As I find myself busy with family, work, and reading, jazz music is the perfect soundtrack to give me a relaxing atmosphere. It’s like a form of meditation, completely allowing me to get lost in the music, noticing a new note or drum fill buried deep in the song, always taking away just a little bit more after every listen.
The very first jazz album I bought was John Coltrane – Live at Birdland, which I found on CD at a thrift store about 10 years ago. It was a hard listen the first time, I’ll admit. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, I just didn’t seem to understand. To be honest I still don’t think I understand, but I’m really enjoying trying to figure it out. For ten years I’ve been looking for this on vinyl at a decent price.
Older jazz records tend to be hard to find cheap, at least in my area. It’s likely most people who bought these albums knew what they were seeking and tended to hang onto them. Also, to stereotype a bit, jazz tended to be the music of choice of higher income people, as if it represented their success like an expensive suit, Cadillac or jewelry. These fans are less likely to sell used items as the small financial gain wouldn’t be as important to them. While these albums do exist and can be bought, it is usually at a premium. At least, for the most part, jazz albums tended to be cared for by most collectors.
Last weekend I beat the odds and found a great deal on a small jazz collection. This collection had a nice mint copy of Live at Birdland. The stereo recording on this vinyl record is so well done and crisp, it’s like rediscovering this album for the first time.
Live at Birdland contains 3 tracks that were recorded live at New York City’s Birdland Club on October 8, 1963, as well as two studio tracks recorded the following month. My favorite track is probably the studio number Alabama which was written after a white Supremacist bombing that killed four children at 16th Baptist Church in September 1963. It is so easy to tell Coltrane was expressing something traumatic even without saying a single word. It is such a sad beautiful song.
Musicians are: McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, Elvin Jones on drums and John Coltrane on tenor and soprano saxes.
John Coltrane had a relatively short solo recording career which spanned from 1957 until his death in 1967. Prior to that he was a sideman in many bands, most notably with Miles Davis until being fired due to his heroin addiction. Being fired led him to begin his solo career which coincided with him also playing with other bands including The Thelonious Monk Quartet (also more on/off again performances with Miles Davis). During this solo period his music changed dramatically from contemporary to modal jazz (modal jazz is based around musical notes, while contemporary is based more around chord progressions), so he is an artist where you may only like select albums, depending on your taste. Live at Birdland was recorded just before his modal jazz masterpiece, A Love Supreme. During this period, he is still in transition, let’s say 25% contemporary and 75% modal, which makes this is a perfect record to introduce you to the latter.