The Night When John Coltrane Soloed in a Bathroom and David Crosby, High as a Kite, Nearly Lost His Mind

David Cros­by is not only one of rock’s great song­writ­ers; he is also one of rock’s great raconteurs—always ready with a sto­ry, told as only he can tell it, about life in not just one, but two of the most influ­en­tial bands of the 1960s, the Byrds and Cros­by, Stills & Nash and some­times Young. Few peo­ple have lived a life as col­or­ful as his and lived to tell about it. Even few­er pos­sess Crosby’s wit and eye for detail.

He came by his wealth of anec­dotes at a sig­nif­i­cant cost, how­ev­er, to him­self and the peo­ple around him, as he read­i­ly admits in the new­ly released (on Blu-ray) Cameron Crowe-pro­duced doc­u­men­tary Remem­ber My Name. Now a wiz­ened 78-years-old and still pro­lif­ic and rais­ing hell (on Twit­ter, at least) Cros­by reached far back in the mem­o­ry vault to tell the tale of his life, from child­hood to his 60s hey­day to his stints in jail and rehab and through every sor­did stage of full blown addic­tion.

Drugs will seri­ous­ly mess up your life, says Cros­by, in no uncer­tain terms, but it’s also clear his life would have been much less event­ful, and less inter­est­ing, with­out them. Take the sto­ry he tells of run­ning into John Coltrane in the men’s room of the South Side Chica­go club called McKie’s in 1963. Incred­i­bly high, Cros­by finds him­self blown out of his seat and against the wall by Elvin Jones’ drum solo. He retreats to the bath­room and prompt­ly hits the floor. “I’ve got my head against this puke green tile,” he says in the clip above from Remem­ber My Name (see the trail­er below).

While Cros­by tried to pull him­self togeth­er, who should walk in but Coltrane, still play­ing:

He nev­er stopped solo­ing. He’s still solo­ing. And he’s like burn­ing in this bath­room. He doesn’t even know I’m there. He nev­er even saw me. I’m think­ing I’m gonna slide right down this tile. I’m think­ing my nose is gonna open and my brain is gonna rush out onto the floor. It was so intense. I nev­er heard any­one be more intense with music than that in my life.

Cros­by gets into more detail in an inter­view with Jaz­zTimes. Coltrane, he says, “played in the [restroom] for a cou­ple of min­utes because the sound was good—it was echoey—and he was… as good as you think he was.” He also talks at length about his long rela­tion­ship with jazz, from his dis­cov­ery of late-50s records by Dave Brubeck, Chet Bak­er, and Bill Evans, to Miles Davis record­ing a ver­sion of his song “Guin­n­e­vere.” (Davis was appar­ent­ly instru­men­tal in get­ting the Byrds signed to Colum­bia Records.)

The influ­ence of Davis and Coltrane on Crosby’s song­writ­ing is per­haps less evi­dent than in, say, the work of Joni Mitchell, but Cros­by admits that his “phras­ing and melody choice” derived from “real­ly good horn play­ers.” It’s inter­est­ing to note just how much impact late-50s/ear­ly 60s jazz had on not only Cros­by and Mitchell, but also 60s icons like Grace Slick. Lis­ten­ing to these clas­sic rock sur­vivors describe how Miles and Coltrane helped shape their sound shows just how much the mid-cen­tu­ry jazz rev­o­lu­tion fueled the rock rev­o­lu­tion that fol­lowed.

Now that he’s sober, Crosby’s sto­ries don’t involve near­ly as much floor tile and brains slid­ing out of noses, but they’re still full of jazz encoun­ters, includ­ing his recent col­lab­o­ra­tions with Wyn­ton Marsalis and jazz col­lec­tive Snarky Pup­py. Read more about his recent projects and his­to­ry with jazz over at Jaz­zTimes.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jazz Decon­struct­ed: What Makes John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” So Ground­break­ing and Rad­i­cal?

How Grace Slick Wrote “White Rab­bit”: The 1960s Clas­sic Inspired by LSD, Lewis Car­roll, Miles Davis’ Sketch­es of Spain, and Hyp­o­crit­i­cal Par­ents

How Joni Mitchell Wrote “Wood­stock,” the Song that Defined the Leg­endary Music Fes­ti­val, Even Though She Wasn’t There (1969)

Kind of Blue: How Miles Davis Changed Jazz

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

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