Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Ben Webster, Renaissance Blues.
John Coltrane, Like Sonny.
Eric Dolphy, Les.
Ornette Coleman, The Tribes of New York.
Ornette Coleman, Mr. and Mrs. People.

Four saxophonists in the year of Kennedy and Greensboro, in the autumn of jazz's official golden age: older men, young men, established men, ruthless men.

The master Ben Webster, 51 years old, rumbles through "Renaissance Blues." After a brown study by Jimmy Rowles on piano, and some quiet, fleet thoughts by Jim Hall's guitar, Webster opens with a riff on Gershwin's "Summertime" and then loses himself in the approaching dusk. With Red Mitchell (b) and Frank Butler (d); recorded live at "The Renaissance", Hollywood, on 14 October 1960; on Ben Webster At The Renaissance.

A year after the breakthrough of Giant Steps, John Coltrane and his quartet taped a quiet session that served as a farewell of sorts to Coltrane's apprenticeship--the highlight was "Like Sonny," whose sinuous theme is a Sonny Rollins riff transported to Cairo, or further points east. McCoy Tyner, in one of his first sessions backing Coltrane, provides sprightly but solid accompaniment to Coltrane's flight of fancy.

As for Rollins himself, he was walking on the Williamsburg Bridge at night, playing to the moon.

Recorded 8 September 1960, with Tyner, Steve Davis (b) and Billy Higgins (d); on Like Sonny.

Eric Dolphy's "Les" is from Dolphy's first recording session as a bandleader. Dolphy, who would be dead by 1964, was in a fever to play and record--working with Mingus, Coltrane and Coleman, he also used his own newly-formed quintet as a stage for his grander thoughts. Named after the trombonist Lester Robinson, "Les" is a statement of principles, a call to revolution, all swagger and snarl.

With Jaki Byard (p), George Tucker (b) and Roy Haynes (d); recorded in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, on April Fool's Day 1960; on Outward Bound.

Dolphy also played bass clarinet on Ornette Coleman's massive, epochal Free Jazz late in the year. Earlier in 1960, Coleman and his usual conspirators--Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell--had recorded a number of tracks that for whatever reason weren't considered worthy of release. It's a testament to the Coleman Quartet's fecundity and ambition that such masterful takes as "Mr. and Mrs. People," "I Heard It Over the Radio" and "The Tribes of New York" were left in the vaults until the 1990s.

Recorded in NYC on 19 July 1960; on Beauty is a Rare Thing.

Top: Future hippies.

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