Coltrane. Dolphy. You don’t really need to know anything else.

YouTube, Vimeo and DailyMotion are full of great—if often grainy—videos of jazz. This one looks pretty bad, but trust us: it’s one of the greatest things you’ll ever hear, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the state of jazz as it sat on the cusp of free improvisation in the early 1960’s. This is John Coltrane’s working band, with special guest Eric Dolphy sitting in, recorded for German television in 1961. Personnel are Coltrane on tenor, Dolphy on alto, McCoy Tyner on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Elvin Jones on drums.

In the case of this performance, one could either write volumes or omit the instructive praise altogether. We’ll sort of gravitate to the latter, but we do want those of you new to this sort of music to know that this is akin to finding old baseball newsreels, and getting to watch Babe Ruth face Lefty Grove. It just doesn’t get any more “important” than this. Finding Dolphy and Coltrane working together isn’t all that unusual, but every time we see something new by them, we get excited. Forgive us.

A local side note is that drummer Jones is part of the greater Jones family that includes two other famous jazz musicians: pianist Hank Jones and trumpeter-arranger Thad Jones. They grew up in Pontiac, Michigan, that hard-edged industrial suburb of Detroit which gave its name to a late, lamented line of cars. Hank came to prominence first, recording with just about every New York-based jazz great in the mid-1940’s. Thad first got noticed as a member of Count Basie’s great early 1950’s band.

This video was apparently recorded in Baden-Baden. Not to be confused with Walla Walla. Or New York, New York. Yes, they named it twice, but why? The city of Pontiac, on the other hand, was named for the Native American chief of the same name. Chief Pontiac was known for consistently outsmarting the British during their war with the French in the 1750’s and 1760’s. Michigan, and specifically Detroit, played a key role in the North American theater of what became known as the Seven Years War. Unfortunately, the great chief died in Quebec before General Motors could honor him in person by renaming the Oakland Motor Car Company after him. How’s that for off-topic? Don’t get us started about our old Trans Am …

Posted in: Jazz, Videos

Post a Comment