WBGO Blog
  • Dr. Lewis Porter on John Coltrane: Impressions, Part One

    January 16, 2013. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    This article, the first of three on saxophonist John Coltrane, is the latest in our regular series of blogs on jazz history, "You Don't Know Jazz! With Dr. Lewis Porter." To read previous installments, click on the links below.

    John-Coltrane-Impressions-541226

    Series Introduction

    Episode 1: A Blues Recording From the Congo -- In 1906!

    Episode 2: The Origins of the Word "Jazz"

    Episodes 3-5: Myths About Jazz -- Part One, Part Two, Part Three

    Episode Six: Putting Louis Armstrong in Context: Part One, Part Two

    Episode Seven: Myths About Early Jazz Drumming

    Episode Eight: Jazz On Film

    Episode Nine: Slap-Tonguing

    Episode Ten: The Legacy of Chick Webb

    Episode Eleven: Drummer Gene Krupa

    Episode Twelve: Bassist Walter Page

    (PLEASE NOTE: If the reader uses any of the material from this series, no matter how brief, this article and its web address must be cited as the source. Thank you for respecting the intellectual property of Dr. Porter.)

    John Coltrane: Impressions, Part One

    Many jazz fans, and even musicians, are surprised to discover that saxophonist John Coltrane took ideas for some of his compositions from existing works. In some cases, he drew from folk songs, which are in the public domain, but in others he got themes directly from tunes composed by other people.

    In my 1998 book John Coltrane: His Life and Music, I devoted a chapter to showing where he found some of these themes. Since then, I have learned more about Coltrane’s inspirations, and will share these insights with you in the next few blogs.

    Let’s start with Impressions, one of Coltrane’s best-known works. It was one of his favorite tunes to perform live in the early 1960s, and one of these performances, at the Village Vanguard in 1961, is the title track on an album released by Impulse! in July of 1963.

    As I showed in my book, Coltrane's source for the main theme of Impressions is the second theme of Pavanne, which is part of a longer work, American Symphonette No. 2, written by American composer Morton Gould in 1939.

    ad-1947-colombia-morton-gould

    Gould was well-known to radio listeners in the 1940s, through nationwide broadcasts which mixed light classical and popular music.Gould himself recorded Pavanne on multiple occasions with different instrumentations, from solo piano to large groups, and it was also recorded by prominent big bands of the era, such as the one led by Jimmie Lunceford, which may have been the first big band Coltrane ever saw in person:

    It was also recorded by one of the Swing Era's most popular bandleaders, trombonist Glen Miller:

    The first, main theme of Pavanne was also quoted by saxophonist Wardell Gray in his solo on Little Pony, which he recorded with the Count Basie Band in 1949.

    Wardell+Gray+wardellgray

    Let's listen to the first theme of Gould’s Pavanne, as recorded by the composer with orchestra in 1942, so we can compare the two. Full-length versions of all of these clips can be found on YouTube, if you're curious to hear more.

    Because Wardell played it, Pavanne's first theme became a popular quote among other musicians as well, and Coltrane said that Wardell Gray was one of his favorite saxophonists around this time.

    So we know that several versions of Gould's Pavanne were well-known precisely during the time that Coltrane began playing music. But this, of course, is just circumstantial evidence. Let’s talk about the music.

    When we listen closely, it becomes obvious that Morton Gould’s Pavanne is the source for Coltrane's Impressions for several reasons:

    First, Gould’s theme is identical to what Coltrane plays - not similar. but exactly the same.

    Second, when Gould’s theme repeats, it moves up a minor third. In Impressions, Coltrane’s melody goes up a half step, so the movement between keys is not the same, but the idea of repeating the theme at a higher pitch is retained from Gould's original.

    I have listened to every recording of Coltrane playing Impressions, including bootlegs that have never been released to the general public. There is an unissued version of Coltrane playing Impressions in 1961 where he plays not only the theme, but also the repeating background riff that you can hear played behind the second theme in Gould’s original. This destroys any remaining doubt as to whether Coltrane was familiar with Gould’s piece!

    Still not convinced Coltrane took material from other composers? There’s more – about Coltrane’s relationship with trumpeter Miles Davis, and Impressions' links to Davis’s So What – but for that, you’ll have to wait for the next installment of our blog.

    See you then! Lewis

  • James Carter & Gregory Porter Live at Winter Jazz Fest

    January 15, 2013. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    Add new comment | Filed under: Jazz Alive

    WBGO's host Gary Walker and his technical crew couldn't remember the last time they saw such enthusiastic audiences at a jazz concert.  From witnessing this Winter Jazz Fest show firsthand -- it was quite a revelation.  Now you can hear exactly what we experienced last Saturday at Le Poission Rouge in Greenwich Village.

    Here are both sets from Winter Jazz Fest 2013:  James Carter's Organ Trio and Gregory Porter's band. Enjoy!

    James Carter

    Gregory Porter

    Gregory Porter & James Carter
    Gregory Porter & James Carter

    Music mixer:  David Tallacksen.
    Producer:  Simon Rentner.
    Executive Producer: Thurston Briscoe III

  • Bourne's Favorite George Gruntz Recordings

    January 15, 2013. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    I traveled with George Gruntz in the fall of 2000. He performed his project "Turkish Night" first with the WDR Big Band in Cologne, then with the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band (GG-CJB) in Lausanne, Bern, and Zug, Switzerland.

    grunzmb1

    George loved to spotlight "The Lucifers" -- what he called the GG-CJB trombone section. Here's a piece I especially enjoyed, composed by trombonist Dave Bargeron and arranged by GG, "Valencia," featuring some of his favorite soloists. Chris Hunter, alto sax, was the band's concertmaster and played even fragments of music in the rehearsals with astonishing intensity.

    Larry Schneider, tenor saxist, was the band's loose cannon and in the concerts sometimes his solos twisted the band into suspensefully unexpected directions. Soloing also were Sasha Sipiagin, trumpet, Danny Gotlieb, drums, and the climax of every performance was an often fierce battle of the bones between Dave Bargeron and Luis Bonilla.

    grunzglobal1

    Here's a highlight from "Turkish Night" performed at the Stadtgarten in Cologne with the WDR Big Band in 2000. Soloing were pianist Frank Chastenier, tenor saxist Rolf Romer, alto saxist Heiner Wilberny, and drummer Adam Nussbaum.

    During rehearsals, as the first tunes were being played, the band kept breaking down trying to swing together in the difficult (for Western chops) traditional rhythms. After one of the breakdowns, Adam Nussbaum looked at me and, laughing, said "This ain't 'Satin Doll!'" They all eventually swung wildly.

    Habib was the singer, discovered by Turkish master musician Burhan Ocal in Izmir, where he'd sing when his fellow tobacco workers gathered at a teashop. He was traveling for the first time away from his town and his country. He was a large fellow, wearing an ill-fitting woolen suit. He was sweetly shy singing an ancient love song. He shook the building.

    gruntzturkishnight

    GG first performed his "Chicago Cantata" in Chicago with local gospel singers, the great tenor saxist Von Freeman, blues pianist Sunnyland Slim, and The Sons of Blues. Sterling Plump wrote the lyrics, sung by Billy Branch, blues harmonica, and Carl Weathersby, blues guitar. "All Day, All Night" was recorded by the WDR Big Band, with Billy, Carl, and John Marshall soloing on trumpet.

    grunzchicago1

    George also toured China, and one reason he was able to tour China was that, though most of the band were Americans, was that George himself was Swiss.

    During the tour, a German TV unit made a documentary. One of the reporters asked some school children if they liked jazz. They all nodded enthusiastically. "Who's your favorite jazz artist?" asked the reporter. "Michael Jackson!" shouted one of the kids. George was amazed that most of his audience was totally unaware of jazz, all the more amazed by the tumultuous cheering for the music.

    Here's how one of the concerts opened, with a piece called "Literary Lizard," composed by Ray Anderson and arranged by GG, with solos from tenor saxist Sal Georgianni, trumpeter John D'Earth, trumpeter Lew Soloff, and bassist Mike Richmond, introduced (in Chinese and in English) by Li Quiang. I came up with the album's title, Beyond Another Wall. I was in Berlin for the Jazzfest when the Wall was falling, and George Gruntz was breaking down another Great Wall.

    grunzchina1