Sax Legend Archie Shepp Reflects on Seeing John Coltrane for the First Time

By Ian Holubiak on Mar 03, 2016 04:52 PM EST
Sax Legend Archie Shepp Reflects on Seeing John Coltrane for the First Time Memorabilia is arranged during a press preview for Jazz, The Auction, in the new headquarters of Jazz at Lincoln Center February 17, 2005 in New York City. Guernsey's Auction House is offering hundred of items for auction including instruments of Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie and handwritten compositions and arrangements by Coltrane and Thelonious Monk. The February 20 auction is the first in the U.S. entirely devoted to jazz items, according to organizers. (Photo : Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The essence of John Coltrane is simply music and it was perhaps his life's mission to break music from the traditional grip. Recanting his affinity for the jazz archetype, the also-archetypal Archie Shepp reflects on witnessing Coltrane for the first time and how the saxophonist was able to communicate an entire musical manifesto through the voice of his horn.

There used to be a club in Harlem called the Five Spot, a small haunt that was bigger in reputation than space. For Coltrane, this was an old stomping ground and where Mr. Shepp would witness for the first time John Coltrane tout the brass. This experience, however, wasn't as forthcoming or endearing as the young Shepp had hoped.

Nonetheless, that didn't prevent Shepp from pushing forward musically, seeking out the sonic quality he knew-and that his friends knew-would benefit him as a horn player.

In an interview at Consequence of Sound, Mr. Shepp recalls feeling underwhelmed:

"I wasn't that impressed. I was expecting more. But later on when I heard the first recording he did with Miles Davis...I went around telling all my friends, 'This is the guy I've been talking about.' Even then, I didn't get to hear as much of Trane as I wanted to. But when I moved to live with my aunt in Harlem, I was at the Five Spot every night...He was very generous. But I was a fan of Trane even before I met him."

Shepp performed on Coltrane's seminal A Love Supreme LP and has continued to covet his time spent the musician. The player also recounts, though, how he regrets not looking at the chord charts during the Supreme sessions. Even in studio for Ascension, Shepp regrets not looking at McCoy Tyner's chord sheet.

He said later in the interview, "[Coltrane] was content to let the guys play what they wanted to play. In fact, he had written down a few chords for (pianist) McCoy (Tyner) to play, and I regret that I never asked to look at what those chords were."

Be sure to check out the minutes from the discussion at Consequence of Sound, and thanks to thse good people for posting a witty banter for our pleasure.

Check out A Love Supreme below in the meantime.

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TagsJohn Coltrane, A Love Supreme, Archie Shepp

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