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John Coltrane Group. ‘'Village Vanguard' New York City NY, November 2, 1961

INTRODUCTORY NOTE: The following review, reprinted with the express permission of the Swedish music magazine Orkester Journalen, does not fit exactly with the other reports in this section. However, it is the only known firsthand report of the legendary 1961 Village Vanguard sessions, and it is unlikely most visitors would be able to track it down in its original form. I've chosen therefore to include it, first as translated by Jan Lohmann, and subsequently in the original Swedish


Polka a la Coltrane

After the beautiful words above about Sonny Rollins it’s probably unjust at this point not to have too much left over for John Coltrane. He is without doubt one of the most important and advanced of today's tenor saxophonists and normally he is one of my favourites.

But I wouldn’t be honest if I claimed that I enjoyed what I heard him play this last time at the Village Vanguard. But I presume that even a great musician is apt to have a bad night or, more accurately, a period where he disagrees with himself. My friend Ingmar Glanzelius was with me and when we entered Trane was playing with McCoy Tyner on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Roy Haynes (sitting in on drums for Elvin Jones). It appeared as if Coltrane was warming up for a recording session later in the evening, but nevertheless he played several numbers in a rhythmical and imaginary groove which I simply have to call corny! He was simply playing Polka, and it doesn't help much that it was John Coltrane playing. There was nothing to indicate that it was some sort of joke, and even when recording John played below his usual standard, although it was much better than when the band was warming up. Could it be that John in his intense and ambitious efforts to explore new means of expression accidentally took a wrong turn and simply ended up in this polka-style of thinking, with the conviction that he had taken a new step ahead? If this is what happened, I know that Coltrane has more than enough talent and skill so that he will shortly be on the right track again. On the other hand he could have just been off his form that evening and well aware all the time. But whatever it was, I can only report what I think I heard.

It wasn't the Coltrane we know from his many wonderful albums or from other live performances. For the recording Eric Dolphy on alto sax, the veteran Garvin Bushell on oboe, Ahmed Abdul-Malik on the ‘oud’ (an Eastern string instrument), and Jimmy Garrison as the second bass player were added, and Elvin Jones returned behind the drums. I counted 12 microphones on the stand. Rudy Van Gelder did the recording. But I am eager to hear Coltrane again soon.

--Claes Dahlgren, translated by Jan Lohmann



Polka B la Coltrane

Efter de vackra orden h@rovan om Sonny Rollins verkar det kanske or@ttvist att denna gDng inte ha alltf`r mycket till `vers Dt John Coltrane. Han @r ju utan tvivel en av de viktigaste och tongivande tenorsaxofonisterna idag och normalt h`r hand givet till mina favoriter. Men jag skulle inte vara @rlig om jag pDstod att jag nj`t av vad jag h`rde honom spela senast pD Village Vanguard. Men jag f`rmodar att @ven en stor musiker kan ha en dDlig kv@ll eller rentav en period dD han inte @r helt `verens med sig sj@lv. V@nnen Ingmar Glanzelius var med och dD vi kom in spelade Trane med McCoy Tyner pD piano, Reggie Workman pD bas och Roy Haynes som >>insittare>> f`r Elvin Jones vid trummorna. Det visade sig att Coltrane v@rmde upp f`r en skivinspelning senare pD kv@llen, men hursomhelst spelade han flera nummer i en rytmisk och idJm@ssig >>groove>> som jag helt enkelt mDste kalla corny. Det l@t rena polkan och sedan kan jag inte hj@lpa att det var John Coltrane som spelade . . . Ingenting antydde att det skulle g@lla nDgot sk@mt och @ven pD inspelningarna spelade John under sin normala standard om @n dock betydligt b@ttre @n i uppv@rmningen. Kan det vara sD, att John i sin intensiva och ambiti`sa strDvan att expolatera nya uttryckss@tt tillf@lligt kommit pD avv@gar och kommit in i polka-t@nkandet i `vertygelsen att han tagit ett nytt steg framDt? Om det @r sD, vet jag, att Coltrane har mer @n tillr@ckligt med begDvning och kunnande f`r att snart komma pD r@tt spDr igen. C andra sidan kan han ju bara ha varit ur form just den h@r kv@llen och haft det klart f`r sig hela tiden. I vilket fall som helst kan jag bara rapportera vad jag ansDg mig h`ra. Detta var inte den Coltrane man k@nner frDn alla hans underbara album och andra framtr@danden >>in person>>. F`r skivinspelningen tillkom Eric Dolphy pD altsax, veteranen Garvin Bushell pD oboe, Ahmed Abdul-Malik pD `sterl@ndska str@nginstrumentet >>oud>>, Jimmy Garrison som andra basist och Elvin Jones Dtertogsin plats vid trummorna. Jag r@knade till tolv mikrofoner pD estraden. Rudy Van Gelder sk`tte upptagningen. Men jag @r angel@gen att snart fD h`ra Coltrane igen. Den Coltrane jag tycker om ...

Claes Dahlgren

Reprinted from Orkester Journalen, December 1961, page 7, with the express permission of Lars Westin, Editorial Chief.

Notes and Comments


Wild, David. Liner notes to The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings (1997). Dahlgren's review is discussed on page 11.

Porter, Lewis. John Coltrane. Chronology, p. 365-66. "October 24 - November 5. Manhattan. Village Vanguard." The sessions and specific performances are discussed in various places in Chapters 14 - 16.


Published Reviews:

No other contemporary reviews are known

NOTE: We are able to place Dahlgren in the Vanguard on Thursday, November 2 1961 (early in the evening) because of the presence of Roy Haynes (who is only heard on this version of "Chasin' the Trane"). His report, rich in details, was my first source of information (and some misinformation) about these sessions in the late seventies. One feels a certain sympathy for Dahlgren's befuddlement; he obviously thought he knew what to expect when he walked down the stairs, but he was in no way prepared for what he heard. That Dahlgren, an obvious fan of Coltrane's Atlantic work, was so bewildered by the Vanguard performances speaks volumes for the initial difficulties Coltrane had with his audiences as the music changed.

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