern black American music.

He was somebody who explicitly realised the power of musical notes to transform society and was busy on that as a project. He practised scales based on ancient Vedic traditions and scholasticism, which could evoke prosperity in somebody or, if they were sad, could bring them out of their sadness into mirth and merriment. That very conscious and deliberate understanding of the power of music is something really important. I think he would have - almost like a Vedic medicine man or a West African griot - been able to transform people's moods and sense of self-worth through the music. I think we would have seen a lot more self-awareness on the part of black Americans and the African diaspora.

Andy Sheppard

Saxophonist, composer

There was no stopping him. He's a total inspiration for all musicians. All the stuff he was doing in the Giant Steps period, in those hard-bop bands, it's extremely complex music, with the lightning ability to improvise in a seemingly completely free way over ridiculously hard chord changes. He was a spiritual force, his music was so intense.

He was going further and further out with his music towards the end, but I'm sure [had he lived] he would have been writing for orchestra and performing with contemporary classical musicians. He probably never had any time to write. Those guys were working all the time because that was the way it worked. They'd play every night in a club: to sit down and write some music is not easy. Because he was becoming successful, he would have had more time on his hands to compose.

Ingrid Laubrock

Saxophonist, composer

In a way he really screwed things up for all tenor players to come after him. It was a bit like Bach in the baroque world. What do you do after that? If you go in the same direction, you're just not going to get as good. It still sounds so much deeper and so much more amazing than anything after.

Jason Yarde

Saxophonist, producer, composer

You could take just one aspect of Coltrane's music - Giant Steps or even just a part of it - and that in itself could be a lifetime's study for the average musician. It's quite feasible he would still be around playing. I would hope that he could have got back into a more big-band kind of sound, which then, I could imagine, would lead into orchestral things.

Finn Peters

Saxophonist, composer

It's a question of how much innovation he displayed as a sax player. He took it further than anyone. People are still catching up with what he did - in 2007. He was using a lot of books to inform his playing, and he was bringing other languages in that hadn't been used before; a lot of eastern modes and Indian music. People hadn't really incorporated that into jazz before - the whole modal thing and traditional folk melodies. He was like Bartok in that sense.

Whatever he would have done next it would have been pioneering, leading the way for other people - he was like that all through his life. I think it is likely that he would have gone on to do something electronic - the sort of stuff that he was already doing but adding electronic instruments.

John Surman

Saxophonist, composer

There's no one single factor that makes Coltrane so great. He did what all pioneers do: broke boundaries. He changed the sound of the music, and that in itself is quite extraordinary. The harmonic progressions he came up with - no one had toyed with them, no one had even heard them. He was a master craftsman and a ground-breaker but he was also an amazing communicator.

Everybody wanted to be around Coltrane. He was in the strange situation where his music in the avant garde was selling hugely - it was popular music. Finally, in his last works, he started to come back into the melodic and clearer, simpler stuff. So it would indicate to me that he'd gone out on a voyage of discovery and he would come back in and re-explore a lot of the early work that he did. It happens to quite a few artists: they'll go out there but then, later on, with maturity comes looking back - a retrospective thing. But who knows? He may have gone on even greater leaps than Giant Steps. He may have gone back and said, "That was quite good but I'm only halfway there with that."

Lol Coxhill

Saxophonist, improviser

No one can know where he would have gone. If he'd carried on from where he was, he would have developed that. I can't imagine any other direction except him just growing and growing on that level. What he had was perfection in itself, but he could have developed that area anyway. I don't think he needed to go somewhere else. We just naturally develop, we don't think about where we're going. We just keep going - and never arrive, I hope.

Denys Baptiste

Saxophonist, composer

There's never really been anybody who has covered so much ground and made so many developments within the music, particularly in such a short space of time. In just 10 years, he made all those important stepping-stones in his career. To be not only developing new ideas but mastering them and then moving on to another idea, then mastering that - nobody's ever been able to do that. Most musicians would be lucky to master one thing within their entire career, never mind the number of innovations and developments he managed to facilitate.

His journey through the last 10 years of his life was driven by one epiphany in 1957 - a spiritual experience that made him want to give up drugs and begin pursuing his career in that direction. He felt that God had charged him with a mission. Given this motivation, I don't think he would have done what Miles Davis did and got into electric music or become somebody chasing those popular areas of jazz. I think he would have continued his spiritual journey because he seemed so serious about it. As far as he was concerned, music was a gift from God. God intended him to play music and communicate through music.

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Finally, in his last works, he started to come back into the melodic and clearer, simpler stuff.

I didn't know that. Can someone recommend an album that fits that description?

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Finally, in his last works, he started to come back into the melodic and clearer, simpler stuff.

I didn't know that. Can someone recommend an album that fits that description?

"Stellar Regions" maybe? That's a rather restrained (weak?) compilation of posthumously released material from one of his last studio dates - haven't played it for quite a while. His "Sun Ship" from 1965, one of the starting points of his going free (and hence probably not what you're looking for) is one of the most beautiful and melodic free(-ish) albums I know, in case you want to check that out, too...

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I love Stellar Regions! It's Trane's spiritual and musical freedom paired with beauty! Open your mind and listen - this is not a restrained compilation, but a complete session (one track was on the last album he prepared fro release, Expression).

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"Stellar Regions" maybe? That's a rather restrained (weak?) compilation of posthumously released material from one of his last studio dates - haven't played it for quite a while.

Restrain? I think that it's a beautifull album on his on right who give an idea in which direction he was heading for a while.

No soprano, shorter format pieces and a return to more structure music.

From this point, I think that Coltrane would have develop his composer's talent and in the same time try, like in "Interstellar Space", unusual experiences.

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Just been listening to 'Out of This World' from Coltrane (Impulse!), one of my favourite Trane performances.

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Seems I need to reassess "Stellar Regions", then... sorry for stating its a compilation... didn't mean it that way, actually, rather "a disc compiled posthumously". I still wait for a nice reissue of the other date that made up the majority of "Expression"... never came around buying that and hoped for a nice digipack release ever since I started buying jazz, but so far it hasn't happened and hence it won't likely happen at all now. Too bad! Will have to look for the old disc!

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"Stellar Regions" maybe? That's a rather restrained (weak?) compilation of posthumously released material from one of his last studio dates - haven't played it for quite a while.

Restrain? I think that it's a beautifull album on his on right who give an idea in which direction he was heading for a while.

No soprano, shorter format pieces and a return to more structure music.

From this point, I think that Coltrane would have develop his composer's talent and in the same time try, like in "Interstellar Space", unusual experiences.

I also think ubu's assessment of Stellar Regions is off -- IMHO, it's a more satisfying album than Expression.

I am not convinced by the argument that "in his last works, he started to come back into the melodic and clearer, simpler stuff." This is probably a bias induced by the fact that most of Coltrane's 1967 recordings were made in the studio, while his best known 1966 recordings were live. The Olatunji Concert (which post-dates most of the other 1967 recordings) makes such a comparison questionable. I haven't heard his 1966 studio recordings so perhaps someone can comment on how those compare to the 1967 stuff.

As far as GA Russell's question -- all of Coltrane's 1967 studio recordings are in the free jazz style. The performances tend to be shorter than on live recordings, and Pharoah Sanders is almost entirely absent, so I can understand why some would find them to be more accessible or "melodic". But knowing your preferences, I don't think you would like them.

Guy

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Thanks for your thoughts, guys!

I'm still digesting One Down, One Up. It's not really my cup of tea, but I enjoy it as a change of pace from time to time.

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a young aloc was sitting in a jazz bar(we had them in those days) just before noon when the bartender told him john coltrane had passed away.

at that time trane was aloc's favorite musician in the world and had been for quite some time, and still is, and he was buying every new coltrane release.

after trane passed away, other than expression, aloc didnt purchase much more coltrane music. he was only interested in what john wanted released, although the coltrane-monk find is a beautiful revelation.

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Finally, in his last works, he started to come back into the melodic and clearer, simpler stuff.

I didn't know that. Can someone recommend an album that fits that description?

expression, his last album, and had, among other things, some very contemplative sounds from the flute piece, 'to be.'

the flute solo at the beginning of 'to be' leaves an indelible imprint in the mind. expression is rarely heard these days.

The tunes from John Coltrane's Expression album are from Coltrane's last two recording session recorded shortly before he died in July, 1967. Coltrane was suffering from incurable liver cancer and knew that he was dying at the time of these recording, although he told almost no one of his condition. Despite the evidence of his own mortality, Coltrane invented amazing music almost up to the end. I've always thought of this album as Coltrane's musical last will and testament.

Carl Sagan's crew at Jet Propulsion Laboratories compiled an album that was attached to the Voyager space probes which would represent the best musical utterances of all of humanity, because the Voyagers were going to be the first man-made objects to leave the solar system. I've always felt that Ogunde from this album should have been one of the recordings that was included.

It is a short performance, less than 5 minutes. I feel when I listen to this that Coltrane was trying to sum up his entire life in this one short performance. His sound is incredibly large and lyrical and centered, with a huge vibrato. Soloing, he shows his incredible mastery of harmony and rhythm, floating away from the theme and then returning to it twice. He ends the piece with a seemingly endless flow of fast pitches that he breathes at a whisper. No one has shown this kind of mastery of the tenor saxophone in the 33 years since Trane's passing.

Offering and Expression both share a similar kind of plan. They both start with lyrical, out of tempo melodies, that Coltrane varies very freely. The drummer, Rashied Ali, rolls lightly in accompaniment and Alice Coltrane plays arpregiated harp-like piano. After several repetitions of the main themes, Ali swells up like a storm and Coltrane turns to duel with him. Coltrane plays circular roll-like figures in the middle of his horn that sound like he's imitating Ali's drum figures. He constantly breaks free of these loops and screams high or drops low on his horn, sometimes seeming to play in the high, low and middle registers all within the same beat. At the end of each duel, Alice and Jimmy Garrison re-enter and Coltrane returns to the main theme of the pieces, each time like the sun breaking through storm clouds and shining like glory.

The fourth piece on the album, "To Be" is one of the few performances where Coltrane is recorded playing flute. I've heard that he was playing a flute that he inherited from his friend Eric Dolphy for this. His young friend, Pharoah Sanders, accompanies on flute. The piece maintains a single slow mysterious mood for all of its 15 minute length. I don't usually listen this much, since it's not as substantial a piece of music as Ogunde, Offering and Expression.

Coltrane's music can seem dangerous at first. You need preparation. It's a little mean for me to make Expression the first Coltrane album that I've written about. This was his last recording. He used every bit of his musical knowledge to make it.

Coltrane's music is strong stuff. If you are unprepared, it may overwhelm you and leave you bewildered. Here are some things you should know.

He could play very fast. Listening to Trane, you have to give up the idea that you are going to catch every note as it blows past you. Instead, the notes melt together and give you a composite feeling. There is a lot of evidence that when he was playing his fastest he was playing notes that outline a chord so you can hear him play chords against what his piano player was playing.

He invented a new sound for the saxophone. He came from a family of black preachers and his saxophone sound emulates a preacher who is feeling the Holy Spirit,especially in his later recording. In every period of his career he had a high keening sound on tenor saxophone. By the early 60's, he had mastered ways of producing multiphonics (notes that sounded two or three notes at once). He was able to bend his notes to find blue sounds at any instant in his lines. He could change his range so quickly that he could honk a low note and scream high in just an eyeblink.

He's a portal through which African ideas entered Western music in a very strong way. His favorite drummer, Elvin Jones, played polyrhythmically (multiple rhythm streams that maintain more than one pulse at the same time) and with great intensity. Elvin was playing on his drum set what an African drum ensemble with four or five drummers would play. Elvin was always changing the flow of the rhythm as Trane soloed and would change his accompaniment for each soloist in the band.

He and his quartet played like they were having a four way conversation, where everyone had space to say something at any moment. Trane would go high and Elvin would cymbal bash to send him higher. Elvin would roll and Trane would play a repetitive rolling pattern to match Elvin's figures. Elvin would play a pattern on his low drums and Trane would honk low to get down there with him. At the strongest moments, all four men would together spin the music like a giant man, whirling, getting ready to throw a huge weight for miles.

His sound was very vocal. He wasn't trying for the clean sound that Westerners idolize. He was willing to moan, sob, shout and scream with his horn.

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Edited by alocispepraluger102

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JESSE CHUY VARELA played Trane straight throught from 1-6pm today on KCSM.

Playlist

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I can remember that Downbeat gave all of the albums released with his approval five stars, and all of the ones released posthumously that he had not approved for release only four stars.

If Expression was the last of his approved recordings to be released, does anyone know the titles of the ones released after that?

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If Expression was the last of his approved recordings to be released, does anyone know the titles of the ones released after that?

'Om', 'Cosmic Music', 'Selflessness', 'Transition', 'Sun Ship' were the next Coltranes released after hiss death.

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I can remember that Downbeat gave all of the albums released with his approval five stars, and all of the ones released posthumously that he had not approved for release only four stars.

Interesting. I think that in retrospect, they were wrong.

Guy

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Thanks Brownie!

Guy, at the time I didn't give the reviews any credibility because I think the reviewers were just playing it safe. They could have given the albums the stars they were given without ever listening to the records!

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I am not convinced by the argument that "in his last works, he started to come back into the melodic and clearer, simpler stuff." This is probably a bias induced by the fact that most of Coltrane's 1967 recordings were made in the studio, while his best known 1966 recordings were live. The Olatunji Concert (which post-dates most of the other 1967 recordings) makes such a comparison questionable. I haven't heard his 1966 studio recordings so perhaps someone can comment on how those compare to the 1967 stuff.

As far as GA Russell's question -- all of Coltrane's 1967 studio recordings are in the free jazz style. The performances tend to be shorter than on live recordings, and Pharoah Sanders is almost entirely absent, so I can understand why some would find them to be more accessible or "melodic". But knowing your preferences, I don't think you would like them.

Guy

Right, I think it's the same aesthetic - the difference is between (IMHO) a more abstract version of it and a more visceral one. The aesthetic itself goes back to Ascension which is visceral. I think the point about Sanders is probably right, given that he's the source of so much of the "screaming oomph" that powers Coltrane's later years. There's actually an interesting quote in Kofsky where JC says he's the source of the "strength" in his 1966 band whereas previously it had been Elvin Jones. I'm not sure about the studio effect in that Ascension, Om and Meditations (1965) are visceral.

In one way, the visceral recordings are more emotionally demanding than the abstract ones - just in terms of weight - the screaming kind of wears you down. But in another, that same screaming can prove cathartic, providing a release.

So ya pays your money...

Simon Weil

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The tunes from John Coltrane's Expression album are from Coltrane's last two recording session recorded shortly before he died in July, 1967.

Actually that's not true any longer since two later studio sessions have been discovered, including one recorded one month after the Olatunji concert. Here are the unissued studio sessions from 1966-67, taken from Allan J. Sutherland's Coltrane Sessionography. They amount to two and a half hours(!) of late studio Coltrane, including over one hour from his last two sessions, and without them we can't paint a complete picture of where Coltrane was at the end, or where he might have been heading.

John Coltrane Session 66-04-21:

Date: 21 April 1966.

Place: Van Gelder Studio- Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Ensemble: John Coltrane Quintet: John Coltrane soprano sax, tenor sax, Pharoah Sanders flute, tenor sax, Alice Coltrane piano, Jimmy Garrison bass, Rashied Ali drums,

Recording: Commercial for Impulse.

Recording Engineer:

Alternative Issues:

Recent Available Issue:

1. Darkness (10:43) (Unissued.)

2. Lead Us On (8:20) (Unissued.)

3. Leo (18:00) (Unissued.)

4. Peace on Earth (5:20) (Unissued.)

Notes: Tapes for this session were recently discovered, and are rumoured to be released sometime in the future.

John Coltrane Session 66-04-28:

Date: 28 April, 1966.

Place: Van Gelder Studio- Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Ensemble: John Coltrane Quintet: John Coltrane soprano sax, tenor sax, Pharoah Sanders flute, tenor sax, Alice Coltrane piano, Jimmy Garrison bass, Rashied Ali drums,

Recording: Commercial for Impulse.

Recording Engineer:

Alternative Issues:

Recent Available Issue:

1. Call (9:20) (Unissued.)

2. Leo (9:40) (Unissued.)

Notes: Tapes for this session were recently discovered, and are rumoured to be released sometime in the future.

John Coltrane Session 67-02-27:

Date: 27 February 1967.

Place: Van Gelder Studio- Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Ensemble: John Coltrane Quintet: John Coltrane tenor sax, Alice Coltrane piano, Jimmy Garrison bass, Rashied Ali drums, Marion Brown bells.

Recording: Commercial for Impulse.

Recording Engineer:

Alternative Issues:

Recent Available Issue:

1. E Minor (6:61) (Unissued.)

2. Half Steps (7:10) (Unissued.)

Notes: Tapes for this session were recently discovered, and are rumoured to be released sometime in the future.

John Coltrane Session 67-03-29:

Date: 29 March, 1967.

Place: Van Gelder Studio- Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Ensemble: John Coltrane Quartet: John Coltrane tenor sax, Alice Coltrane piano, Jimmy Garrison bass, Rashied Ali drums,

Recording: Commercial for Impulse.

Recording Engineer:

Alternative Issues:

Recent Available Issue:

1. Number Eight (5:01) (Unissued.)

2. Number Seven (3:18) (Unissued.)

3. Number Six (2:12) (Unissued.)

4. Number Five (6:18) (Unissued.)

5. Number Four (4:02) (Unissued.)

6. Number Two (4:09) (Unissued.)

Notes: Tapes for this session were recently discovered, and are rumoured to be released sometime in the future.

John Coltrane Session 67-05-17:

Date: 17 May 1967.

Place: Van Gelder Studio- Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Ensemble: John Coltrane Sextet: John Coltrane tenor sax, Pharoah Sanders alto sax, Alice Coltrane piano, Jimmy Garrison bass, Rashied Ali drums, Algie DeWitt Bata drum.

Recording: Commercial for Impulse.

Recording Engineer:

Alternative Issues:

Recent Available Issue:

1. None Other (14:28) (Unissued.)

2. Collidoscope (35:52) (Unissued.)

Notes: Tapes for this session were recently discovered, and are rumoured to be released sometime in the future.

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a young aloc was sitting in a jazz bar(we had them in those days) just before noon when the bartender told him john coltrane had passed away.

at that time trane was aloc's favorite musician in the world and had been for quite some time, and still is, and he was buying every new coltrane release.

after trane passed away, other than expression, aloc didnt purchase much more coltrane music. he was only interested in what john wanted released, although the coltrane-monk find is a beautiful revelation.

...at what point did young aloc start discussing himself in the third person... ;)

RIP John!

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a young aloc was sitting in a jazz bar(we had them in those days) just before noon when the bartender told him john coltrane had passed away.

at that time trane was aloc's favorite musician in the world and had been for quite some time, and still is, and he was buying every new coltrane release.

after trane passed away, other than expression, aloc didnt purchase much more coltrane music. he was only interested in what john wanted released, although the coltrane-monk find is a beautiful revelation.

...at what point did young aloc start discussing himself in the third person... ;)

RIP John!

a norman vincent mailer affectation, he states. normy was a big ticket item in that day and time.

Edited by alocispepraluger102

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I will spin Coltrane's Sound today-the album that introduced me to Trane's music.

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