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Larry Kart

Coltrane on Bethlelem

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For the first time in a long while I just listened to this material (side one of "The Bethlehem Years" compilation) and found it fascinating both for late '57 Coltrane himself and for the opportunity to hear him with players he wasn't usually (in some cases never) heard with otherwise. The tracks with Blakey (big band and small group) -- what a delight to hear Coltrane with Blakey boldly interacting beneath him. (Sound quality is good.)Also, that studio big band, contrary to what I'd been led to believe, was quite together for the most part, and trumpeters Ray Copeland and Idrees Sulieman play very well. What chops Copeland had and quite an imagination to boot. And Walter Bishop Jr. is in fine form. 

The "Wiinners Circle" session -- aside from Donald Byrd and Philly Joe -- finds Coltrane among players whom I don't believe, with the exception of Al Cohn (and Al is on baritone!) hadn't been in the studio or on the stand with him before: Frank Rehak, Gene Quill, Eddie Costa, Freddie Greene (!!!), and Oscar Pettiford. One can only imagine how their ears were hanging out at what they were hearing from Trane. Indeed, in case one loses track of this factor, which perhaps is easy to do, all this Bethlehem material reminds one how differently Coltrane was playing in late '57 from ANYONE else.

One regrets that the Coltrane/Blakey pairing would never be heard again on disc (unless I'm forgetting something); they had a good deal to say to each other. While the Coltrane/Blakey combination was not utterly unlike what Coltrane and Elvin would become, Blakey definitely had a flavor all his own, and it was a flavor to Trane's taste, it would seem.

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Great analysis and reminder, thanks!  Not sure if this was before or after - it was all 1957, I believe.  Probably my favorite Monk album of all.

Image result for monk's music

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"Monk's Music" was recorded in June '57; the Blakey/Coltrane Bethlehem material was recorded in December '57. Also, Coltrane already  had moved a good ways along from how he sounded six months before -- at times  fairly full-fledged "sheets of sound" passages are present.

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59 minutes ago, Larry Kart said:

"Monk's Music" was recorded in June '57; the Blakey/Coltrane Bethlehem material was recorded in December '57. Also, Coltrane already  had moved a good ways along from how he sounded six months before -- at times  fairly full-fledged "sheets of sound" passages are present.

Is there "enough" Coltrane on this (Bethlehem) to warrant pursuing it?

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6 minutes ago, jlhoots said:

Is there "enough" Coltrane on this (Bethlehem) to warrant pursuing it?

It’s more a Blakey album (the original title was Art Blakey Big Band).  Coltrane gets some short solos.  The album is such an outlier in Blakey’s catalog that I wonder what the back story was. It’s good, though.

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2 minutes ago, mjzee said:

It’s more a Blakey album (the original title was Art Blakey Big Band).  Coltrane gets some short solos.  The album is such an outlier in Blakey’s catalog that I wonder what the back story was. It’s good, though.

I guess not a 'classic" like Monk's Music.

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About three times Japan has released 2 cd sets that have lots of breakdowns and alternates of the Blakey material. . . and I enjoy these, all of these sessions are worth hearing for the reasons Larry mentions.

I've enjoyed the core material for about 30 years. I really like "Winner's Circle". . . some really nice music there.

Edited by jazzbo

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59 minutes ago, jlhoots said:

Is there "enough" Coltrane on this (Bethlehem) to warrant pursuing it?

Depends. For me, hearing late '57 Trane is these different contexts was very worthwhile. A glorious musical artifact? Probably not. But It's a unexpected window on jazz history in motion.

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Same for me. I had the lps back in the day and snapped up the cd when issued.

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Agree w/Larry.

I’d listen to all the Prestige stuff (+ Blue Train) before this, but if you’re hungry for more after that you won’t be disappointed.

35 minutes ago, Larry Kart said:

It's a unexpected window on jazz history in motion.

Love this characterization

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2 CD set of Coltrane "The Bethlehem Years" available from multiple sellers for under $10 on ebay.  Well worth it.

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This set is well worth getting. 

There is a session with Freddie Green, but he only plays on one track. What a difference he made to the overall sound. I wish he had played on every track. One of the finest sounds in all music.

 

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12 hours ago, Larry Kart said:

...that studio big band, contrary to what I'd been led to believe, was quite together for the most part..

There was a Japanese release that had the entire session tape(s), and it becomes readily evident that Blakey was either not prepared or else wasn't reading the charts at all. The band itself was good, it was Blakey that was a mess. But he had good ears, and got it together enough to eventually get good takes. But getting there...oh my goodness....

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2 hours ago, JSngry said:

There was a Japanese release that had the entire session tape(s), and it becomes readily evident that Blakey was either not prepared or else wasn't reading the charts at all. The band itself was good, it was Blakey that was a mess. But he had good ears, and got it together enough to eventually get good takes. But getting there...oh my goodness....

Yesterday I was listening only to the released takes. There are a number of alternates on disc 2 of the set I have; I'll check them out.

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For those thinking of buying "The Bethlehem Years," note that it contains only half of "Winner's Circle" (the half on which Coltrane played).

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Whatever it was I got had the whole Blakey Big Band session, false starts and all. There's a LOT of false starts and incomplete takes. Not at home now, so I can't tell you what version it is. It was Japanese in origin.

Speaking of Bethlehem, there's a version of Johnny Hartman's Songs From The Heart (also from Japan, iirc) with a bunch of "bonus" cuts that consist of what sounds like Hartman either getting lost or forgetting lyrics or some weird shit like that. It's uncomfortable. Those Blakey fuck-ups are uncomfortable. In both cases, the end record was pretty good (and in the case of the Hartman record, very good), but not good enough to document all the hassle that went into getting it there.

Certainly I'm down with full documentation of historic sessions, like with Bird dates, things of that ilk, but things like this are the aural equivalent of watching sausage being made.

 

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That's well put, Jim. There are many superb alternate takes, but we don't need rehearsal footage. Art couldn't read music, by the way.

I often wonder if guys who "can't read music" (of which there have been several in jazz) are really unable to make head or tail of all written material. They must surely have been able to pick it out to some degree. How far does it extend: are they lost if you say "Let's play this in Ab."? Do they know where C is?

I have the U.S. 2CD set, but haven't dug it out in years.

The title, "John Coltrane, The Bethlehem Years", is misleading to anyone not familiar with Trane. He had no years at Bethlehem. They should reverse the order of words.

Mention of this reminds me of Trane's participation in George Russell's "New York" album (1958), on the track "Manhattan" (only). His remarkable solo on that must have raised some eyebrows amongst the musicians. There is some overlap between that lineup and the one at the Bethlehem big-band session. On Miles's live "So What" video (1959), you can see Trane grabbing Frank Rehak's attention - a great moment.

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You can hear those false starts and incomplete takes and hear Blakey learning the charts as he goes. He had played big band before, remember, with the Eckstine band. There's nothing in these charts that was particularly unusual, so he just had to figure out what and where. He did it. But anybody hearing just the final takes could be forgiven for thinking that this was a relatively easy date, that Blakey came in prepared and took charge of the "Art Blakey Big Band", Didn't happen that way.

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37 minutes ago, Shrdlu said:

That's well put, Jim. There are many superb alternate takes, but we don't need rehearsal footage. Art couldn't read music, by the way.

I often wonder if guys who "can't read music" (of which there have been several in jazz) are really unable to make head or tail of all written material. They must surely have been able to pick it out to some degree. How far does it extend: are they lost if you say "Let's play this in Ab."? Do they know where C is?

I have the U.S. 2CD set, but haven't dug it out in years.

The title, "John Coltrane, The Bethlehem Years", is misleading to anyone not familiar with Trane. He had no years at Bethlehem. They should reverse the order of words.

Mention of this reminds me of Trane's participation in George Russell's "New York" album (1958), on the track "Manhattan" (only). His remarkable solo on that must have raised some eyebrows amongst the musicians. There is some overlap between that lineup and the one at the Bethlehem big-band session. On Miles's live "So What" video (1959), you can see Trane grabbing Frank Rehak's attention - a great moment.

'On Miles's live "So What" video (1959), you can see Trane grabbing Frank Rehak's attention - a great moment.'

I remember that.

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The "back story" about Trane/Russell/Manhattan, supposedly. is that Trane requested some time - about an hour, as it turned out, and time was/is money - to get his changes together. He went off into a corner, did his math, came back ready and then did that. The rest of the band, studio pros all, wondered wtf? what is this guy doing?

Then they heard what he was doing. From wtf? to WTF!!!!

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John Coltrane can also be heard with Art Blakey on this one.

Johnny Griffin Septet - A Blowing Session - Blue Note 

Recorded April 6, 1957

Edited by Peter Friedman
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Yeah, I also heard that story about Trane's solo on "Manhattan". The whole Russell album is great. Trane, by the way, was a good sight-reader. It is said that he was reading the changes for "Some Day My Prince Will Come" with Miles in 1961, though it's hard to believe that he hadn't heard the song. Anyway, the changes are easy, and tasty to solo on.

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On 11/19/2019 at 7:29 PM, felser said:

Great analysis and reminder, thanks!  Not sure if this was before or after - it was all 1957, I believe.  Probably my favorite Monk album of all.

Image result for monk's music

I'm not much of a jazzer, but this record is absolutely mind-blowing. I chanced across a mono copy for cheap; I bought it on a whim and it turned out to be one of my all-time favorite records. I've since picked up Brilliant Corners--which I also love--but it's Monk's Music I'm constantly reaching for when I fire up the lo-fi. Question: was Coltrane really nodding off before his solo, or do we chalk that up to folklore?

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