John Coltrane performed constantly during most of his career, up until perhaps the last few months of his life (late 1966). Yet for a number of reasons, eyewitness reports on those performances (reviews or other written comments) are relatively uncommon.
Why? For one thing, editors understandably favor the new and different, and are apt to be more interested in a review of someone who performs infrequently, or who is rarely reviewed, than in a review of someone like Coltrane, who was so visible. That bias extends to the jazz journalist himself, who would be more likely to write about a relatively unknown or under-reported artist than to submit yet another review of a performance by someone as popular as Coltrane.
Many contemporary reviews of Coltrane performances also suffer from what could be called the Hostile Critic Syndrome. Coltranes music moved through many styles and approaches during the last twelve years of his life, and some jazz journalists had trouble keeping up. Some of them responded to what they heard in terms that were considerably less than objective (let alone favorable). These reviews (some of them discussed in Carl Woidecks The John Coltrane Companion) tell us more about the critic than they do about the performance, other than basic details of personnel and tune titles.
Yet Coltrane had a considerable audience during his lifetime. Many of those who were in the audiences back then are still alive, and retain vivid memories of the performance. In a recent thread on the John Coltrane list, several correspondents shared their recollections of specific Coltrane performances from the mid sixties, to the obvious appreciation of others on the list. It occurred to me that the WEB, as a sort of universal publishing tool, provides a way to organize, preserve and share these reports which otherwise will be lost to the inevitable passage of time. This section is the result.
Initially two contributors, Jack Lefton and Ed Rhodes, gave me permission to use their emails as a basis for FirstHand reports. I've since added a report by David Gitin, as well as Sam Linde's brief recollections of a number of performances he attended. I've also added (with the magazine's permission) a translation by Miles discographer Jan Lohmann of Claes Dahlgren's Village Vanguard review, which is (so far, at least) the only firsthand report we have of the classic Vanguard sessions. (It doesn't exactly fit in here, but I suspect visitors to this section will find it fascinating). In the wings are more reports by Ed Rhodes and perhaps some other recollections.
The authors are responsible for the content of their reports (including opinions, descriptions and the report's factual basis), and retain all rights to the report. Please note that this is an ongoing and still quite preliminary project, and there will undoubtedly be changes and revisions in the future. (Sadly, I have none of my own reports to share; by the time I was old enough to attend a Coltrane performance I was living in Hawaii, far from any of his appearances).
Thanks to the various members of the Coltrane list for their assistance, particularly to Michael Fitzgerald for comments and suggestions and to Ken Hale for the non-jaggie graphic.
[NOTE: this section and its contents have not been updated in about a decade, with the exception of the 1966 Temple University concert report listed below. Information in the end-notes has frequently been superseded by the 2007 publication of The John Coltrane Reference. However, the firsthand reports remain timeless.]
Index to reports.
John Coltrane Group. Village Vanguard New
York City NY November 2, 1961
--review by Claes Dahlgren
John Coltrane Quartet, Newport Jazz Festival,
Newport RI, July 7, 1963
--report by David Gitin
John Coltrane Quartet. Jazz Temple Cleveland
OH September 1963
-- report by Jack Lefton
John Coltrane Quartet, Leos Casino,
Cleveland OH August 1965
--report by Jack Lefton
John Coltrane Group, Newport Jazz
Festival, Newport RI July 2, 1966
-- report by Jack Lefton
John Coltrane Group, Mitten Hall Memorial Auditorium, Temple University, Philadelphia PA, November 11, 1966
-- post-concert commentary by WRTI-FM announcers Dave McLaughlin and Bob Rothstein
John Coltrane Group, MIT, Cambridge MA Spring 1967
-- report by Ed Rhodes
John Coltrane Groups, Various Locations, 1962 - 1966
-- report by Sam Linde
Also of Interest
A number of people have published items on the web about hearing Coltrane live. Here are three of interest:
Coltrane Sounds Like Nobody Else In World of Jazz
The Seattle Times review of the Live in Seattle performance at The Penthouse.
Out of This World: John
Coltrane in Seattle
Engineer Jan Kurtis's recollections of the Live in Seattle and Om dates.
David Liebman: Learning From The Master
The saxophonist recalls hearing Coltrane live in the mid-sixties.
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