Coltrane‘s musical style from 196o-1962 had further developed, he was determined to make each performance “a whole expression of one’s being.”
In 1962, he had stopped playing with Ornette Coleman, Dolphy departed and Jimmy Garrison replaced Reggie Workman as bassist. From then on, the “Classic Quartet”, as it came to be known from (1962-1965), with Tyner, Garrison, and Jones, produced searching, spiritually driven work.
Coltrane was moving toward a more harmonically static style that allowed him to expand his improvisations rhythmically, melodically, and motivically. Harmonically complex music was still present, but on stage Coltrane heavily favored continually reworking his “standards”: “Impressions”, “My Favorite Things“, and “I Want to Talk about You.”
The criticism of the quintet with Dolphy may have had an impact on Coltrane. In contrast to the radicalism of Trane’s 1961 recordings at the Village Vanguard, his studio albums in 1962 and 1963 (with the exception of Coltrane, which featured a blistering version of Harold Arlen’s “Out of This World”) were much more conservative and accessible. He recorded an album of ballads and participated in collaborations with Duke Ellington (in Harlem) on the album Duke Ellington and John Coltrane and with deep-voiced ballad singer Johnny Hartman on an eponymous co-credited album.
The Impulse compilation Coltrane for Lovers is largely drawn from these three albums. The album Ballads is emblematic of Coltrane’s versatility, as the quartet shed new light on old-fashioned standards such as “It’s Easy to Remember”. Despite a more polished approach in the studio, in concert the quartet continued to balance “standard” and its own more exploratory and challenging music, as can be seen on the Impressions album (two extended jams including the title track along with “Dear Old Stockholm“, “After the Rain” and a blues), Coltrane at Newport (where he plays “My Favorite Things”) and Live at Birdland both from 1963. Coltrane later said he enjoyed having a “balanced catalogue.”
“My Favorite things. 1965.”
The Classic Quartet produced their most famous record, A Love Supreme, in December 1964. It is reported that Coltrane, who struggled with repeated drug addiction, derived inspiration for A Love Supreme through a near overdose in 1957 which galvanized him to spirituality. A culmination of much of Coltrane’s work up to this point, this four-part suite is an ode to his faith in and love for God. These spiritual concerns would characterize much of Coltrane’s composing and playing from this point onwards, as can be seen from album titles such as Ascension, Om and Meditations. The fourth movement of A Love Supreme, “Psalm”, is, in fact, a musical setting for an original poem to God written by Coltrane, and printed in the album’s liner notes. Coltrane plays almost exactly one note for each syllable of the poem, and bases his phrasing on the words. Despite its challenging musical content, the album was a commercial success by jazz standards, encapsulating both the internal and external energy of the quartet of Coltrane, Tyner, Jones and Garrison. The album was composed at Coltrane’s home in Dix Hills on Long Island.
The quartet only played A Love Supreme live once—in July 1965 at a concert in Antibes, France. By then, Coltrane’s music had grown even more adventurous, and the performance provides an interesting contrast to the original.
In his late period (1965-1967), Coltrane showed an increasing interest in avant-garde jazz, purveyed by Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Sun Ra and others. In developing his late style, Coltrane was especially influenced by the dissonance of Ayler’s trio with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Sunny Murray, a rhythm section honed with Cecil Taylor as leader. Coltrane championed many younger free jazz musicians, (notably Archie Shepp), and under his influence Impulse! became a leading free jazz record label.
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