Stream Online the Complete “Lost” John Coltrane Album, Both Directions at Once

Expectations ran high when it was announced last month that a lost (!) John Coltrane album, Both Directions at Once, had been discovered by the family of his ex-wife Naima, and would finally be released for fans to hear. Would it prove worthy of Sonny Rollin’s comparison to “finding a new room in the Great Pyramid”? Such discoveries can lead to dead ends and disappointments as often as to revelations. In this case, the album yields neither, which is not to say it isn’t, as Chris Morris writes at Variety, “a godsend.”

The album lives up to its title, chosen by Coltrane’s son Ravi, as a transitional document, stunning, but not particularly surprising. Hear all 7 cuts on the single-disc version of the release on this page, with typically excellent playing by Coltrane’s classic quartet (bassist Jimmy Garrison, drummer Elvin Jones, and pianist McCoy Tyner) and an early take on “one of the warhorses of the Coltrane catalog”—“Impressions”—including three additional takes on the Deluxe Version, which you can stream on Spotify here or purchase here. (Tyner sits out the take on the single disc version, turning it into a “hard-edged, percolating showcase for Coltrane in trio format.”)

Several critics have suggested that this “lost album” isn’t a proper album at all, but rather, as Ravi Coltrane put it, “a kicking-the-tires kind of session,” and perhaps that’s so. Nonetheless, it works as “a portrait of an artist and a band on the brink of a historic explosion,” Morris writes.

"The bracing, probing, self-questioning and keenly played music on this collection is the missing link between the provisional work heard on 1962’s ‘Coltrane’ and the quartet’s epochal studio albums – ‘Crescent,’ the devout ‘A Love Supreme’ and (with additional personnel) the free jazz magnum opus ‘Ascension.’”

Others echo this assessment. Drowned in Sound’s Joe Goggins calls Both Directions at Once “hard evidence that he was still looking for new sounds within old structures,” and The New Yorker’s Richard Brody describes the session as “something of a stocktaking” that balances the experiments of the band’s live sets with the reigned-in discipline of its early 60s studio work. Brody also laments that “little on the album matches the music that Coltrane was making at the time in concert.” Winston Cook-Wilson at Spin describes the music as “sometimes at war with itself…. The contrasts of their catalogue are pushed against each other, sometimes within the same song.”

All of this internal tension makes for an exciting listen, especially in its two new originals, known only as “Untitled Original 11383” and “Untitled Original 11386,” and the 11-minute “Slow Blues,” which Morris aptly describes as “a geared-down, encyclopedic workout on blues changes” that builds, after its tempo doubles, to a “full-cry conclusion.”

In all, the new lost album shows Coltrane just about to break new ground, but not quite yet, which perhaps makes it a newly essential document for the Coltrane completist. For most lovers of the great innovator, it’s just a damn fine "new" Coltrane record, both daring and accessible at once.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hear Miles Davis & John Coltrane Battle It Out on Their Final Tour Together, 1960

One of the greatest tour stories of jazz takes place not in its birthplace but in Europe, where John Coltrane reluctantly joined Miles Davis for a nine-date “Jazz At The Philharmonic European Tour” in 1960. It’s not down to any shenanigans offstage, but the pure musical fire that erupted onstage. This is the sound of two geniuses pulling apart and heading in different directions. They may have returned to the States at the same terminus, but Coltrane and Davis landed on different planets afterwards.

You can hear that in the above video. Kind of Blue had been released the year before--imagine a time where that was the case!--and here the Davis quintet dive in to “So What” with a fury not heard on the record.

The concerts have been endlessly bootlegged, and rightly so. They are stunning. Several were recorded for radio broadcast, others went into the hands of collectors. Not all of the nine dates are complete, but there’s plenty of magic in those sets to satisfy the curious.

But the final meeting of Coltrane and Davis nearly didn’t happen. Months after the release of Kind of Blue, Coltrane had recorded Giant Steps and was pretty much ready to go his own way. But Davis pleaded with Coltrane--he knew the material really well, of course, having played it all that year--who eventually, reluctantly gave in. (Coltrane did suggest Wayne Shorter take his place, and Davis later brought the young sax man into the group).

Along with Davis and Coltrane, the European tour quintet featured pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Jimmy Cobb. And according to Cobb, it was obvious Coltrane’s mind was elsewhere on the trip.

“He sat next to me on the bus, looking like he was ready to split at any time. He spent most of the time looking out the window and playing Oriental-sounding scales on soprano.”

But when he was onstage, that tension resulted in the kind of mind-melting solos that made these recordings so essential. The “sheets of sound” that one critic used to describe Coltrane’s style is all here, as are moments where Coltrane just seems to be obsessed with two or three notes, toying with them, trying to uncover their essence. (Some in the audience thought it was too indulgent--you can hear them whistling in disapproval on some of the numbers.) In some of these recordings you also hear Davis becoming the sideman in his own band as Coltrane takes off into the stratosphere. By the way, you can stream the full album on Spotify.

It’s not animosity, just the sound of two artists going their own way, and that’s rarely something that gets recorded. Fortunately, the best of five dates--two in Paris, two in Stockholm, one in Copenhagen--are now officially released, 50-some odd years later for the rest of us to enjoy.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

Hear the First Recorded Blues Song by an African American Singer: Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues” (1920)

Historian John Hope Franklin once described the decades from the end of slavery through the advent of Jim Crow as “The Long Dark Night" because of the legislative chicanery and extreme violence used to disenfranchise and dispossess African Americans after the failure of Reconstruction. It is during these years that the blues emerged from the rural South into the cities, and the age of the “race record” brought black music into popular culture in ways that irrevocably defined what the country sounded like.

The source of the blues, writ broadly, is the sufferings and strivings of those anonymous rural folk who transmitted their experiences through song, “whether in the cotton fields or in lumber camps, on the levees or in the shacks of field hands or housemaids,” as Dave Oliphant writes in Texan Jazz. But when it comes to naming early sources, the waters get murky. Jazz writer Ted Gioia refers to the period before the mid-1920’s as “the Dark Age of myth and legend” in blues history for its paucity of written detail.

We do know that blues songs gained much popularity throughout the first two decades of the 20th century, many of them penned and published by Memphis composer and “father of the blues,” W.C. Handy. These blues were first commodified and recorded in the 1910s for white audiences by white vaudeville singers like Nora Bayes and Marion Harris. It wasn’t until 1920 that a blues record by a black singer was recorded and released, “and in a sense it was happenstance,” says Angela Davis in the NPR segment below.

“Earlier in the year,” Davis explains, “[Ukranian-born singer] Sophie Tucker had been scheduled for a recording session but became ill and [blues songwriter] Perry Bradford managed to persuade Okeh Records to allow Mamie Smith to do the recording session instead.” And so we have at the top what Gioia calls the “breakthrough event” of Smith’s “Crazy Blues,” recorded on August 10, 1920, significant because “the first recording companies were reluctant to promote black music of any sort,” and then only when it was performed by white entertainers.

In the decade of "Crazy Blues," that changed dramatically, as record companies realized a huge untapped market of talent and potential buyers in the working-class black community. “Crazy Blues” was a hit, selling 75,000 copies in its first month. This release and subsequent recordings by Mamie Smith eventually “led the way,” says Davis, “for the professionalization of black music for the black entertainment industry and indeed for the immense popularity of black music today.” Though not strictly a traditional blues, as Oliphant and Gioia both note, the song, and Smith, established an enduring template.

Mamie Smith had been a vaudeville performer, working since childhood as “an all around entertainer,” as the Library of Congress’s Michael Taft remarks on NPR. The Blues Encyclopedia points out that her theatrical background and flamboyant personality lent much to the “the archetypal ‘Queen of the Blues’ persona” inhabited by so many later singers. She was, we might say, the first in a long, distinguished line of songstresses, from Bessie Smith to Beyoncé, who delivered music of hardship and struggle with glamor, glitz, and swagger.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Steven Van Zandt Creates a Free School of Rock: 100+ Free Lesson Plans That Educate Kids Through Music

When I think of rock ‘n’ roll high school, I think of the Ramones, but in the 1979 Roger Corman film no one really learns much. In reality, however, another legendary musician, still going strong after five decades in the business, has put his cred to serious use, leveraging stardom as a musician and actor to create a music curriculum teachers can use for free, with lessons on rock history, Native American politics, Bob Dylan’s poetry, immigration and the blues, civil disobedience, the fight to end Apartheid, and much more. That man is Steven Van Zandt—aka Little Steven of the E Street Band, or Silvio Dante of The Sopranos, or Frank Tagliano of Lilyhammer, or a few other aliases and fictional characters.

“For the past decade,” writes John Seabrook at The New Yorker, the bandana-clad guitarist has been “working on a way to recreate” a “dynamic, out-of-school learning experience inside classrooms, through his Rock and Roll Forever Foundation.” Working, that is, to recreate his own experience as a disaffected youth who “had no interest in school whatsoever,” he recalls. What interested him was music: the Beatles, at first, but as he learned more about them, he picked up “bits of information” about Eastern religion and orchestration. He learned about literature from Dylan.

“You didn’t get into it to learn things,” he says, “but you learn things anyway.” At least if you’re as curious and open-minded as Van Zandt, who came to value education through his non-traditional course. Over ten years ago, when the National Association for Music Education told him that “No Child Left Behind legislation was really devastating art classes,” he confronted Ted Kennedy and Mitch McConnell, telling them, “did you ever hear that every kid who takes music class does better in math and science?" They apologized,” he says, “but they said they weren’t going to fix it.”

So Van Zandt decided to do it himself with a program called TeachRock. Working with two ethnomusicologists, he built the curriculum to connect with kids through music. “Instead of telling the kid, ‘Take the iPod out of your ears,’” he told a crowd of teachers gathered at Times Square’s Playstation Theater in May, “we ask them, ‘What are you listening to?’” Van Zandt calls his curriculum “teaching in the present tense,” and while his own back catalog may not necessarily be streaming on kids’ current playlists, he incorporates not only his music and the fifties and sixties rock ‘n’ roll he loves, but also hip-hop, pop, punk, and the “Latin rhythms of ‘Despacito.’” He even uses Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” video to prompt a discussion on the slave trade.

The focus on popular music as a force for change is fully in keeping with Van Zandt’s own path. His self-education led him into activism in the 80s when he wrote and recorded “Sun City” with 50 other artists to protest South African Apartheid. Unlike some other benefit songs of the time (like the cringe-inducing “Do They Know It’s Christmas”), “Sun City,” with its accompanying video (above), took effective political action—a blanket boycott of the Sun City resort—and didn’t sugar-coat the issues one bit (“relocation to phony homelands/separation of families, I can’t understand”). The Sun City boycott gets its own module.

As Van Zandt told Fast Company in 2015, “I had been researching American foreign policy post-World War II just to educate myself, which I had never done, being obsessed with rock ‘n’ roll my whole life. I was quite shocked to find that we were not always the good guys.” His discoveries compelled him to visit South Africa and to “dedicate my five-record solo career to that learning process, and also combine a bit of journalism with the rock art form.” That same passion for justice informs all of the TeachRock lessons, which you can browse and download for free at the TeachRock site. The multi-media units incorporate video, audio, images, activities, informative handouts, and other resources.

Each lesson also explains how its objectives meet Common Core State Standards (or the state standards of New Jersey and Texas). “TeachRock is rooted in a teaching philosophy that believes students learn best when they truly connect with the material to which they’re introduced,” notes the site's “Welcome Teachers” page. “Obviously, popular music is one such point of connection.” Perhaps not every kid who learns through music as Van Zandt did will go out and try to change the world, but they’re more than likely to stay engaged and stay in school. And that’s exactly what he hopes to accomplish.

“Teaching kids something they’re not interested in,” he told the teachers in New York, “it didn’t work then, and it’s even worse now. We have an epidemic dropout rate.” Then, in his refreshingly honest way, he concluded, “Where are we going to be in twenty years? How are we going to get smarter looking at this Administration? You know, we’re just getting stupider.” Not if Little Steven has anything to say about it. He's currently on tour with his Disciples of Soul, and offering free tickets to teachers, provided they show up early for a TeachRock workshop. Sign up here!

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


Jimmy Page Visits Oxford University & Tells Students How He Went from Guitar Apprentice to Creating Led Zeppelin

It’s maybe a cultural truism that iconoclasts who live long enough eventually become icons. So I suppose it shouldn’t surprise us much to see a rock ‘n’ roll hero like Jimmy Page standing behind the podium at the Oxford Union, for a lecture and Q&A series put on by the famed debating society. But as he tells his audience, it isn’t his first time at Oxford—he made an appearance at 16, accompanying beat poet and novelist Royston Ellis on guitar. (It was Ellis, Page notes, who suggested the quirky spelling of the Beatles to John Lennon.) This story leads to Page’s autobiographical sketch of how he became a musician by listening to “the music coming over from America” and the skiffle versions of the same by English musician Lonnie Donegan.

It’s a story familiar to fans not only of Page but of every British invasion band inspired by the American blues and R&B. But it’s always interesting, especially for Americans, to hear it told. Homegrown traditional music we take for granted sounded to the young Page like “it was coming from Mars.”

He describes the influence of Donegan as a “portal” to the blues and rock ‘n’ roll, which bands like the Yardbirds picked up in the early sixties. Mention of that seminal English band leads Page to recount his second time at Oxford, to see the Yardbirds at Queen’s College, a fateful night that ended with Page joining the band on bass after Paul Samwell-Smith quit. By that time, he had served what he calls a “three-year apprenticeship” as a studio musician, arranger, and composer.

These reminisces set the tenor for Page’s short address, a series of vignettes from his venerable career, full of fascinating digressions and asides. At around 13 minutes in, he concludes that his “lifetime achievement” was to “do something which was initially my hobby, turn that into something which was a very professional process, but still a very creative one… and to inspire young musicians.” After his short speech, the program transitions to an interview format, and Page expands on and clarifies many of his comments. His affable humility and desire to share his wisdom and experience make this very enjoyable viewing for anyone interested in Page’s life and work, or in the history of rock ‘n’ roll more generally, which cannot be told without him, and for which he is a very able chronicler.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Steely Dan Creates the Deadhead/Danfan Conversion Chart: A Witty Guide Explaining How You Can Go From Loving the Dead to Idolizing Steely Dan

To the naked eye — or at least to the naked eye of anyone born after about 1990 — fans of the Grateful Dead and fans of Steely Dan may look basically the same. Both bands emerged from the 1960s-forged counterculture of America's "Baby Boom" generation, broadly defined, and both have drawn unusually dedicated listenerships. Yet few bodies of musical work could project such different sets of artistic sensibilities: on one side Steely Dan has the handful of meticulously recorded studio albums filled with esoteric wisecracks and literary references, and on the other the Grateful Dead has the vast archives of live performance heavy on both extended improvisations and good vibes.

Close inspection reveals that the deeper differences in the music of the Grateful Dead and Steely Dan also manifest in the lifestyles of "Deadheads" and "Danfans." You can see how in this handy Deadhead/Danfan Conversion Chart available on Steely Dan's official site. (View it in a larger format here.) Where the accoutrements of the Grateful Dead's crowd include granny glasses, VW buses, and tattooing, it shows us, Steely Dan's has its LA Eyeworks clip-ons, BMW 353s, and cosmetic laser surgery.

Deadheads read beat poetry, receive cosmic visions, and enjoy the guitar playing of the late Jerry Garcia; Danfans read the MacMall catalog, send erotic e-mails, and enjoy the guitar playing of the late Walter Becker (among that of the dozens of other professionals called into the studio).

The Deadhead/Danfan Conversion Chart also includes a middle column describing the transitional stage separating Deadhead from Danfan. Between the Grateful Dead fan's sense of oneness and the Steely Dan fan's sense of entitlement comes a sense of despair; between the Deadhead's takeout Indian food and the Danfan's northern Italian cuisine comes freeze-dried pot roast and gravy. Laid out in this way, the journey from the Grateful Dead to Steely Dan mirrors the life journey taken by many a Baby Boomer: from blissed-out utopianism, consciousness-expanding substances, and free love to creative cynicism, antidepressants, and high-end personal electronics. Or perhaps, to use a metaphor popular in 1960s America, the yin of the Deadhead and the yang of the Danfan inhabits us all, regardless of generation.

Click here to view the Deadhead/Danfan Conversion Chart.

via Dangerous Minds

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Thin White Duke: A Close Study of David Bowie’s Darkest Character

Good thing social media wasn’t around in 1976 when David Bowie went through one of his darkest transformations--his career might not have survived it. A few months ago Kanye West started palling around with Trumpism, MAGA hats, and folks like Candace Owens, and Twitter went ballistic and West kind of retreated. But for a moment in 1976, as Polyphonic’s video essay reminds us, David Bowie toyed with actual fascism, saying in one interview:

“You’ve got to have an extreme right-wing front come up and sweep everything off its feet and tidy everything up,” he said in a contentious, weird, and most-probably coke-addled interview in the NME. (You can read the full interview here at The Quietus, which will provide some needed context.)

The interview came on the heels of Young Americans, both his tribute to the Philly soul sound and a critique of the “relentless plastic soul” of American culture. At the same time, Bowie was indulging in his interest in the occult and the teachings of Aleister Crowley, a thread that winds its way through many of his songs, from the Space Oddity album onward. In a Playboy interview he compared Hitler to rock stars long before side four of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. And in one ill advised moment, he seemed to be giving the Nazi salute when he arrived at London’s Victoria Station. (Though Bowie later called this period of his life “ghastly," he always insisted it was just the camera catching him mid-wave.)

(For an in depth look at Bowie’s fascist fascination--with a side look at Eric Clapton’s much worse Enoch Powell-supporting speech--check out this article.)

But for the chameleon rock star who seemed convinced rock music at the time was moribund, this might have all been at the service of a new Bowie character, the Thin White Duke, the man who dressed in black and white and struck a gaunt figure. The man who once sung about “rock and roll suicide” and who broke up the band at the height of their fame, was now diving into himself, running for the shadows, as he existed on a diet of milk, peppers, and cocaine. This could have been what Jung called the “shadow self.”

The whole period would have been sad and pathetic if Bowie had delivered up a crap album. But he didn’t. Station to Station--an allusion to the Kabbalah Tree of Life--is a stone cold classic, and is the preamble to the Berlin trilogy. Polyphonic’s video essay spends most of its time dissecting the lyrics to the epic opening track, teasing out its occult references along with a psychological portrait of Bowie’s mind at the time.

“Station to Station” had no equal in Bowie's catalog for its breadth and obscurity...that is until Blackstar, the similarly long, multi-part opening track to Bowie's final album. He even wears the same blue and silver striped leotard in the video for “Lazarus” that he wore in 1976; Bowie had returned to what Station to Station started, before departing for destinations beyond.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

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