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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Abstracts of Papers

Abstracts of Papers “John Coltrane in Rudy Van Gelder's Studio"

Names & Numbers, no.33 (April 2005): 2–7; no.34 (July 2005): –


In September 2004 the New York City auction house Guernsey’s asked me to serve as a historical consultant, cataloguer, and writer in preparation for its first jazz auction, to be held February 20, 2005, at the new jazz venue at Lincoln Center. The auction embraced materials from the estates of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Benny Goodman, Eric Dolphy, and Gerry Mulligan, as well as items from Louis Armstrong in the possession of his manager Oscar Cohen (who became president of Associated Booking Corporation following Joe Glaser’s death in 1969), and various images and a trumpet from a living musician, Clark Terry.

Early in December 2004, as Guernsey’s head Arlan Ettinger related it to me, Naima Coltrane’s daughter Saida* (also known as Antonia Andrews) and Saida’s brother Jamail Dennis were delivering paper items to the auction house: musical manuscripts in John Coltrane’s own hand; a letter from Bill Evans to John Coltrane just after Evans quit Miles Davis’s sextet; a postcard from Wayne Shorter, in Marseilles, to Mr. and Mrs. J. Coltrane (“Europe is a drag. I mean really. Just another gig and a place to practise and/or rehearse.”); Shorter’s hand-drawn portrait of Davis; and so forth. At this point, Jamail said to Arlan, “Oh, we have some tapes. Would you be interested in them?” “TAPES?!,” replied Arlan.

During the last three weeks of 2004 I had the unbelievable privilege of identifying and cataloguing the contents of digital copies of 35 reel-to-reel tapes, the contents of which proved to be mainly unreleased recordings by John Coltrane for Impulse! Records at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, from 1962 to 1964. I submitted my essay to Guernsey’s the evening of January 2, 2005. Coincidentally the following morning Guernsey’s phoned to report that attorneys for the Impulse! label had just threatened a lawsuit if the reels were not withdrawn from the auction. This was done, and accordingly the essay that appears below was withdrawn from the auction catalogue. Two home-made tapes, respectively of Ornette Coleman (tape AA28) and Bill Henderson (AA32), remained in the auction, since both were private recordings and hence neither evoked a contractual dispute.

Hopefully Arlan Ettinger can broker some sort of deal that eventually will lead to these recordings becoming available to the jazz public. In the meantime I find myself in a position to make rather monumental additions and corrections to existing Coltrane discographies.

The tapes were badly disordered, with wrong reels in the wrong boxes, misidentification in listings of contents on the tape boxes, and mislabeling of the boxes. In the essay that follows, “AA” refers to Guernsey’s arbitrary in-house cataloguing of materials received from Saida (i.e., Antonia Andrews). “JD” refers to materials received from Jamail Dennis. Headings such as “Tape 7 of 1962” refer to labels that Saida put on the tape boxes. These labels proved often to be incorrect or out of order, but I have given them nonetheless, because they are attached to the artifacts. In nearly all instances, Rudy Van Gelder may be heard giving tape master numbers, titles, and take numbers. Of course his announcements from the control booth take precedence over any other sort of ad hoc cataloguing of these materials. In numerous instances where variant titles occur or where an entirely unreleased session has now emerged, Van Gelder’s numbering accords with tape master numbers given in David Wild, The Recordings of John Coltrane (Ann Arbor, MI: 2nd. ed., 1979). Consequently I am deeply indebted to David for the extent to which his work has enabled me to sort out these tapes.

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