• John Coltrane’s 1963 recordings collected in new 5xLP box set

    By | November 12, 2018

    Capturing an incredibly fertile year for the legendary saxophonist.

    A new box set collecting music from five of John Coltrane’s 1963 albums is to be released by Impulse! later this month.

    Read next: John Coltrane, Kamasi Washington and the art of looking both directions at once

    Hot on the heels of Both Directions At Once, recorded in 1963 but released for the first time earlier this year, Impulse! has curated a new box set that includes material from the lost release, along side four other albums.

    They include an album of ballads with vocalist Johnny Hartman, entitled John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, a collection called Dear Old Stockholm which heard Roy Haynes sit in for Elvin Jones on drums, and live albums Newport ‘63 and Live at Birdland, which features Coltrane’s devastating response to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, ‘Alabama’.

    While tempting to call 1963 a transitional period for Coltrane, between the critical successes of My Favorite Things and his spiritual opus A Love Supreme, 1963 captured the classic quartet of Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones at the height of its powers, both live and in the studio.

    Containing every Impulse! recording made in that year and presented in chronological order, John Coltrane – 1963: New Directions will be released as a 5xLP box set on 30th November. Pre-order a copy here.

    Photo: Joe Alper courtesy of Joe Alper Photo Collection LLC

    Tracklist:

    LP1

    1. Untitled Original 11383 (Take 1)
    2. Nature Boy
    3. Untitled Original 11386 (Take 1)
    4. Vilia (Take 3)
    5. Impressions (Take 3)
    6. Slow Blues
    7. One Up, One Down (Take 1)
    8. Vilia (Take 5)
    9. Impressions (Take 1)
    10. Impressions (Take 2)
    11. Impressions (Take 4)
    12. Untitled Original 11386 (Take 2)
    13. Untitled Original 11386 (Take 5)
    14. One Up, One Down (Take 5)

    LP2

    1. They Say It’s Wonderful – John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman
    2. Dedicated to You
    3. My One and Only Love
    4. Lush Life
    5. You Are Too Beautiful
    6. Autumn Serenade

    LP3

    1. Dear Old Stockholm
    2. After the Rain

    LP4

    1. I Want to Talk About You – Newport
    2. My Favorite Things
    3. Impressions

    LP5

    1. Afro Blue – Birdland
    2. I Want to Talk About You
    3. The Promise
    4. Alabama
    5. Your Lady

  • 14 compilations from the Jazz Reference series released on vinyl for the first time

    By | October 29, 2018

    With records by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald and more.

    14 compilations from Francis Dreyfus’s Jazz Reference series have been released on vinyl for the first time.

    Read more: How Roy DeCarava’s jazz photographs captured the soul of Harlem and influenced a generation

    The Jazz Reference series was started by music publisher and producer Francis Dreyfus in 2000.

    Dreyfus stated that Jazz Reference is “a collection of the most beautiful tracks ever recorded before 1960 by the biggest and most renowned creators of the lively and flawless language of jazz.”

    Restored and remastered by Dreyfus and sound engineer Rene Ameline, Jazz Reference is known for its excellent sound quality of some of the genre’s finest recordings.

    Each LP features new original artwork from Seb Jarnot.

    Head here to order a copy and check out the full list of 14 titles below.

    Tracklist

    Billie Holiday – You Go To My Head
    Charlie Parker – Now’s The Time
    Miles Davis & John Coltrane – Trane’s Blues
    Dizzy Gillespie – Cubana Be, Cubana Pop
    Django Reinhardt – Echoes of France
    Duke Ellington – Ko-Ko
    Louis Armstrong – C’est Si Bon
    Nat King Cole – Route 66
    Stan Getz – Lullaby Of Birdland
    Sarah Vaughan – Lullaby Of Birdland
    Ella Fitzgerald – Love For Sale
    Erroll Garner – Trio
    The Gerry Milligan Quintet with Chet Baker – Soft Shoe
    Lester Young – Just You, Just Me

  • John and Alice Coltrane’s home studio is opening to the public

    By | October 10, 2018

    The basement studio will be turned into an “interactive and creative space”.

    John and Alice Coltrane’s former home has been named a “National Treasure” by the National Trust for Preservation, reports the New York Times.

    Read more: Coltrane, Kamasi and the art of looking both directions at once

    Located in Huntington, New York, John Coltrane composed his seminal 1964 LP A Love Supreme in its second-floor bedroom, while Alice Coltrane record her first five albums in its basement studio, starting with Monastic Trio in 1968.

    John lived in the home until his death in 1967, while Alice remained there through the early ’70s.

    After Alice sold the house in 1973, its ownership changed hands multiple times, and in 2002 the house was slated to be demolished by a local developer.

    Thankfully, a campaign lead by music lovers worldwide saved the house from destruction, and the property was purchased by the town of Huntington in 2006. It now belongs to the foundation Friends of the John and Alice Coltrane Home.

    “Restoring and reusing the home for music education and outreach presents an outstanding opportunity to honour the Coltranes’ values of innovation, creativity, hard work and self-empowerment,” explains president and chief executive of the National Trust, Stephanie Meeks.

    Alongside a large scale renovation of the home itself, the basement studio will be turned into an “interactive and creative space”, and a public park will be created on the land surrounding it.

    Earlier this year, John’s lost 1963 album, Both Directions at Once, was released for the first time.

    Head here for more info.

  • South African multi-instrumentalist Bheki Mseleku’s spiritual jazz opus Celebration to get first ever vinyl release

    By | September 27, 2018

    “A kindred spirit to John Coltrane” – Alice Coltrane.

    South African pianist and multi-instrumentalist Bheki Mseleku’s 1992 album Celebration will be reissued on vinyl for the first time via Matsuli Music next month.

    Read next: How jazz became the music of resistance in apartheid South Africa

    Released against a backdrop of seismic change in South Africa and the dismantling of Apartheid, Mseleku assembled a group of international musicians from across the Black Atlantic spiritual jazz continuum (inclusing Jean Toussaint and Courtney Pine) for a record that was originally released via World Circuit in 1992, and was subsequently shortlisted for the Mercury Prize.

    Greatly embedded in the spiritual jazz tradition, Mseleku was recognised by Alice Coltrane as one of the few true exponents of her late husbands legacy. She famously gave Mseleku the saxophone mouthpiece that John Coltrane had used during the recording of A Love Supreme. Speaking in 1992, Mseleku echoed this sentiment: “the only musicians I know of who were deeply into this were Coltrane, and Pharoah and Sun Ra.”

    Saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings agrees: “The first thing that struck me about this album was the feeling of the music. It had so much joy. It felt like it was so much more than the intricacies of how he was creating the music; it invoked the feeling of why this music was being made.”

    Bheki Mseleku’s Celebration will be released as gatefold vinyl, with new liner notes by Francis Gooding, on 1st October. Click here to pre-order a copy and see the artwork below.

  • Coltrane, Kamasi and the art of looking both directions at once

    By | July 11, 2018

    Ashley Kahn on the story behind John Coltrane’s “lost” 1963 album, and the context into which it has emerged.

    “If you look at the headlines today, there’s a hell of a big reason for it to be back on the rise,” says Ashley Kahn, musing on the return of so-called spiritual jazz. It’s the eve of the release of John Coltrane’s “lost” album Both Directions At Once, and a few days since Kamasi Washington unleashed Heaven & Earth when we speak, and two stars from very different generations and contexts have aligned.

    For Kahn, the music writer and Coltrane scholar who has written the liner notes for the release and was among the first to hear it, Both Directions At Once captures a quartet at the height of its creative powers. Alongside McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones, Coltrane assumes the role of “a seasoned pastor”, able to go into the studio with little more than “a wisp of a melody and create a symphony of tension and release like it was a Sunday morning in church.”

    “He [Coltrane] knew exactly how to make each track fit into a ten minute window, how to make it build, where the drama needed to be, and how to bring it home with that message that would have all the parishioners almost jumping out of the seats at some point going “Hallelujah!””

    The devotional frenzy, the spiritual release, the social commentary inherent in the radical simplicity of each note, played with fervour and heart, blowing for freedom and taking everyone along with him, Coltrane imbued his sound with an urgency that transcended jazz. The same could be said of Kamasi Washington, who has built his sound on the foundations laid by John Coltrane and his quartet. When Kahn says Coltrane “brought the energy of the church into the jazz club,” he could just as well be referring to Kamasi.

    Of course, these are very different musicians, operating in very different contexts, brought into focus together in 2018 by virtue of forces beyond their influence. Both however appear meticulous about the way their music was (or is) presented.

    Coltrane liked to come across as modest. In a famous 1961 interview with jazz writer Ralph Gleason, he appears almost frustratingly so, unsure of his place beside the like Miles Davis and Horace Silver, and unable to quite articulate where he’s going next.

    Kahn seems unimpressed: “Coltrane had enough of a sense of his worth and value… he had had a huge, out-of-the-blue-sky hit with ‘My Favourite Things’. He talks about how he’s trying to find another tune, another hit – and sure enough, how many different three-quarter time soprano pieces does he do? He does one on this session.”

    On 6th March, 1963, Coltrane and his band go into the studio and lay down 14 tracks. They’d just come off a two week stint at NYC jazz club Birdland, and, to all intents and purposes were ready to record an album. “I didn’t hang out in the club between sets, but I’d be back stage and I heard Coltrane playing ‘Vilia’, again and again and again,” Wayne Shorter told Kahn of that second week, where he played opposite Coltrane with Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. The suspicion is that they were working out material for the session.

    Fast forward fifty-five years and Kahn is listening to the tapes with John Coltrane’s son Ravi Coltrane and a few others. The reels had been discovered in the possession of Syeeda (who now goes by the name Antonia), the daughter of Coltrane and Naima, and namesake of the famous ‘Syeeda’s Song Flute’ track on Giant Steps, and have finally been readied for release.

    “We sat down, five of us, and as we were listening to it, the engineer was counting up the duration of the final take of each of the tunes,” tells Kahn of the first moment he heard the tracks. “And this is someone who knows about time configurations, and what a perfect duration would be for an A-side or B-side of an LP back in 1963. And he goes, “You know what, this was definitely a session where they were trying to create an album”, because in the end, when he added up the time of all the final takes, it perfectly matched the time limit of an LP for a high-fidelity play-back. The A-side and the B-side were perfectly timed too, so you wouldn’t have had to fade out any track, you could put the whole track on.”

    Kahn continues: “There was minimal studio talk that was recorded. When the tape was turned on they were pretty much ready to perform and that’s what they did. If you go to the session masters and hear one take after another, there’s a sense of determination, they’re trying to hit it. They’re not just blowing, they’re making it happen in a way that suggests they want to create finished product.”

    Here were a set of sermons, perfectly crafted for the form on which they would be delivered, honed in a live context and captured – like “lightning in a bottle” – on a set of tape reels that were never released.

    “Coltrane was very sensitive to the idea that, as his music changed, and as his music was released into the marketplace, there was this incredible delay,” says Kahn. Albums Coltrane had cut with Prestige and Atlantic were still being released four or more years after they had been recorded. My Favourite Things released in tandem with Lush Life in March 1961 – two albums worlds apart in Coltrane’s musical trajectory.

    “It irked him to no end that people would get confused and think, “Oh, this is the latest Coltrane album,”” says Kahn, suggesting this goes some way to explaining what may have happened to Both Directions And Once. “The assumption is that he felt his music had moved on before this album came out, and he went up to Bob Thiele, his producer at Impulse!, and said “could you rather put this out, rather than this, it’s more indicative of where I am.” The four versions of ‘Impressions’ – at that point still referred to on the tapes in Coltrane’s own hand-writing as the tune which inspired it ‘So What’ – didn’t appear until later that year as a live Village Vanguard take on the LP Impressions.

    For his second major release, Kamasi Washington’s Heaven & Earth sprawls across four 12” records, containing over two and a half hours of music, and is accompanied by a secret additional EP, which adds another forty minutes to the playing time – alone closer to the length which Coltrane would have envisaged for his 1963 album.

    Unlike Both Directions At Once, shelved for missing the moment, Heaven & Earth is decidedly totemic, an opus delivered in a form that demands, and to some extent precedes, its historical impact. Not so much a line in the sand, it’s built like a pyramid in the desert (note that Sonny Rollins called this Coltrane discovery “a new room in the Great Pyramid” in the album’s press release) – an album not made to fit neatly onto two sides of vinyl, but to soundtrack an afternoon of continuous streaming – gushing forth a generation’s worth of social, racial and spiritual shortfall in America.

    But like the title ultimately given to Coltrane’s “lost” album, there’s a sense of a relationship here that goes both ways. Whereas Kamasi has forged his own sound on a history left by Coltrane and his acolytes Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler and Pharoah Sanders (Kahn calls Kamasi “the right player at the right time”), so perhaps we wouldn’t necessarily have been treated to Both Directions At Once, had Washington not thrust this music back into the limelight.

    “I think it all feeds off the same spirits and energy,” says Kahn. “There have been times when John Coltrane releases came and went. This very deservedly and very fortunately is getting a lot more attention.”

    Why does Kahn think it’s happened now? “This spiritual-orientated stuff has always been a pocket, a part of the trick bag of saxophone jazz,” he answers. “We need this kind of connectivity. The spiritual message of this music is very different from cool jazz or the hyper-frenetic feeling of be-bop. This is a very different kind of sound and message that connects to a very specific time in the late ’60s, and a kind of political and social sensibility.”

    Photo: Joe Alper / Joe Alper Photo Collection

    Kamasi’s journey still in motion, but where does Both Directions At Once fit in the evolution and development of Coltrane’s sound? “He’s definitely one step away from going down the spiritual path, with much more internal, meditative material, that utilises a more modal approach, with an almost overly simple, yet very deep approach to melody. Some of the melodies that he plays around with in ’64 and ’65 have an almost nursery school-like simplicity to them, yet the depth of feeling that he’s able to get out of them is what he’s going for.”

    “At the same time, you can still hear the sheets of sound, you can hear that be-bop sensibility as well. Famously he told Wayne Shorter, “I want to start in the middle of the sentence and then go both directions at once.” It’s one foot in the past, one foot in the future.”

    In that sense, few musicians have done as much as Kamasi in tearing down arcane definitions of high and low culture, colliding jazz influences with Kendrick Lamar collaborations and Street Fighter references.

    “To call [Both Directions At Once] pivotal, which you might be tempted to do, is redundant, because almost every stop along the path for Coltrane was pivotal,” says Kahn. It remains to be seen which direction Kamasi will take next.

    Main image: Jim Marshall Photography

  • Lost 1963 John Coltrane album released for the first time

    By | June 8, 2018

    Featuring two previously unheard and unknown tracks.

    In an age where (seemingly) your every move is documented, it’s difficult to imagine an entire album getting ‘lost’, especially one by John Coltrane.

    But such is the case with Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album, an unreleased studio album recorded by John Coltrane and his Classic Quartet –  McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones, released for the first time via Impulse! this June.

    The session took place on the 6th of March of 1963, a day before Coltrane laid down his John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman album. It captures Coltrane at a seminal moment in his career, a year before the recording of Impressions and Crescent.

    Most notably, the recordings include previously unheard and unknown tracks ‘Untitled Original 11383’ and ‘Untitled Original 11386,’ both played on soprano sax. ‘11383’ also features an arco bass solo by Jimmy Garrison.

    Additional tracks include a piano-less version of ‘Impressions’, a studio recording of ‘One Up, One Down’ previously only available as a bootleg live from Birdland, Coltrane’s first recording of ‘Nature Boy’, with ‘Slow Blues’ and Coltrane’s take on Frank Lehár’s ‘Vilia’ from Merry Widow rounding out the album.  

    Following the studio session Coltrane took home the reference tape. Though the master has never been located, the 1/4 reference tape was kept in good condition.

    54 years after its creation, seminal jazz label Impulse! approached the Coltrane family about releasing the album.

    News of the release has been heralded as a major discovery across the music world. As legendary saxophonist Sonny Rollins aptly put it, “this is like finding a new room in the Great Pyramid.”

    Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album LP will be released in a standard version with recordings selected by Ravi Coltrane, and a deluxe double vinyl version whose second disc includes additional takes of the tracks.

    Pre-order a copy here ahead of its 29th June release, listen to ‘Untitled Original 11383’ and check out the track list below.

    Tracklist

    LP1

    Side A

    1. Untitled Original 11383 (Take 1)
    2. Nature Boy
    3. Untitled Original11386 (Take 1)
    4. Vilia (Take 3)

    Side B

    1. Impressions (Take 3)
    2. Slow Blues
    3. One Up, One Down (Take 1)

    LP2

    Side A

    1. Vilia (Take 5)
    2. Impressions (Take 1)
    3. Impressions (Take 2)
    4. Impressions (Take 4)

    Side B

    1. Untitled Original 11386 (Take 2)
    2. Untitled Original 11386 (Take 5)
    3. One Up, One Down (Take 6)

  • This new film takes you behind the scenes of legendary Blue Note Records

    By | April 5, 2018

    The pioneering label that changed music.

    In 1939, German Jewish refugees Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff launched Blue Note Records in New York City.

    Read more: Blue Note changed my life: 16 artists pick their favourite Blue Note records of all time

    “(Alfred and Francis) were fans. I think they were just records they wanted to hear, and they didn’t know anything about making records.”

    Uniquely for a label at the time – and even today – the duo allowed musicians virtually complete artistic freedom.

    The result was a label that has released over 1,000 records to date, from some of the most influential musicians in the world: John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Donald Byrd, Marlena Shaw, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, to name a few.

    New documentary Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes by Sophie Huber takes you inside the world of Blue Note Records, told via interviews and archival footage.

    “Alfred and Frank, I never got the sense of pressure from them, to create in any kind of way other than what might come out of me,” shares Herbie Hancock in an interview from the film. “They understood the value of trusting in musicians.”

    “The story of Blue Note spans over eight decades and includes about a thousand records. Behind each record is a human being, an expression of our time,” explains director Sophie Huber.

    “In an era where racism and xenophobia are dangerously present, it is particularly important to tell the story about this consequential collaboration between African American artists and the German Jewish immigrants who recorded them. The legacy they built together continues to inspire across generations and genres, including hip-hop,” she continues.

    As Hancock puts it, “what they were searching for was to get at the heart of the individual creating the music, and that heart is affected by the times, because we were living in it.”

    Head here for more info.

  • Rare John Coltrane A Love Supreme test pressing is for sale on eBay

    By | February 1, 2018

    A piece of jazz history.

    The test pressing of John Coltrane’s iconic album A Love Supreme is being sold on eBay.

    Read more: Binker Golding’s guide to listening to John Coltrane

    Originally released in 1965 on Impulse! Records, A Love Supreme became Coltrane’s best-selling record. Today it is rightly regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time, jazz or otherwise.

    Seller thesoundofblue purchased the test pressing “a few years ago at Academy Records in NYC. Someone also pointed out that where it says Coltrane it looks like his signature. I am not real sure about that. He usually signed his full name. No idea who Ken Coltrane is.”

    When asked who sold the record to the store, Academy shared “a guy whose thing is hunting through thrift stores, garage sales. We couldn’t find another copy to know how much to sell it for.”

    A Love Supreme test pressing is listed in VG condition, with A-77 A and A 77-B etched in the deadwax, a Van Gelder Stamp on both sides, and housed in a generic sleeve.

    The record is currently listed at $19,000, or you can make an offer here.

  • VF Mix 120: Pharoah Sanders by Tim Garcia

    By | January 18, 2018

    A cosmic journey with the legendary sax originator.

    This week our VF Mix series delves into the work of tenor saxophone titan Pharoah Sanders.

    For the special occasion, we’ve enlisted Música Macondo/Jazz FM’s Tim Garcia to traverse Sanders’ 50 year career:

    “A student of John Coltrane and Sun Ra, Sanders was described by Ornette Coleman as ‘probably the best tenor player in the world’,” shares Garcia.

    “This mix pays tribute to “Little Rock”, exploring his creations with both John and Alice Coltrane, his cross-cultural collaborations with the likes of Maleem Mahmoud Gania and Foday Musa Suso, his Impulse! years and beyond.”

    “I find it hard to put into words the feeling that listening to Pharoah Sanders gives me, but Norman Connors once said of his time with Pharoah. “I can’t really describe it. It’s just such a beautiful thing. It was almost as if everybody was going to heaven.”

    Tracklist

    1. Pharoah Sanders – Harvest Time (1977)
    2. Foday Musa Suso Feat. Pharoah Sanders – Samma (1996)
    3. John Coltrane Feat. Pharoah Sanders – Kulu Sé Mama (1966)
    4. Pharoah Sanders – Morning Prayer (1971)
    5. Pharoah Sanders – Moon Rays (1990)
    6. Pharoah Sanders – Astral Travelling (1971)
    7. Alice Coltrane Feat. Pharoah Sanders – Journey In Satchidananda (1971)
    8. Pharoah Sanders Feat. Leon Thomas – Prince Of Peace (1973)
    9. Maleem Mahmoud Gania with Pharoah Sanders – La Allah Dayim Moulenah (1994)
    10. Pharoah Sanders – Africa (1987)
    11. Pharoah Sanders – Pharomba (1978)
    12. Pharoah Sanders – Moon Child (1990)
    13. Pharoah Sanders – Mansion Worlds (1973)
    14. Pharoah Sanders – Origin (1981)
    15. Pharoah Sanders – Think About The One (1980)
    16. Pharoah Sanders & Phyllis Hyman – As You Are (1978)
    17. Pharoah Sanders – The Creator Has A Master Plan (1969)
    18. Pharoah Sanders & Phyllis Hyman – Love Is Here (1978)
    19. Pharoah Sanders – You’ve Gotta Have Freedom (1980)

  • How Roy DeCarava’s jazz photographs captured the soul of Harlem and influenced a generation

    By | November 9, 2017

    Roy DeCarava was a jazz photographer, artist and Harlem local who captured everyday life in the Manhattan district like no-one else. Through a sparing, striking use of natural light, DeCarava’s exploration of the aesthetics of blackness was revolutionary, developing a visual mode that challenged the era’s cultural assumptions around race, poverty and artistic representation.

    Taking DeCarava’s legacy into contemporary America, film-maker and artist Kahlil Joseph has channelled this approach into work with Flying Lotus, Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar and Sampha in recent years. Now he has collaborated with DeCarava’s estate to craft the new VF-commissioned work Fly Paper, a vision of Harlem soundtracked by Kelsey Lu and Lauryn Hill, making its UK debut as part of Strange Days: Memories of the Future at The Store X, 180 The Strand, London. Chris May traces the oft-overlooked career of this most radical and influential of artists.

    In 1958, when Columbia Records commissioned Roy DeCarava to shoot the cover photograph for Miles Davis’s Porgy and Bess, most sleeve photographers opted for one of two prevailing clichés: a flattering studio portrait or an intense performance shot. But DeCarava wanted something out of the ordinary. The story goes that he pitched up unannounced at Davis’s brownstone, to prevent Davis giving too much preparatory thought to the image. Once inside, DeCarava took an informal photograph of Davis sitting next to his girlfriend, the dancer Frances Taylor, in the backyard. Neither of their heads or faces are in the frame. Instead the viewer’s gaze is directed towards Taylor reaching out with her left hand to caress the trumpet Davis is holding on his lap. Intimate and sensual, DeCarava’s shot perfectly captures the atmosphere of George Gershwin’s opera as interpreted by Davis.

    Whatever the precise circumstances of the Porgy and Bess shoot, the image is illustrative of DeCarava’s idiosyncratic approach to his work. His much fêted collection of jazz photography, The Sound I Saw – an enduring mid-20th century masterpiece – features shots he took in and around Harlem in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Other talented photographers were then patrolling the same beat, but DeCarava’s approach stands apart. The featured musicians – spanning famous, soon-to-be famous and lesser known names – are variously portrayed onstage, backstage or just hanging out. But they form only part of the book. Their photographs are interspersed with shots of their wives and children, their apartments, the views from their windows, middle-distance shots of passers-by walking down the street – the everyday milieu in which the musicians led their lives.

    DeCarava’s contextualizing of his subjects adds a depth of meaning rarely found in jazz photography, and it gives his work a power which continues to inspire photographers and film-makers today. But it also fosters the false notion that DeCarava was, first and foremost, a documentary photographer with a social-realist aesthetic. In fact, he deserves to be judged as – and considered himself to be – an art photographer. He rejected the contemporary idea that black people in America were unpromising subjects for art, suited to be portrayed only as caricatures or social problems, and that their depiction should serve either as a lesson in history or an instrument of social change.

    “I’m not a documentarian, I never have been,” said DeCarava in a 1990 interview. “I think of myself as poetic, a maker of visions, dreams – and a few nightmares.”

    George Morrow, 1956. Photograph by Roy DeCarava(c) Estate of Roy DeCarava 2017. All Rights Reserved.

    DeCarava was born in Harlem in 1919. After leaving high school, he won a place at New York’s Cooper Union School of Art, where he trained to be a painter. After two years, he moved to the Harlem Community Art Center (HCAC), where he redirected his energies towards photography. It was an auspicious move – at HCAC, DeCarava met the writer Langston Hughes, with whom he would later collaborate on his first book, the widely acclaimed The Sweet Flypaper of Life.

    In 1950, DeCarava’s photographs came to the attention of Edward Steichen, the director of the Department of Photography at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). At Steichen’s urging, DeCarava successfully applied for a grant from the prestigious Guggenheim foundation. In his application, he said that he wanted to devote a year to photographing Harlem and its people “morning, noon, night, at work, going to work, coming home from work, at play, in the streets, talking, kidding, laughing, in the home, in the playgrounds, in the schools, bars, stores, libraries, beauty parlours, churches, etc…[But] I do not want to make a documentary or sociological statement. I want a creative expression.”

    In 1954, DeCarava and Langston Hughes teamed up to produce The Sweet Flypaper of Life, which was published the following year. The book featured a selection of DeCarava’s Guggenheim-funded photographs accompanied by a fictionalized narrative written by Hughes. Encouraged by its success, DeCarava began putting The Sound I Saw together in 1956, although the book was not published in its finished form until 2001.

    It was while shooting The Sweet Flypaper of Life and The Sound I Saw that DeCarava perfected the two core signatures of his style – the use of available light rather than flash and an embrace of the dark tones that often resulted from that choice. In 1990, he talked about this approach in an interview with Ivor Miller published by the John Hopkins University Press. “I don’t try to alter light, which is why I never use flash,” said DeCarava. “I hate it with a passion because it obliterates what I saw. When I fall in love with something I see, when something interests me, it interests me in the context of the light that it’s in. So why should I try to change the light and what I see, to get this ‘perfect’ information-laden print? I don’t care about that. The reason why my photographs are so dark is that I take photographs everywhere, light or not. If I can see it, I will take a picture of it. If it’s dark, so be it. I take things as I find them because that’s the way I am and that’s the way I like them. When I went to a jazz club it wasn’t lit up like a T.V. studio. It was dark. I accept that.”

    Coltrane on soprano, 1963. Photograph by Roy DeCarava(c) Estate of Roy DeCarava 2017. All Rights Reserved.

    Later in the same interview, DeCarava said that the use of darker tones could be interpreted as conscious opposition to the values imposed on American society by European tradition – and the resulting sidelining of black culture. “I get a little angry,” he said, “with some of my friends who insist that I listen to classical music because it is really music, or that I listen to opera because it is the truth. I say this is simply a European perception. There are other perceptions in the world about music. I happen to find opera very simplistic. I find classical music very rigid, needing almost a slave and master relationship to make music. The conductor is the master, the musicians are the tools with which he forges someone else’s music; they do what he wants them to do. To me, the idea of jazz, the right and the need of the individual to express his uniqueness, which is what jazz, and even folk music is about, is also music. I resent the idea that classical music is the only music and that therefore I am suspect, I’m not quite civilized, if I don’t embrace it.”

    Late night singer with mike, 1960. Photograph by Roy DeCarava(c) Estate of Roy DeCarava 2017. All Rights Reserved.

    In 1996, MoMA mounted a retrospective of DeCarava’s work. For an American photographer, a MoMA exhibition is the ultimate art-establishment seal of approval. The recognition had been hard won. Only six years earlier, DeCarava said to Ivor Miller: “I will never get credit, I think, for my ability as a photographer. [They say] I’m black first, which puts me in another category. I don’t know how many times I’ve been called ‘one of the great black photographers,’ but that’s not as good as a plain white photographer.”

    “[The MoMA exhibition] was accomplished by the dint of many dedicated individuals, some from outside the normal museum curatorial structure, as well as by the feeling that ‘the time had come’ from the context of a broad artistic truth,” says Sherry DeCarava, an art historian Roy married in 1971.

    “Roy set a standard for excellence that remains unmatched. Yet in the 21 years since, despite the collective best efforts of supporters and friends, he has not had a book published or a major solo exhibition. This has remained an enduring frustration even as his work continues to speak to who we are as human beings and continues to inspire generations of artists. The hands of museum directors, publishers and curators are completely clean. Don’t you find this odd? As an observer, I do.”

    Kahlil Joseph, Fly Paper, New Museum 2017.

    As Sherry says, Roy DeCarava’s legacy resonates strongly with new generations of photographers and film-makers. Kahlil Joseph’s film Fly Paper pays explicit homage to the title and overall aesthetic of The Sweet Flypaper of Life. The film also references some of DeCarava’s most striking images – its depiction of dancers Storyboard P and Ben Vereen, for instance, is clearly inspired by DeCarava’s 1956 photograph “Dancers”.

    Joseph also acknowledges a debt to DeCarava’s rejection of documentarian and social-realist values. In an interview with the New York Times about Fly Paper Joseph said, “I wanted people to feel like they saw a Harlem that they can’t see. You can take a tour bus around Harlem and see the exterior.”

    “The truth of Roy DeCarava is carried from hand to hand and heart to heart,” says Sherry DeCarava, “despite the fact that so much of his work remains unpublished and all of his books are out of print. The world needs Roy DeCarava so we may better understand beauty and justice as an undivided expression. The recognition and mystery of that experience is where we find ourselves, reflected through the lens of his artwork.”

    Kahlil Joseph’s Fly Paper is being shown as part of his Shadow Play exhibition at New Museum in New York. Open until 7th January 2018, click here to find out more.

  • Jazz pianist Sonny Clark’s 1960 Time Sessions released in new limited 2xLP version

    By | October 30, 2017

    A collaborator with John Coltrane, Donald Byrd and Bill Evans before his death at 31.

    Sonny Clark’s Sonny Clark Trio: The 1960 Time Sessions has been remastered in a new version, released exclusively for Black Friday Record Store Day by Tompkins Square, 24th November.

    Read more: Blue Note changed my life: 16 artists pick their favourite Blue Note records of all time

    Clark was an illustrious member of New York’s jazz scene during the course of his 31 short years.

    He worked extensively with Blue Note, releasing 10 LPs on the label as lead musician/band leader, contributing his piano talents as a band member on a further 40 albums.

    Sonny Clark Trio, Clark’s sole non-Blue Note album, which was released on Time in 1961, features bassist George Duvvier and drummer Max Roach.

    The new 2xLP Sonny Clark Trio: The 1960 Time Sessions includes the album remastered from its original tapes, a second version of the album featuring alternate takes released on vinyl for the first time, original liner notes as well as a new essay on Clark by Ben Ratliff.

    Head here for info on where you can grab a copy, and listen to the original version of Sonny Clark Trio: The 1960 Time Sessions below.

  • Binker Golding’s guide to listening to John Coltrane

    By | September 14, 2017

    When and when not to listen to the transcendental sound of John Coltrane.

    Such is the cataclysmic force of John Coltrane’s music, new-comers and devotees alike must practice a degree of mindfulness when approaching his records. Social setting must be taken into account, menial tasks set aside and heavy machinery switched to stand-by.

    A saxophonist in the Coltrane mould, Binker Golding has selected five recordings for particular scrutiny, highlighting the do’s and definitely do not’s specfic to each LP.

    The man behind one of the year’s most ferociously astute jazz recordings Journey To The Mountain of Forever with drummer Moses Boyd (whose new solo EP appeared on The Vinyl Factory this summer), Golding’s trio will perform live at Commune’s special screening of new John Coltrane documentary Chasing Trane at Dalston’s Rio Cinema this weekend.

    But before you get too comfortable, here are a few tips to consider.


    John Coltrane Quartet
    Crescent
    (Impulse!, 1964)

    Listen / Buy

    This album is best listened to when feeling profoundly alone, but not necessarily “blue”. One must retain the faintest glimpse of optimism when listening to this record as a complete loss of all rationality and hope in conjunction with this music can become a dangerous act.

    Alternatively it is actually very wise to have sex to this album, but the combination of this music and sex is only successful in a loving relationship. It will fail miserably when used to enhance a common one-night stand. That is unless it (the one-night stand) was genuinely love at first sight. If it is so, you will have taken the right step out of all the mundane, meaningless shit in life and will now be in a true, meaningful reality. The memory of this experience will last a life time. Consider yourself lucky. This is in fact the best scenario to accompany this record. In any circumstance, only listen to this record between 10pm and 1.30am.


    John Coltrane
    A Love Supreme
    (Impulse!, 1965)

    Listen / Buy

    Listen to this album in order to enhance hope, strength and determination, preferably alone. Do not listen to it when you’re eating, driving or operating potentially hazardous household machinery (e.g. kettles, irons). The central part of this record has a highly engrossing effect and can cause one to become reckless.

    Do not introduce people to this album whilst you’re in their presence, they have to discover it alone in their own time. Don’t read articles or listen to opinions about this record. Treat it like any other Coltrane album as an actor would treat “to be or not to be” as just another line. Listen to it preferably between 8pm and 12.00am.


    John Coltrane
    Interstellar Space
    (Impulse!, 1974 / Recorded 1967)

    Listen / Buy

    Best listened to before you have to do a serious task of some description, for example difficult, strenuous or highly focused work. This is the ultimate “everybody can fuck off & die” record & should be used to enhance your rage.

    This album also works well after arguments with a partner, but only if they still have no appreciation of your point. Playing this album after you’ve told off your children or partner also has a desirable effect. In regards to arguments & “tellings-off” this record greatly helps to indicate that one is still pissed and the matter is far from resolved. This album must always be listened to at full volume. Mundane house chores can be made more bearable when listening to this record. Do not listen to it after 7pm and never before 9am.


    John Coltrane
    Ballads
    (Impulse!, 1963)

    Listen / Buy

    If you are a male, do not use this album in an attempt to seduce a woman. If you are a female, do use this album to seduce a man. Unfortunately this is the extent of the data I have. If in the presence of a love interest, make sure you are well dressed when listening to this album. If a male does choose to go against my previous advice, at the least make sure you are not sporting comical or boyish under-ware (for example Star Wars or Pokémon themed).

    Be in a positive mood when listening to this record. Do not put this record on in large social gatherings, i.e. dinner parties etc. Your company will appreciate your efforts with the homemade quinoa salad but ultimately jazz still adds social un-ease to an otherwise well-engineered gathering, so be warned. Freya & Tristan are sure to refer to you as “likeable, but pretentious” on the car journey home. Listen to this record between 11pm and 3.00am only.


    John Coltrane
    Kulu Sé Mama
    (Impulse!, 1966)

    Listen / Buy

    Intoxication by marijuana or LSD is preferred by many, but not entirely necessary. Do not play this album in the presence of overly intoxicated people. Do not play this album in a social gathering where instruments, especially congas or other percussion instruments that are naturally inviting to the un-gifted amateur are present. Do not play this album in the presence of anyone that you consider to be pseudo-intellectual. Do not play it in the presence of extremely talkative or inquisitive people. Do not play this album when you’re looking for a closer to the evening or for people to go home. By putting this record on you’re indicating to your company that the hang is most definitely still on and it’s just a matter of time until Joe rolls another spliff. 6pm to 12am is preferable.


    The screening of Chasing Trane and Binker Golding’s live trio performance take place at Rio Cinema, Dalston, on 16th September at 1pm. Click here for tickets and more info.

    Artwork by Gaurab Thakali

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