Some of you may have seen this article… John Coltrane and the End of Jazz
please check out a response by Richie Beirach
Dear Mr Green
Reading your article "Coltrane and the end of jazz" was a painful experience for me and many of my close friends.
My name is Richie Beirach and I am a professional jazz pianist/composer with over four hundred cds released in the last 50 years.
I am feeling frustration, anger and finally, sadness reading through your article many times. With all that said I must write a retort and try to help you see how incredibly wrong you are in your basic premise about John Coltrane’s status.
Trane did not precipitate the end of jazz. This music did not start to die with Coltrane’s playing on Kind Of Blue. The modal void you speak of was not a void but a great opening up of fresh and brilliant possibilities for generations of innovative musicians including Freddie Hubbard,Joe Henderson, John McLaughlin, Dave Liebman, Steve Grossman, Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Wallace Roney, Kenny Garrett…need I go on further?
You might be a professional writer with knowledge of music but you are writing in many instances way over your head in terms of technical accuracy. Your own musical limitations in terms of the ability to actually hear what is going on in Trane's music has lead you into making unfortunate and flat out wrong assumptions.
For example you say in your article that McCoy Tyner laid out with Jimmy Garrison on the piece called "One up one down"(from the new release) because they couldn't find the tonal center. Totally wrong!! They dropped out intentionally as a regular part of the arrangement of the tune with the song form never lost for one second. They maintained the structure all the way through even during the drums and sax duo. It is your inability to hear the chord changes through the band’s complex and ironclad accurate adherence to the form. You couldn’t hear this form through the powerful and complex patterns of Elvin Jones either. Coltrane and Elvin always played a duo during this tune… It was an arrangement. You obviously never heard them play live which I did, living in manhattan on spring and hudson streets directly across the street from the half note jazz club where one of the greatest versions of “one up, one down” was recorded in 1965 and officially released a few years ago, having been a treasured “bootleg” for many of us.
The whole premise of your article is based on a false assumption that Coltrane represented the end of jazz!! Where have you been in these last 50 years? Are you dismissing the entire generation of brilliant and innovative jazz musicians that have been totally inspired by Trane's legacy? These are artists who have understood Trane's unbelievable technical, musical and humanistic innovations towards forging their own personal and important music of lasting quality.
“Kind Of Blue” is generally agreed by the jazz world (and beyond by the way) to be the quintessential jazz recording of all time. And you say that jazz started to die with Coltrane's playing on that iconic recording. “Kind Of Blue” was not an end Mr Green! It was an incredible new beginning offering a fresh approach.
The dismissive way you just toss off your "Modal void" statement is wrong information for general readers and young musicians to hear. "Jazz had become too thick with incessant chord changes every 2 beats" as you implied. These progressions (the most famous being “giant steps”)were a new innovation and extension of the bebop legacy with Bird, Diz and Bud Powell. Jazz innovations, especially harmonically moved very quickly in the years between 1949 and ’59.
The music world changed forever with "Kind Of Blue." miles was brilliant, innovative and the essence of a great bandleader with an innate understanding of what jazz needed. This being a more open template and platform upon which improvisers could innovate. The song "So What” provided this need thru a simple but effective bar structure. Miles' genius was to keep the thirty-two bar form and fill it with only 3 chords or in this case modes. This was not a modal void which you criticize, but rather an opening up of the well worn thirty-two bar form to allow for new and beautiful melodic/harmonic directions. His brilliance was to not throw away the bar structure, but to instill a smooth transition. This innovation would in the next ten years inspire more opening up of forms and incredible innovations of rhythm with miles’ quintets featuring Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, Wayne Shorter, and then even further with the last quintet including Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Wayne Shorter and Dave Holland.
I must point out another mistake in your article. Coltrane's iconic tune “impressions" is not "So What” changes, but more accurately settles on two mixolydian scales rather than the “So What” dorian format.
You dismiss Trane's late works as noise, chaos, etc. You are sadly mistaken and I hope this letter will make you go back and try to understand the great music of his late period. Trane was a developmental artist like Beethoven, Monet, Picasso, etc. The so-called “chaotic” late Trane music again shows your limitations, not the music. The great works of art and music don't change…..We change in our ability to understand these geniuses after much thought and reflection. May I suggest to you to have a bit of humility when approaching these masterpieces, especially the following recordings: “transition" “meditations" and his last one “expression."
You never spoke once about an essential element of Trane’s late music which was the humanity of his sound, offering the universal lament of the ages. The blues of course, but much more that you cannot overlook. His saxophone tone and nuance was in some ways beyond the content.
The man himself was humble, reflective, modestly self deprecating, never satisfied with his playing, but with a quiet, yet powerful sense of conviction about the direction of his style.
You said not one word about the emotionality and obvious spiritual depth that Trane and his groups brought to jazz music after a life of drugs, racial bigotry and much controversy.
Trane did not cause the death of jazz. He gave it new life and enabled ensuing generations to stand on his shoulders, hopefully continuing in the pursuit of this creative and life-giving music we call jazz.
It would be great if you took my words as a plea for more understanding from you as a serious writer with a lot to say. I wish you would use your obviously wide scope of knowledge to illuminate the great works of artists that the public should know about.