Date: Sat, 21 Aug 1999 20:29:51 -0400
From: "Ed Rhodes, Jr."
Subject: Re: John Gilmore (long)
At 11:46 PM 8/19/99 -0400, Michael Fitzgerald wrote:
>At 11:39 PM 8/19/99 -0400, Ed Rhodes wrote:
>>At 06:04 AM 8/19/99 -0700, p west wrote:
>>>Could anyone out there discuss John Gilmore's influence on Trane?
>>Mike, this is not my doing.
>No, I'm sure it's not, but maybe this is the perfect opportunity to write
>that "chapter in your book"...
Well, that's a good ways off. But perhaps some comments are in order, particularly since the anniversary of Gilmore's death has just passed.
First, John Gilmore and John Coltrane had a complex, reciprocal influence on each other in a musical relationship that evolved and changed over the 10+ years between the mid-50's and Coltrane's death. Second, it was almost certainly not a simple binary relationship. Other figures from Sonny Rollins to Albert Ayler played key roles, as did a number of more obscure musicians, some of whom, in Coltrane's own words, "never recorded".
It's useful to approach the subject chronologically since the nature and direction of the influences varied substantially over time. Also, unless one was fortunate enough to have heard both men perform live frequently and consistently between, say, 1956 and 1967, one must rely on recordings to draw conclusions. I refer all interested parties to Jed Rasula's essay, "The Media of Memory: The Seductive Menace of Records in Jazz History", which is included in Krin Gabbard's collection of post-modern jazz writings, "Jazz Among the Discourses". Rasula raises the issue of reification which is a particular problem in discussing Gilmore, given that one must rely on a small handful of solos which shed some light on his more radical leanings prior to 1964. That said...
There is a substantial body of recordings by both men performing in their regular working bands from 1956. One can pick out solos from this year that show striking similarities in approach - try "Airgin" from "Cookin'" vs. "Future" from "Sun Song" - while other head-to-head's (e.g., any of the ballad performances) show marked differences. The similarities are, IMO, not evidence of the influence of either player on the other, though Miles and Sun Ra performed on the same bill in Chicago early that year. What they show is that both were coming out of the same Dexter Gordon / Wardell Gray / Sonny Stitt influence. Though the jazz critics made a fuss about Coltrane's tone and style, it was not unique and he himself said so. Jimmy Heath and Yusef Lateef had very similar approaches at that point and the Gordon / Stitt thing was widely influential among the hard boppers.
In 1957 the only extended look at Gilmore is on the "Blowing In From Chicago" record on Blue Note. It makes interesting comparison, though, with Coltrane's Prestige work from that year, especially given that it was all recorded by Rudy Van Gelder. IMO, such comparisons tend to show that Gilmore's sound was growing away from what the two had in common in 1956 while Coltrane sounds like a more polished version of his earlier self...except on the Monk record. And to put it simply without belaboring the point, there are no other tenor players, including Rollins, let alone Gilmore, who recorded anything like "Trinkle Trinkle" in 1957.
Things get interesing, IMO, in 1958 with the recording of "Star Time" by the Arkestra. There's a double time passage in Gilmore's solo which bears interesting comparison with some of Coltrane's work from that year. Per the "Sheets..." and "Moldy Sheets..." threads from the early months of this list, I always looked upon Trane's most radical '58 work - e.g., "If I Were A Bell" and "Ah Leu Cha", "Fran Dance" and "Bye Bye Blackbird" from Newport - as characterized by the groupings of notes in quantities that were not multiples of 2, in particular, not 16th notes. Gilmore's "Star Time" passage is 16th notes but the intervals and timing - the cadence - suggest that he was listening to Coltrane. The other parts of the solo sound nothing like Coltrane. Coltrane's Newport solo on "Straight No Chaser" is also straight 16th notes and a comparison of the two double time passages is instructive. It's also notable that Gilmore's other 1958 solos, from the albums "Jazz In Silhouette" and "Sound Sun Pleasure" contain no comparable 16th note passages. (But the reification piece rears its head here if all we can play for comparison is "Star Time".) Also, dating is important. If "Star Time" was recorded very early in 1958, it would give more credence to the notion that Gilmore's 16th's represent parallel evolution rather than influence. The jury's still out but I here the influence coming from Trane.
1959 doesn't shed much light on such manners. Coltrane's Atlantic recordings from that year (with the exception of "Harmonique" [Dec.]) are largely devoid of the "sheets" passages you find in "If I Were A Bell". Gilmore's solos, notably from "The Nubians of Plutonia" are, if anything, more conventional than "Star Time". A more interesting comparison can be had in 1960. Gilmore's solo on "Rocket Number 9" from "Interstellar Low Ways" (June) is critical to any consideration of his role as an innovator. It is unfortunate that it is the only solo from that year which confirms that role but confirm it does, reification be damned. Juxtapose it with any of the several versions of "So What" recorded in March and April. Note that it is Coltrane's work that is full of multiphonics, false fingerings and other pyrotechnics while Gilmore's radicalism is thematic and formal. This is the first time Gilmore actively and radically thinks in terms of groups of notes, something Coltrane was doing since "Trinkle Tinkle". I still hear a Coltrane influence but Gilmore is also creating phrasing that Coltrane did not use. The question then becomes, did this phrasing eventually come back to influence Coltrane?
Conventional wisdom and Coltrane's own testimony (Kofsky, 1966[?]) says yes, that when Gilmore came to NY in 1961 Trane started listening to him. But what, if any, recoded evidence do we have of this? Trane said there is a Gilmore influence on the Village Vangaurd recordings and I think many people have concluded that this is where the pyrotechnics of "Chasin' the Trane" came from. But Gilmore didn't record any such effects for at least another year and, even then, in very different form. Gilmore's only verfied solo's from '61 are those on the Savoy date. "Jet Flight" is about all we have to work with. But compare the extended 8th note passage with the similar passage in the long, quartet version of "Impression" that brackets Tyner dropping out by minutes on each side. Coltrane doesn't imitate Gilmore's stacatto attack but the incessant reworking of the 8th and dotted 8th motifs is clear. I always thought this was quintessential Trane but more recently I noted that there is none of this on the Sutherland Hotel recordings...and there's little or none of it in Trane's subsequent work, including the Fall '61 tour that followed the Vanguard. Check it out for yourself.
After this it gets more convoluted. Yes. More.
The real issue after 1961 is not the evolution of Trane's modality but the transition from that modality, already in place at the Vanguard, to the "free" playing of 1965 and later. No one talks about this and the process involved but I see a critical role for Gilmore here. Despite Robert Campbell's ground breaking research, I continue to feel that the dating of Sun Ra's discography between 1962 and 1965 is muddy. Still, we know that Gilmore made the transition to free playing at least a year and perhaps three years before Coltrane. The Paul Bley record, which is reliably dated to March 1964, makes that clear. Up to that point, Coltrane has no performances comparable to "Ictus", which I would characterize as proto-Aylerish. Prof. Cambell dates a similar solo on "Reflects Motion" to 1962. Therein lies a rub. But either way, Coltrane doesn't attempt to record in that style until "Ascension" (June 1965). The question then becomes, can we trace the evolution from "Chasin' the Trane" to "Evolution" and can we track Gilmore in a comparable fashion? To the former, yes. To the latter, it's not clear. But there are a small handful of Gilmore solos recorded somewhere between 1962 and 1965 which suggest a direction: "Rain Maker" from "Secrets of the Sun"; "The Idea of It All" from "When Angels Speak of Love"; "Sketch" from "Other Planes of There". "Sketch" is arguably the most important; "The Idea of It All" is comparable but not enought people have heard it. "Sketch" begins, syntactically, in areas which Coltrane and Gilmore had in common but progresses into areas where a Gilmore / Ayler comparison might be more appropriate. Coltrane had much more difficulty integrating the two approaches as he evolved towards the latter. I believe Gilmore helped show the way. Compare "Sketch" to some of the work on "Transition" or "First Meditations". Then compare the Coltrane solo on "Om" with, say, the Gilmore solo on "Next Stop Mars" from the "Angels..." album. Note how Coltrane evolved from "Om" through "Manifestation" ("Leo") and then to any number of performances from the '67 quartet and duo dates. Then go back to this Gilmore material. Do check it out.
But I said it's not binary. Ayler is in this mix. And the dating of "Reflects Motion" is even more critical to the Gilmore / Ayler relationship than it is to Gilmore / Coltrane. Is "Ictus" characteristic of Gilmore's development by 1964 or is it possible that the much more radical "Angels..." album was recorded a year before, as Prof. Campbell asserts? To what extent, if any, did Ayler catalize Gilmore's move from "Jet Flight" to "Reflects Motion" and then on to "Cosmic Chaos" or "Next Stop Mars"? We know that Ayler was an influence on Coltrane. So, the dynamic begins to get really complicated.
And it doesn't end there. The Gilmore / Coltrane scenarios have obscured another musical relationship where the lines of influence are, IMO, even clearer: John Gilmore and Pharoah Sanders. Listen, for example, to "Sketch" against Pharoah's solo on the first take of "Ascension". Listen to Gilmore on "Cosmic Chaos" and then listen to Pharoah use that same leaping altissimo figure (to substantially different effect) on "The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost" and "Sparkle Plenty". OTOH, listen to Pharoah's influence on Coltrane (the influence going the other way is patently evident), e.g., on the unissued broadcast title from Seattle or the Coltrane solo from the 1965 Down Beat festival. Per the latter, is that a Pharoah influence in the high note work or is it Gilmore? Or is it Gilmore once removed through Pharoah? Or Ayler once removed through Gilmore? Or is Trane hearing his own innovations, viz. "Chasin' the Trane", back through the players who used them as a starting point?
Multipoloar. What is it the post-modernists speak of? Intertextuality? Slippage and play? I assert there is no simple "Gilmore influence on Trane". There is, rather, the still untold story of the evolution of the tenor saxophone after bop. A chapter, a book. No doubt that's what it will take. Ed Rhodes
Edited by Guy, 05 July 2007 - 01:40 PM.