And We Respond To Fantasy
What follows is an attempt to address a few of the issues raised by Terri Hinte in her letter to David Tegnell. I apologize for going on a bit, but I've been involved with discographical research for most of my adult life, and I tend to be a bit passionate about it. For those interested, the introduction to the online discography (John Coltrane Discography) contains more information on the art and discipline of discography.
Click HERE to return to the Live Trane index page. Click HERE to return to the Coltrane News page.
And We Respond To Fantasy
I have received your email about purported "discographical errors"
The first indication that Fantasy is unwilling to concede that there are questions about the provenance of parts of the box set.
We have received fewer than a dozen letters .. What I find most curious is that not one letter--NOT ONE--mentions the music. I get the distinct impression that faultfinding, not music, is foremost in the writers' minds.
But for the few of us equipped to identify these mistakes, the music is a givenwe wouldnt care otherwise. Fantasy is in essence entrusted with a significant portion of the legacy of John Coltrane, and we asking that they treat that legacy with the careful and thorough scholarship which it deserves.
here are some facts about the music--and the preparations that went into this package--that you should be aware of:
*the release was cleared with Impulse,
*a royalty agreement was negotiated with the Coltrane estate,
*the package was approved for release by Alice Coltrane,
All well and good, Fantasy has appropriately handled its legal and contractual obligations before releasing the music. This makes the music "legal", but it has nothing to do with the documentation.
*source material consisted of tapes made by producer/impresario Norman Granz during John Coltrane's 1961-63 European concert tours (these tapes conveyed to Fantasy after the latter's acquisition of Pablo Records in 1987)
*information on concert dates and venues was clarified, corrected, and updated primarily from these tape boxes, but also from the Fujioka/Porter/Hamada discography and from European friends of producer Eric Miller
This is useful but ultimately incomplete information. Neil Tessers liner notes indicate that the boxes contain almost no identifying information"Paris 62" for example, with no other details. Fujioka and associates are listed in the booklet for the box set (although not here in Terri's letter) as a primary source, but Fuji has stated that none of what he calls the "Coltrane Syndicate" were allowed to audition any of the tapes prior to release. Thats analogous to asking for an art critics opinion of a possible forgery without allowing him to see the painting. It's not evident that anything more than a cursory attempt was made to validate Pablo's information against the large body of facts assembled by forty years of Coltrane scholarship.
Although I certainly don't wish to impugn the valuable research conducted by the many Coltrane discographers and scholars past and present, I am disturbed by the incongruity--indeed, the absurdity--of relying on bootleg recordings as undisputed historical documents.
This part of the letter reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of research in general and discographical research in particular, and calls into question a body of work stretching back sixty or seventy years, with names like Rust, Jepsen, Jan Lohmann, Erik Raben, Fujioka, not to mention my own small contributions. It's the part that requires the longest response.
Discography is a twentieth-century discipline, a branch of such studies as music history and ethnomusicology, designed to meet the needs of jazz (with which it is most closely associated). It recognizes that in idioms like jazz, where improvisation plays a central role, each performance is a unique artifact worthy of study. It also responds to the technological revolution which allowed such performances to be preserved as they happened, a revolution which greatly expanded the range and impact of the music. As that technology became increasingly common and affordable, discographers who wished to study the entire body of the work of an artist like John Coltrane began to consider not only studio recordings, but those recorded broadcasts, concerts tapes and other nonprofessional or amateur recordings, which often give a better example than a tightly controlled studio session of what the artist was about.
In considering Terris comment, I was reminded of studying Shakespeare in college. In the years following his death it seems there was such an interest in the bard's plays that some unscrupulous printers began releasing what are called "pirate quartos", unauthorized and usually badly corrupted versions of certain plays. My college text talks for example about a pirated quarto of Hamlet, " apparently based on the part of Marcellus it seems likely that one of the lesser players was bribed to produce as much of the original play as he could remember". These bad versions likely led in part to the release in 1623 of the First Folio, the first authorized and "complete" collection of the playwrights work. But of course the producers of the First Folio were not themselves scholars, so that students of Shakespeare have spent the last four centuries using every available source (including those pirate quartos) to figure out such esoterica as the true meaning of the phrase "sledded Polacks" ("sleaded Pollax"? "sledded Poleaxe"?).
Fast forward to the late twentieth century, with scholars studying an artform in which improvisation is an essential element, and the ability to "play something new" each night is prized, in an era when each unique performance may well have been recorded. The parallel with the seventeenth century, when some began to realize the literary value of a form of pop stage show intended for mass consumption, is obvious. Scholarship is ultimately after all concerned not with contracts, legalities or proper payments, but with truth. To understand the artist the scholar must eventual deal with all available information about the artist, including (occasionally) elements of dubious heritage.
So what then are the sources used to verify a recorded performance? Certainly bootlegs, the discographers pirate quartos, are the least reliable source. In fact, one of the more valuable endproducts of good discographical research is to identify the real source of bootleg releases (something a lawyer pursuing a copyright infringement claim might find useful). In my own case my research (back in the seventies) started with the published discographies (Jepsen for example), with lists from collectors (Jan Lohmann was a huge help very early on), with some material from other collectors, which gave me tapes of broadcasts to analyze. In the process I assembled a wide range of information, from collectors, from source material like reviews, by comparison of the music with other recordings (especially the commercially released recordings which, Pablo notwithstanding, are usually reliably dated). I did extensive source research in various magazines, newspapers and other sources of contemporaneous information. Other sources frequently used in such research include personal accounts and recollections by the musicians themeselves, as well as people who attended the performances; concert programs; patterns of repertoire and sequencing; extramusical evidence, such as noise or announcements on the tape; physical evidence on the tape itself, such as edits; biographical data; letters; contracts; notations. As with Shakespearean scholars peering back four centuries, discographers have to examine all available information and try to come to a balanced conclusion.
As for the Birdland broadcast, listed in the box set as from a Hamburg concert, the information supporting Birdland 62 as a source are varied. Tapes of the broadcast have circulated for some 30 years, citing the 2/9/62 (or 2/10/62, since it occurred after midnight) radio broadcast. A few of these include not only the music but also the announcements by Birdland MC PeeWee Marquette and WADO disc jockey Symphony Sid Torin, conclusive evidence that the source is a Birdland broadcast. The dating can be verified by the itinerary of the Coltrane group with Dolphy in 1961-1962. The source of these recordings is almost certainly a legendary engineer named Boris Rose, who taped New York City live radio for decades (and whose logs list the 2/9/62 broadcast), and whose tapes have produced not only the occasional bootleg but such essential commercial releases as the Charlie Parker Bird With Strings (Columbia) and the recent Miles Davis Complete Birth of the Cool (on Capitol). A good discographer would also cite the internal evidence (the sound of the hall) and the evidence of repertoire ("Miles Mode", a composition not yet released in 61 and not performed in any other 61 tour concert). (Note that the evidence to support the new attribution of these performances to Hamburg is so far limited to the annotation "Hamburg '61" on one of Granz's tape boxes).
By definition, bootlegs are flat-out ripoffs of musicians. Collectors and others who have bought bootlegs of any of this material over the years or who've acquired "privately circulated" (great euphemism!) copies are now in a position to do the right thing and acquire a legal copy of the (properly remastered) music, thereby ensuring that the artist's estate will be compensated for the music that these collectors have (presumably) been enjoying-- or enduring--on bad pressings. Or is the music, finally, irrelevant?
A great speech, certainly, on the order of praising Motherhood and Apple Pie and damning the sins of gambling and corn likker. Perhaps Davids letter didnt make clear enough the distinction between Pablos legal release and the previous bootlegs. But ultimately the issue here is one of factwhat are the dates and places of these recordings? Whether we all rush out and "do the right thing" (i.e. buy the newest release in order to acquire the one track out of ten which is truly previously unreleased) is really whats irrelevant here.
And I can only repeat our claim that this box represents the entirety of the Coltrane European material in our vaults.
If this is in fact true, it comes as a great disappointment to many of us who had hoped that the rumors of a Granz stash of some 40 hours of unreleased Coltrane was true. It would have been nice to have had the other performances known from the European tours in legal, well prepared and recorded form--but it appears that Granz did not in fact record everything. It's that music after all that we are all interested in.
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