The music has raw vitality, high energy, new structures and a freshness of vision.


John Coltrane (soprano saxophone); Eric Dolphy (alto saxophone, bass clarinet & flute); McCoy Tyner (piano); Reggie Workman (bass); Elvin Jones (drums)

Recorded Summer 1961

This is a crucial album. 1961 was an important, eventful year for Coltrane. He brought out the ‘My Favourite Things’ album.  He started the quartet that would influence and define the 1960s.  He left Atlantic and joined Impulse. He recorded the sessions at the Village Vanguard and with this quintet he toured Europe and ventured into Britain for concerts that would mystify and outrage.

Few were prepared for what they heard.  Critics in Downbeat expressed surprise at the vehemence and violence of the music, one called it ‘anti jazz’. ‘My Favourite Things’ album had not been released in the UK.  The last time that most people had heard Coltrane on record was the quite conventional work he had recorded with Miles Davis. On the European tour that started in November 1961 the Coltrane group played on a programme after the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet:  The contrast highlighted the radical nature of the Coltrane approach. The inclusion of Eric Dolphy whose playing was just as ground breaking as the leader emphasised a new direction. The correspondent from the Melody Maker said that he was bewildered by what he heard.  The group was obviously exploring new ideas and new avenues.

It seems that the recording of this album happened almost by accident. At the Village Gate Richard Alderson installed a sound system and without authorisation decided to record the group.  Eventually, the tapes found their way into the New York Library for Performing Arts and were only discovered recently by someone searching for Bob Dylan material.

This album is an important addition to the work of Coltrane.  The chronology shows that.  In 1961 the contract with Atlantic was finished and in May and June the Africa/ Brass sessions were completed for Impulse.  Africa/Brass was obviously an indication that insurgent ideas would be followed.  The inclusion of Eric Dolphy during the engagement at the Village Gate during the summer was important.  He had worked on the Africa/Brass sessions.  The playing at the Village Gate in the summer is a foretaste what the Quintet would achieve at the Village Vanguard in the autumn.   The Impulse albums were groundbreaking and set the pattern before the group set off for the European tour promoted by Norman Granz which started immediately after the Vanguard engagement.

‘Africa’ is the key track.  This is the only known live recording of the piece.  The Africa/ Brass sessions, the first of the Impulse contract, was a daring statement.  Coltrane obviously cared passionately about ‘Africa’ because he insisted on an extra session to do two further takes.  The live piece at the Gate is longer than the pieces recorded at the Van Gelder studio.  Reggie Workman was assisted in the recordings by Paul Chambers or Art Davis. At Village Gate Workman has a heavy responsibility and is featured on a long solo that is entirely in the spirit of Africa.  The bass is not always well recorded, and it is only when Elvin Jones subsides that we can hear Workman. His deep sound is varied with a percussive interlude entirely in harmony with the dynamic polyrhythms from Elvin Jones. Workman, the only surviving member of the group, said recently about Coltrane: ‘He was growing into a place where he did not want to be inhibited by the steps and the changes that were prescribed by certain structures.  He wanted us to be about a chant.’ Coltrane told Workman that he should move away from the rhythmic patterns set up by Elvin Jones.  Half way through Workman’s solo on ‘Africa’ you can sense that Workman is acting on the advice and alters his playing.

One of the great pleasures in listening to jazz is experiencing Elvin Jones. Elvin dominates the recording, it might be the microphone placement but, I suspect, it was just Elvin’s power.  The percussion tapestry is relentless.  Coltrane did not really like straight ahead drumming and he does not get that from Elvin. The polyrhythms, the energy, the sheer personal swing is completely unlike anyone else’s rhythm.  Elvin’s drumming seems to come from three or four directions at once.  This is Elvin’s album as much as Coltrane’s or Dolphy’s.

‘My Favourite Things’ starts with Dolphy on flute.  Dolphy loved dissonance and unpredictability.  During his short life he was just as individual as Ornette or Coltrane.  Sometimes he is wilder than either.  It is the sound that is unique: easily recognisable, especially when he uses the bass clarinet, as he does frequently in this session.  The whoops and hollers that he uses on ‘Africa’ are a successful attempt to reproduce the character of the studio recording.

McCoy Tyner was always the calm between the storms, His vamp on ‘My Favourite Things’ moves slowly away from the waltz rhythm.  He is not well served by the recording but we can hear, even at this early stage, the contribution of Tyner to the quartet and quintet would not be spectacular but essential. ‘Impression’ soars ahead and once the theme is finished Coltrane goes into repeated figures reaching for transcendence. Dolphy is tentative at first before giving way to a Tyner solo that is fluent and expressive. The take on ‘Greensleeves’ is made memorable in the way that Coltrane made ‘My Favourite Things’ stand out.  The ancient tune is recomposed on the fly.

Some reviews of Coltrane’s music from this period are censorious, expressing surprise that critics of the period could not recognise the importance of the music.  It is important to listen to the music through 1961 ears.  This music was different, a total departure from the past, an extraordinary addition to Coltrane’s work. The music has raw vitality, high energy, new structures and a freshness of vision.

There are essays from Reggie Workman and Richard Alderson, and background pieces by Ashley Kahn, Branford Marsalis and Lakecia Benjamin.