John Coltrane’s classic work reappears in the Santa Cruz Project
Once Charles Tolliver stepped in the door of UC Santa Cruz, he was determined to bring the music of John Coltrane with him.
A brilliant trumpeter who came of age on the New York scene in the early 1960s, when Coltrane was recording a series of period albums for the all new Impulse! label, Tolliver has spent the last three months in Santa Cruz, where he is the first jazz artist in residence in the history of the college’s music department.
By accepting the position, he seized the opportunity to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Impulse de Coltrane! “Africa / Brass”, an album which, when released on September 1, 1961, “left jazz critics aside, as Coltrane’s music often did,” writes journalist Ashly Kahn, winner of a Grammy Award, in “The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records.
âIt was disappointing for critics at the time,â said Tolliver, noting that âCrescentâ and âA Love Supreme,â both recorded in 1964, are often considered Coltrane’s masterpieces. “But ‘Africa / Brass’ certainly falls into the same category.”
Marked by modal themes with minimal harmonic movement, frenzied rhythms and densely layered brass orchestrations by Coltrane’s musical explorer colleague and former bandmate Eric Dolphy, “Africa / Brass” was a singular and ambitious experience that brought together up to 21 musicians. For the highlight of his residency, Tolliver conducts the entire West Coast premiere of the work on December 4 on the main stage of the UCSC Theater Arts Center.
Presented by the Music Department and performed by the UCSC Jazz Big Band directed by Charles Hamilton, the sold-out production features more than a dozen student musicians, several professional ringers (including veteran drummer Akira Tana) and choral arrangements. which develop the original work. .
Tolliver began reconstructing the music of “Africa / Brass” in 1998, when Reggie Workman, Coltrane’s lead bassist in 1961, recruited him to recreate the original arrangements. Since Dolphy’s charts had been lost decades ago, “It had to be done from scratch, and it took about three months to do nothing else,” Tolliver said. âIt took about four more months to do the chorus,â an idea suggested by Workman.
Tolliver used the lyrics to “Greensleeves” and “Song of the Underground Railroad,” traditional songs “that really take on a whole new life,” Tolliver said. “It’s a spectacular musical journey with the added choir.”
Workman and Tolliver created the new “Africa / Brass” in 1998, although the project gained much more attention in 2011 when Tolliver marked the album’s 50th anniversary with tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp. The following year, pianist McCoy Tyner, who performed on “Africa / Brass” and helped create the arrangements for the album, presented the music to Blue Note in New York with the Tolliver big band.
The album represents a big step for Coltrane, who ventured out on his own as a conductor after five years with Miles Davis. He was looking for a new label at the end of his contract with Atlantic Records at the end of 1960. By signing with Impulse !, the label for which he recorded until his death at age 40 in 1967, Coltrane had initially planned to do “Africa / Brass âwith saxophonist Oliver Nelson, an inventive arranger but far more conventional than Dolphy. When Nelson was suddenly unavailable for the project, Dolphy stepped in and created a thick, kinetic low copper mesh that Coltrane rode like an ever-growing wave.
The album made a deep impression on Tolliver, who was about to drop his pharmacy major at Howard University and try his luck in New York City as a musician. He made his recording debut as a frontman on the 1965 Impulse! compilation “The New Wave in Jazz”, an album which also included tracks by Coltrane, Archie Shepp and Albert Ayler.
One of the most original trumpeters on the scene, he didn’t start recording his own music regularly until 1971, when he and pianist Stanley Cowell founded the Strata-East label (which made the subject of a live 50th anniversary celebration last June).
Although he has released several acclaimed albums over the past 15 years, Tolliver has had little presence on the West Coast other than a memorable year with the LA-based Gerald Wilson Orchestra in 1966-67.
âYou could tell I was disappointing outside of New York City,â Tolliver said with a wry chuckle.
Invited to Santa Cruz by Karlton Hester, director of jazz studies at UCSC, Tolliver gives a course on spontaneous composition and the theory of jazz music. As the “Africa / Brass” presentation began with Charles Hamilton’s jazz ensemble, the production turned into an epic journey with an ever-expanding cast.
“He asked the band to perform the play and said ‘that’s good, but it’s not enough,'” said Hamilton, who has thrived in the years since retiring from his quarterback. of century as director of the jazz program at Berkeley High.
âI told my department manager that this thing was growing. I have all these people and he says he still needs more. We ended up with about twenty singers. We’re way over budget, but we’ve added a section for people to contribute. Charles is the driving force. It took a life of its own.
Contact Andrew Gilbert at [email protected]
Presents “Africa / Brass” by John Coltrane at the age of 60
When: 7:30 p.m. on December 4
Or: UC Santa Cruz Theater Arts Center
Tickets: $ 5 to $ 30; ucsctickets.universitytickets.com