For as many official posthumous releases that come out, who can even wrap their head around the stuff that was captured off-the-cuff and will likely never see the light of day? Despite its downfalls, the internet has made it possible for some truly rare artifacts to be accessed. That’s how I heard a recording posted to YouTube as “John Coltrane – Private Jam in Detroit 1958 bootleg.”
The session, recorded September 25, 1958, took place in the basement of Joe Brazil, a Detroit-based saxophonist who appeared on Coltrane’s album Om (and Ubiquity by Roy Ayers). Brazil’s house had a bar and baby grand piano in the basement. Major jazz figures coming through town would often swing by for jam sessions in this basement alongside local players. This particular one features—in addition to Coltrane on tenor sax—Joe Henderson on tenor sax, Joe Brazil on alto sax, Donald Towns on trumpet, Sonny Red on alto sax, Hugh Lawson on piano, Erni Farrow on bass, and Roy Brooks on drums. (Lots of great sax runs take place throughout, but Brooks’ drum solos are a stand-out too.)
Basement tapes tend to hold a liveliness of the present moment that is categorically eliminated in the studio. There’s obviously fidelity reasons that things like this aren’t usually released through official channels, but it also means that when you do get to hear them, it’s a little bit like traveling through time. When you listen to this private jam, it’s the indistinct voices and laughter, the applause that punctuates well-executed solos, that are the real windows into the underground jazz atmosphere captured by an amateur tape recording.
But there’s more to consider, as the recording has now leaped from Joe Brazil’s basement to live on the Internet, where weird things can happen to information. The YouTube video includes text that has been copied and pasted from Joe Brazil’s Wikipedia page, one line of which is this: Pianist Alice Coltrane met her first husband John Coltrane in his basement.
Two things immediately stand out, one more quickly than the other: any Coltrane head knows that John is not Alice’s first husband. (That distinction goes to Kenny “Pancho” Hagood, a Detroit-born vocalist who has an appearance on Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool.) The second is that the story most people know of Alice and John’s introduction to each other is that it happened when she was playing with Terry Gibbs’ quartet in New York. The line on the Wikipedia page has a citation though, the Alice biography Monument Eternal by Franya J. Berkman, in which pianist and fellow Detroiter Kenny Cox “recalled hearing her regularly at the West End Hotel’s after-hours session, and at the home of Joe Brazil in Conant Gardens. Jam sessions at Joe Brazil’s were highly regarded among jazz musicians, and talent passing through the city would frequently show up to play. While on tour in Detroit, John Coltrane did indeed attend sessions and, according to Cox, it was at Joe Brazil’s that Alice first met her future husband, although she recounted that their formal introduction occurred in New York several years later.”
The simple addition of that word “first” on the Wikipedia page, which then makes its way onto the YouTube page, twists this statement as it travels, morphing it from fact to folklore. And yet, everything is connected: the Trane on display at this presumably impromptu jam session is a sentimental one at times, suggesting romance and beginnings, in a manner no less spirited and precise than Trane always was and forever will be. words / a gavrilovska
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