On May 7, 2017, Jazz at Lincoln Center announced that Philly native and NEA Jazz Master McCoy Tyner was inducted into the Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame:
Perhaps the most influential jazz pianist of the late 20th century, McCoy Tyner pioneered a forceful, swinging, and unmistakable piano voice that provided crucial harmonic texture to the legendary John Coltrane Quartet. Forging a unique sound that was driven by his powerful left hand, Tyner offered a harmonically open structure for Coltrane’s often modal improvisations and helped direct jazz’s evolution during the early 1960s. As his solo career developed, Tyner began to lead his own highly influential groups while also composing new standards for jazz and nurturing new generations of rising masters. Still actively performing today, McCoy Tyner has shown that he never sits still and is always finding and seeking new possibilities for this music.
Tyner first met Coltrane in the mid-1950s at the Red Rooster in West Philly. He’ll be reunited with Trane in the Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame.
September 23rd marked the 90th anniversary of John Coltrane’s birthday. The milestone was celebrated across the country.
The documentary, Chasing Trane, may be coming to a theater near you. From the Hollywood Reporter:
A music titan gets his cinematic due in Chasing Trane, a comprehensive, engrossing and, it’s tempting to say, worshipful account of the life of John Coltrane, the alto sax player and composer most aficionados would agree deserves a spot on the jazz equivalent of Mount Rushmore. Smartly shaped and vigorously told by prolific documentarian John Scheinfeld (Who Is Harry Nilsson, The U.S. vs. John Lennon), the film bulges with insights offered by everyone from family members and close collaborators to the likes of Cornel West and Bill Clinton. The incessant rush of the innovator’s music should spike the interest of younger viewers insufficiently exposed to the man’s short career, pointing to an extensive life in all markets, domestic and international, wherever interest in great jazz still flourishes.
September 23rd marks the 90th anniversary of the birth of legendary saxophonist John Coltrane. It’s hard to believe but Coltrane has been dead longer than he was alive.
Trane’s life and legacy will be celebrated during nine days of free events, including film screenings, concerts, lectures and exhibitions. The festivities are organized by the Philadelphia Jazz Project in collaboration with Temple University Libraries, WRTI, PhillyCAM, Jazz Near You, among other partners.
The highlights include:
- A six-hour saxophone marathon presenting national, regional and local saxophonists
- A jazz walk in Fairmount Park with three stages of live music
- A special Equinox concert
- An Afro-Cuban influenced interpretation of Coltrane’s “Kulu Sé Mama”
For more information, visit Philadelphia Jazz Project.
The Ridge Point was located on the crossroads of the Golden Strip and the Ridge Avenue Entertainment District. In Whisper Not: The Autobiography of Benny Golson, the NEA Jazz Master shared a story about John Coltrane’s gig at this North Philly club:
Philadelphia boasted many jazz clubs at that time, and John and I continued to gig often. John, however, soon got a very strange gig. Word came to me that John was working at a club called The Ridge Point. We called it The Point because of the street configuration there, where instead of bisecting each other, three streets crossed—Columbia Avenue, 23rd Street, and Ridge Avenue—such that the shape of the building at that intersection resembled a large slice of pie—much like the famous Flatiron Building in Manhattan. The bar’s shape mimicked the building. The bandstand was at the wide end of the pie. The tip, or the point, was the main entrance. All that was interesting, but The Point was not a bona fide jazz club. Eddie Woodland, a tenor player, usually held forth. Woodland was a “boot ‘em up” tenor player with a circus aura, who held audiences in the palm of his hand by walking the bar, with bravado. Crowds loved him, but for some reason, he took a leave of absence. Maybe he was sick. Then word went around that my pal John was playing at The Point, and I knew John wasn’t that kind of saxophone player. The Point was definitely not a hip jazz club, and regulars expected every artist to walk the bar.
I could not believe what I saw. This wasn’t Eddie at all, but John! John Coltrane was up on the bar at the small end, at the tip of the mud pie, honking, grooving, preparing to go down to the far end and back to the bandstand again. He was cranked up, playing low B-flats, nimbly stepping over drinks like a mountain goat on slippery terrain. He didn’t see me right away. But when he came up from one of his low horn-swooping movements, he looked in my direction. His eyes got wide and he stopped right in the middle of a group of low B-flats. He took the horn out of his mouth, stood straight up, and said, “Oh, no!” I fell against the wall, dying with laughter. I’d busted him. He was humiliated, but he finished his slumming bar performance.
Published by Temple University Press, Golson’s autobiography is available for purchase here.
On June 30, 2016, Saxophonist and composer Benny Golson held forth at the Parkway Central Library.
In conversation with WRTI host Jeff Duperon, the Philly native and NEA Jazz Master shared stories about John Coltrane, missed gigs and the persona behind “Killer Joe.”
A podcast of the event is available here.
The legendary Showboat was located in the basement of the Douglass Hotel, a favorite hangout of jazz musicians and their fans.
The historical marker out front notes that Billie Holiday “often lived here.”
In 1964, Herb Spivak bought the basement taproom and renamed it the “Showboat Jazz Theatr” (purposely leaving the “e” out). Spivak increased the seating capacity from 100 to 200. The small bandstand was behind the bar. The Showboat played host to jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Cannonball Adderly, Bootsie Barnes, Philly Joe Jones, Thelonius Monk, Dinah Washington and Ramsey Lewis.
On June 17, 1963, John Coltrane recorded “Live at the Showboat” featuring Coltrane (sax) McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums).
The 2016 NEA Jazz Masters were honored at a tribute concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
This year’s class includes Archie Shepp who grew up in West Philadelphia. During an NEA interview, Shepp talked about jazz and Philadelphia:
The music that we call jazz has always been important in the African American community, especially in the poorer neighborhoods.
There was a lot of racism and prejudice, but a lot of music, a lot of blues and some good times. Music was all over Philadelphia. You could go down to North Philadelphia and hear young John Coltrane or Johnny Coles, Jimmy Oliver, Jimmy Heath. I suppose that’s what jazz is all about, suffering and good times, and somehow making the best of all of that.
At the tribute concert for Benny Carter, I got a chance to spend some time with Shepp during the break. He reminisced about the jam sessions at the Heath Brothers’ Family Home. He shared that he learned how to play chords from Coltrane and Lee Morgan.
Truth be told, Philadelphia’s contribution to jazz is mostly an untold story. We must capture stories about Philly’s jazz scene while those who know the history are still here.