John Coltrane: At the Making of “Blue Train”
As we mark John Coltrane’s birthday, here is Francis Wolff’s photograph of John Coltrane, left, Lee Morgan right, and coming in from the extreme right, the slide of Curtis Fuller’s trombone, from the celebrated 1957 Blue Train session for Blue Note Records, at Rudy Van Gelder’s Hackensack studio.
By 1957, thanks to his exposure with Miles Davis and his exploratory style of improvisation, John Coltrane was an up-and-coming and already controversial artist. At some point in late 1956 or early 1957, Coltrane stopped by Blue Note offices one evening to pick up some Sidney Bechet albums. He and Blue Note founder Alfred Lion got into a conversation about the tenor saxophonist’s making an album under his own name. They shook hands and Lion wrote Coltrane a check, telling him to come back when Francis Wolff could draw up a contract with him.
Months went by, and Coltrane ended up signing with Prestige with the caveat that he owed Blue Note an album for accepting an advance on a handshake. That album was recorded on September 15, 1957, when this photograph was taken. Blue Note’s modus operandi of planning and rehearsal were instrumental to the making of one of the greatest albums in modern jazz history and John Coltrane’s first true masterpiece.
A major factor to the album’s artistic success was the fact that Coltrane was able to compose four of the five pieces (a rarity until he signed with Atlantic Records in 1959) and rehearse the music thoroughly. Three of his four originals have become jazz standards. This album, with Lee Morgan, Curtis Fuller, Kenny Drew, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, achieves perfection in execution, feeling and superbly conceived solos.
For much more on John Coltrane, Francis Wolff and the Blue Train recording session, see this.
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