Great Encounters #2: When Miles Davis hired John Coltrane

February 22nd, 2004

 

Great Encounters

Book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons

 

When Miles Davis hired John Coltrane…

 _____

photos by Lee Tanner

Miles Davis

 *

John Coltrane

_____

Excerpted from

A Love Supreme

The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album

by Ashley Kahn

Miles Davis was desperate. He was in the midst of preparing for his first national tour arranged by a high-powered booking agent, and Columbia Records — the most prestigious and financially generous record company around — was looking over his shoulder, checking on him. “If you can get and keep a group together, I will record that group,” George Avakian, Columbia’s top jazz man, had promised. To Miles, an alumnus of Charlie Parker’s groundbreaking bebop quintet, “group” still meant a rhythm trio plus two horn players, but he still had only one: himself.

The summer of 1955 had been good for the trumpeter. He was clean and strong, six months after kicking a narcotics habit he described as a “four year horror show.” His popular comeback had been hailed when, unannounced, he had walked onto the Newport Jazz Festival stage in July and wowed a coterie of America’s top critics with a laconic, muted solo on “‘Round Midnight.” And he already had the foundation of his dream quintet firmly in place: Texas-born Red Garland on piano, young Paul Chambers from Detroit on bass, and the explosive Philly Joe Jones on drums.

But Sonny Rollins had disappeared. Miles’s chosen tenorman — blessed with a free-flowing horn style and dexterous rhythm — had long been threatening to leave town. Rollins, it later turned out, had checked himself into a barred-window facility in Kentucky to kick his own drug addiction. Davis had to find a replacement — and soon.

A number of possibilities topped the list: Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, the new alto sensation from Tampa, was one. Sun Ra’s accomplished tenorman John Gilmore was another. But the former had to return to Florida to complete a teaching contract, and the latter simply “didn’t fit in,” as Miles remembered. “His sound wasn’t what I heard for the band.” With time running out, he turned to his drummer and recruiting specialist, Philly Joe, who mentioned his home buddy John Coltrane.

Coltrane was not unknown to Davis. As early as 1946, Miles had been impressed by an acetate of an impromptu bebop session recorded during the saxophonist’s Naval Reserve tour of duty. They had met a year later, according to Coltrane. His subsequent tenure in Dizzy Gillespie’s big band led the two to their first appearance together in New York. In his autobiography, Davis recalled with glee a memorable matchup he orchestrated in 1952. “I used Sonny Rollins and Coltrane on tenors at a gig I had at the Audobon Ballroom…Sonny was awesome that night, scared the shit out of Trane.”

Coltrane agreed to audition with the group and came to New York. Miles was not expecting much, but the saxophonist surprised him. “I could hear how Trane had gotten a whole lot better than he was on that night Sonny set his ears and ass on fire,” Davis recalled.

Miles heard a sound that, though still developing, was singular and uncommon. Almost all tenor players at that point in time blew under the spell of two massively influential pioneers: the brash, highly rhythmic Coleman Hawkins, or the breathy, understated Lester Young. Even the much-heralded playing of Dexter Gordon — Coltrane’s early model — vacillated between those two stylistic poles. But Coltrane was searching for something original, and that quest had become part of his sound. He repeated phrases as if wringing every possibility out of note combinations. He was determined to avoid predictable melodic lines; instead, unusual flourishes and rhythmic fanfares cut through the structure of the tune.

Despite his positive appraisal of the saxophonist, Miles kept his initial impression to himself. Coltrane, accustomed to a sideman role and an open dialogue with his bandleaders, requested direction (“I just played what the others expected from me,” the saxophonist confessed.) In his typical manner, Davis left him to his own devices, unnerved that a self-professed jazz player required spoken instruction. “My silence and evil looks probably turned him off,” he admitted later, though unapologetic for his behavior:

Trane liked to ask all these motherfucking questions back then about what he should or shouldn’t play. Man, fuck that shit; to me he was a professional musician and I have always wanted whoever played with me to find their own place in the music.

Coltrane packed his horn and returned home disgruntled, ready to rejoin Jimmy Smith. But at that point, whether or not the saxophonist was hip or original enough was suddenly less important than Miles’s immediate need. “Trane was the only one who knew all the tunes,” Miles noted. “I couldn’t risk have nobody who didn’t know the tunes.” He instructed Philly Joe to call Coltrane back.

_________________________________

A Love Supreme

The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album

by Ashley Kahn

*

Read our interview with Ashley Kahn

From A LOVE SUPREME by Ashley Kahn. Copyright (c) Ashley Kahn, 2002. Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Share this:

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

"Nina" by Marsha Hammel
A Collection of Jazz Poetry — Winter, 2024 Edition...One-third of the Winter, 2024 collection of jazz poetry is made up of poets who have only come to my attention since the publication of the Summer, 2023 collection. What this says about jazz music and jazz poetry – and this community – is that the connection between the two art forms is inspirational and enduring, and that poets are finding a place for their voice within the pages of this website. (Featuring the art of Marsha Hammel)

The Sunday Poem

photo by Mel Levine/pinelife, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
“Lady Day and Prez” by Henry Wolstat

Click here to read previous editions of The Sunday Poem

Poetry

Proceeding From Behind: A collection of poems grounded in the rhythmic, relating to the remarkable, by Terrance Underwood...A relaxed, familiar comfort emerges from the poet Terrance Underwood’s language of intellectual acuity, wit, and space – a feeling similar to one gets while listening to Monk, or Jamal, or Miles. I have long wanted to share his gifts as a poet on an expanded platform, and this 33-poem collection – woven among his audio readings, music he considers significant to his story, and brief personal comments – fulfills my desire to do so.

Publisher’s Notes

photo by Rhonda Dorsett
A very brief three-dot update…Where I’ve been, and an update on what is coming up on Jerry Jazz Musician

Poetry

Photographer uncredited, but the photo was almost certainly taken by Chuck Stewart. Published by ABC/Impulse! Records.. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
“And I’m Not Even Here” – a poem by Connie Johnson

Click here to read more poetry published on Jerry Jazz Musician

Essay

"Lester Leaps In" by Tad Richards
"Jazz and American Poetry," an essay by Tad Richards...In an essay that first appeared in the Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Poetry in 2005, Tad Richards - a prolific visual artist, poet, novelist, and nonfiction writer who has been active for over four decades – writes about the history of the connection of jazz and American poetry.

Interview

photo of Pepper Adams/courtesy of Pepper Adams Estate
Interview with Gary Carner, author of Pepper Adams: Saxophone Trailblazer...The author speaks with Bob Hecht about his book and his decades-long dedication to the genius of Pepper Adams, the stellar baritone saxophonist whose hard-swinging bebop style inspired many of the top-tier modern baritone players.

Click here to read more interviews published on Jerry Jazz Musician

Poetry

Three poets and Sketches of Spain

Interview

IISG, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Interview with Judith Tick, author of Becoming Ella Fitzgerald: The Jazz Singer Who Transformed American Song...The author discusses her book, a rich, emotionally stirring, exceptional work that explores every element of Ella’s legacy in great depth, reminding readers that she was not only a great singing artist, but also a musical visionary and social activist.

Trading Fours with Douglas Cole

The cover of Wayne Shorter's 2018 Blue Note album "Emanon"
Trading Fours, with Douglas Cole, No. 20: “Notes on Genius...This edition of the writer’s poetic interpretations of jazz recordings and film is written in response to the music of Wayne Shorter.

Click here to read previous editions of Trading Fours with Douglas Cole

Review

Jason Innocent, on “3”, Abdullah Ibrahim’s latest album... Album reviews are rarely published on Jerry Jazz Musician, but Jason Innocent’s experience with the pianist Abdullah Ibrahim’s new recording captures the essence of this artist’s creative brilliance.

Short Fiction

Christerajet, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #64 — “The Old Casino” by J.B. Marlow...The author's award-winning story takes place over the course of a young man's life, looking at all the women he's loved and how the presence of a derelict building informs those relationships.

Click here to read more short fiction published on Jerry Jazz Musician

Book Excerpt

Book excerpt from Jazz with a Beat: Small Group Swing 1940 – 1960, by Tad Richards

Click here to read more book excerpts published on Jerry Jazz Musician

Poetry

"Jazz Trio" by Samuel Dixon
A collection of jazz haiku, Vol. 2...The 19 poets included in this collection effectively share their reverence for jazz music and its culture with passion and brevity.

Jazz History Quiz #171

Dick Cavett/via Wikimedia Commons
In addition to being one of the greatest musicians of his generation, this Ohio native was an activist, leading “Jazz and People’s Movement,” a group formed in the late 1960’s who “adopted the tactic of interrupting tapings and broadcasts of television and radio programs (i.e. the shows of Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett [pictured] and Merv Griffin) in protest of the small number of Black musicians employed by networks and recording studios.” Who was he?

Click here to visit the Jazz History Quiz archive

Community

photo via Picryl.com
.“Community Bookshelf, #2"...a twice-yearly space where writers who have been published on Jerry Jazz Musician can share news about their recently authored books. This edition includes information about books published within the last six months or so…

Contributing Writers

Click the image to view the writers, poets and artists whose work has been published on Jerry Jazz Musician, and find links to their work

Coming Soon

An interview with Tad Richards, author of Jazz With a Beat: Small Group Swing, 1940 - 1960;  an interview with Laura Flam and Emily Sieu Liebowitz, authors of But Will You Love Me Tomorrow? An Oral History of the 60's Girl Groups;  a new collection of jazz poetry; a collection of jazz haiku; a new Jazz History Quiz; short fiction; poetry; photography; interviews; playlists; and lots more in the works...

Interview Archive

Eubie Blake
Click to view the complete 22 year archive of Jerry Jazz Musician interviews, including those recently published with Richard Carlin and Ken Bloom on Eubie Blake (pictured); Richard Brent Turner on jazz and Islam; Alyn Shipton on the art of jazz; Shawn Levy on the original queens of standup comedy; Travis Atria on the expatriate trumpeter Arthur Briggs; Kitt Shapiro on her life with her mother, Eartha Kitt; Will Friedwald on Nat King Cole; Wayne Enstice on the drummer Dottie Dodgion; the drummer Joe La Barbera on Bill Evans; Philip Clark on Dave Brubeck; Nicholas Buccola on James Baldwin and William F. Buckley; Ricky Riccardi on Louis Armstrong; Dan Morgenstern and Christian Sands on Erroll Garner; Maria Golia on Ornette Coleman.

Site Archive