By James Calemine

The Definitive John Coltrane on Prestige and Riverside Collection encapsulates Coltrane’s most significant recordings as a sideman. This two-CD set begins in 1955 when Coltrane arrived in New York City to join Miles Davis’ band. The compilation ends in 1958 just before Coltrane signed with Atlantic.

This Collection contains Coltrane’s renditions of a variety of songwriters such as Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, Billy Eckstine, Billy Strayhorn as well as Irving Berlin and Oscar Hammerstein. For many of these recordings Coltrane had little preparation time, yet the precise instinct in his playing amazed his pioneering employers. Recorded mostly in Hackensack, New Jersey, some of the musicians accompanying Coltrane on these recordings counted as Paul Chambers, Miles Davis, Red Garland, Philly Joe Jones, Thelonious Monk and Art Taylor.

Highlights on disc one include Davis’ “The Theme”, Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo”, Thelonious’ “Monk’s Mood”, a Coltrane original “Straight Street” and Mercer’s “Come Rain Or Come Shine”. In the liner notes, author Ashley Kahn indicates these recordings coincided with many changes occurring in Coltrane’s personal life that advanced his artistic progression.

Disc two really illustrates Coltrane’s range and power as he became comfortable with the musicians he performed and recorded with during these landmark sessions. A certain sophistication and elegance resonate in songs such as Porter’s “I Love You”, Strayhorn’s “Lush Life”, Berlin’s “Russian Lullaby” and Ary Barroso’s “Bahia”. These recordings set the stage for Coltrane starting his first quartet. The Definitive John Coltrane on Prestige and Riverside provides a rare glimpse into the strong musical foundation his earliest work created.

Read a Coltrane story in Insured Beyond The Grave Vol. 2