“I’d like to point out to people the divine in a musical language that transcends words. I want to speak to their souls.”
John Coltrane’s music emits an unmistakable sound. The album Coltrane Plays the Blues, released in 1962, ranks as one of Coltrane’s most hypnotizing works. Coltrane blends blues with African and Middle Eastern rhythms on this stellar collection. These six songs provide a fine soundtrack after the sun goes down.
Born September 23, 1930, John Coltrane grew up in Hamlet, North Carolina. He moved to Philadelphia after high school. Coltrane spent a year in the Navy, and in 1947 he joined Dizzy Gillespie’s band where he stayed until 1951. Coltrane later performed and recorded with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Red Garland, Duke Ellington and many others.
Coltrane’s career was brief, but prolific. He remains a cornerstone jazz musician even through his deep and wide improvisation in his later work often drew criticism. Coltrane’s peaceful demeanor and musical virtuosity command an eternal iconic presence.
In the late 50s he kicked heroin and recorded some of his greatest music. Coltrane’s spiritual pursuits allowed him to augment droning ragas, mantras, southern blues and astral jazz into his compositions.
In 1967, Coltrane died of liver cancer at the age of 40. His quick and unexpected death left a formidable body of work behind. It’s no surprise Coltrane’s music influenced guitarists such as Duane Allman, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Garcia.
Recorded for Atlantic Records by legendary Tom Dowd in 1960, during Coltrane’s legendary My Favorite Things sessions, Coltrane Plays the Blues counts as one of this writers’ favorite Coltrane albums not only because it contains all original material, but serenity exists in these grooves.
Ben Ratliff’s biography Coltrane: The Story of A Sound captures the essence of this record: “Coltrane forced down the tempo of the blues, and put drones in it; he made it minor, or led it through both major and minor tonalities. The sound he was after seemed to go back much further than bebop or jazz itself. It was around this time that he was seen traveling with books of Negro spirituals. Coltrane Plays the Blues, the resulting album of those original blues pieces, turned out to be one of the great records in jazz.”
The musicians playing on the album include McCoy Tyner (piano), Steve Davis (bass), Elvin Jones (drums) with Coltrane handling soprano and tenor saxophone. The opening track, “Blues To Elvin”, contains traces of gospel piano that sends the listener to church. It doesn’t get any more laid back…
“Blues To Bechet” swings like some New Orleans musical chariot in the early evening hours evoking some mysterious prelude leading to late-night smoking, drinking and romance. “Blues To You” picks up the pace in a more traditional live-setting vibration the next composition “Mr. Day” continues.
“Mr. Syms” reveals the expansive range of Coltrane’s soulful band. This tune could be heard in some opium den in Morocco as Frankincense & Myrrh incense wafts through the air. The final song “Mr. Knight” emits golden wavelengths. Coltrane’s music appeals to the senses. The listener follows the music straight into the wild blue yonder…