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John Coltrane Quartet, 'Leo's Casino', Cleveland OH August 1965

By accident of birth, I am old enough to have been able to see Trane five times. What I will be doing here is to relate the experience of the second and third time.

In August 1965 the quartet came to Cleveland for a four night appearance at Leo's Casino, the local big time jazz club. I was seventeen, and super eager to see him again, but because only one of my friends was into jazz, and he favored more polite stuff like Oscar Peterson, I ended up going myself on Wednesday, the first night. Under agers were allowed in, but had to wear a lei. But since the door person didn't check my i.d., I was able to sit at the bar, in direct sight of Elvin Jones (more on that later).

I had been a Trane fan for about three years, and had seen him a couple of years before ( one of those "life changing" experiences). Even though I kept up with the Impulse releases, what I had heard before was a bit different from what I was about to hear. "A Love Supreme" had come out earlier that year, maybe "Quartet Plays" was out by then, maybe not, but the music they were then playing had changed. Ascension had already been recorded, the group had just retuned from the European tour that yielded the Comblain La Tour and Paris boots[legs], and the west coast trip (Om, Kulu Se Mama, Live In Seattle), was only a month or so away. At first I thought Trane was having a bad night. A whole lot of emphasis on the upper register, the screams more the basis of the music than an accent. I didn't dislike what I was hearing, but I didn't get as much from it as I expected to.

During the first break, the Dutch doctor I was sitting next to went looking for Jimmy Garrison, and I went with him. We went to the dressing room, where all we found was Trane playing his soprano. He told us Garrison was out front, so we went to the front bar, and the doctor spoke to him for a while, asking him what they did for fun on the road, Garrison replying that he usually just practised his bass in the afternoon.Then I talked to Garrison about the music I was hearing, callously asking what was wrong. He was very polite, saying that they had just arrived in town before the gig, and fatigue might have had an effect, though in looking back, I imagine being polite was exactly what he was doing, that from his point of view, things were going fine on the bandstand.

The way the club was laid out, the bar was only about twenty feet from the stage, and being raised a bit the direct view from the stage would go over the heads of the people sitting at the tables and to the bar. Anyways, at the end of the next set, Elvin Jones got up from his throne, walked through the crowd, came over to me and gave me a big hug. To this day I don't know exactly why he did it. Maybe I was what he saw while he was playing. You could tell he was unbelievably pumped from playing, and maybe this was a way of releasing the energy. We talked for a minute or so, about what I don't remember. .

I went back on Saturday, still alone. I had planned on two nights since hearing about the booking, and even though I wasn't blown away by what I had heard on Wednesday, I enjoyed it enough to want more. When the music started, I got way into it right away. I realized they weren't playing "better" this night, but that I had become more accustomed to the stylistic changes that had been made over the past few of months. I dug it and most of the audience dug it.

Saturdays, at least at Leo's Casino, were long nights. In addition to the customary four sets, there was a "breakfast show", lasting well beyond the 2:30 bar closing time. And even though there was no booze being seved, the place remained pretty well packed. For the last tune, the group played a blues, similar to "The Last Blues" (released for the first time a few days ago on "LIving Space"), but in my memory with a solo very uncharacteristically un-Trane like, very "standard" harmonically and rythymically. Interestingly, it got the biggest crowd response of the night. I don't know exactly why, maybe it was a release from the intensity of the rest of the night.

So this is my "what it was like to see Trane live" story, more about me than about the music, but still something that might give you young whippersnappers a taste of the experience.

--Jack Lefton

Notes and Comments


Porter, Lewis. John Coltrane. Chronology, p. 373. "August 17 - 22. Cleveland. Possibly Leo's Casino."

Discography: No recordings are known.

Published Reviews: None are currently known

NOTE: Assuming that the dates listed in Lewis's chronology are correct, the two performances reported would have been on August 18 and August 21, 1965. If Jack's recollection is correct, it would appear that the group did not play on Tuesday, August 17.

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