JAM, II: John Coltrane on "I Want To Talk About You"

Every weekday this month I'll be posting new content in observance of Jazz Appreciation Month (J.A.M.), so-designated by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History beginning in 2001. International Jazz Day, so-designated by UNESCO in partnership with the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, is on the last day of April, the 30th; it was first celebrated in 2012. Debating the relative merits of designating specific days or months for celebrating heritages, traditions, and the like aside, Jazz Appreciation Month is at the very least an excuse to dig into some material that I've been interested in for a while on the blog. 

The previous post featured Henry Threadgill playing "Weeping Willow Rag" with Air, 1979. Tomorrow's will feature a solo by Scott LaFaro and Bill Evans's comments on the bassist from a 1966 interview.

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John Coltrane Half Note Radio Broadcast, April 2, 1965

I first heard about this radio broadcast of Coltrane from Billy Hart. The performance, recorded exactly 50 years ago today, is completely indescribable to any degree of satisfaction using words. 

For a long time, it was a preciously treasured bootleg that only existed on tapes. By the time Billy brought it up in my last lesson with him last year, the entire thing was available to the internet-accessible world on YouTube. In the lesson, I'd brought in Robin, Isaac, and Simón to play some original music for Billy. He gave his customarily wise input, but after we played a standard ("Stardust") for him, he asked me if I'd heard this performance, "the 'I Want To Talk About You' where he doesn't play a cadenza," as it's known, and asked that I put it on.

After listening to the song in its entirety, I sat in silence, stunned, for a while, expecting Billy to shed some insight into what I'd just witnessed. Instead, he said, "Now, play 'Stardust' again, but try to play it like that." Needless to say, it was an impossible request, but like most impossible problems was a creatively generative. How could these four people get onstage and play together the way they did that night, night after night? This particular document is an outstanding instance of the sound of "controlled freedom" that Elvin alludes to in Notes & Tones:
There's no such thing as freedom without some kind of control, at least self-control or self-discipline. It's impossible...I was closer to Coltrane than to anyone else, so I can speak with more authority on him than on others. He was perfectly aware of what he was doing and had almost supernatural control over what he was doing. Even though it gave an impression of freedom, it was basically a well thought out and highly disciplined price of work. 
There's a dissertation waiting to be written on this particular performance. For my purposes, imagining being Coltrane and communicating with such sophistication and grace with the band is the goal for now, but learning McCoy's comping or Elvin's or Jimmy Garrison's would all be lessons to sustain musical inspiration for a long, long time. For now, here's the first chorus of Trane's solo*:
John Coltrane's Solo on "I Want To Talk About Life" (at the Half Note) - 1

John Coltrane's Solo on "I Want To Talk About Life" (at the Half Note) - 2

John Coltrane's Solo on "I Want To Talk About Life" (at the Half Note) - 3

*I'll have a bit more later in the month in preparation for a talk that I'm unqualified to give but prepared to give anyway for the learning (titled—wait for it—"Phrasing, Time, and Idiomatic Authority: Improvisations by Clifford Brown, Joe Henderson, and John Coltrane," which is basically jazz academia-speak for "I'm going to talk about a few solos I transcribed and what I got out of checking them out").

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GOP and Earprint make their début at Cambridge's the Lily Pad tonight, a staple of the improvised music scene around town. I had toyed with the idea of playing "I Want To Talk About You," if only to see if there was a cosmic vibe from the 50th anniversary, but after talking to Steve Coleman about the artificiality of anniversaries, I scrapped the idea. 
GOP and Earprint at The Lily Pad, 4.2.15 Poster


  1. Been following your blog for a few months and just visited it half-intending to suggest that you transcribe IWTTAY from amateur film possibly from Stockholm 1962 available on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADPm-3JMbwo), and LOOK what I see! Must be psychic or something. Anyway yours is a different performance (that whole set is amazing BTW) which you are apparently posting on its 50th anniversary. Check out the transcription-worthy1962 IWTTAY if you can and I look forward to seeing the REST of your work on the 1965 version if you got that far!

    1. Wow, thanks for sharing and for reading. Yes, maybe one day when I have a bit more time.


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