Top Fifty 14: John Coltrane – On West 42nd Street, 1957

[Originally posted January 2013]


Darting and Running

Yesterday I was listening to Pharoah Sanders’ John Coltrane tribute album Crescent With Love and it got me thinking about the first time I heard Coltrane. It was on an LP I got when I was about 15/16 years old, John Coltrane On West 42nd Street, and it was well played at the time so is a little rough if put on the turntable today. I’ve never been able to find a cd copy, and in that ever turning learning curve I now know this is because it isn’t strictly speaking a John Coltrane album – it is a vinyl only collection put out under his name to cash in on his then emerging popularity.

Taken from 1957 recordings with the Wilbur Harden [fluegelhorn] quintet, including on the tracks on the album Tommy Flanagan [piano], Doug Watkins [bass] and Lois Hayes [drums], the record includes the following songs in this order: Side One – Wells Fargo, West 42nd Street, E.F.P.H. [sic]; Side Two – Snuffy, Rhodomagnetics. I am writing this as these and other tracks [19 in all] can be found on cd on the Coltrane Mainstream 1958 Sessions where, for any nerd interest, there is an extra ‘F’ on its third track E.F.F.P.H. [compared with album liner notes, though on the album itself there are both ‘Fs’], and the Side Two tracks on the vinyl are inverted as well as becoming respectively in that inversion tracks four and nine [and you’d have to be intense to want to follow that].


All five tracks are quite conventional and there isn’t an outstanding melody/song, compared with, for example and unfairly, My Favorite Things. Each player gets a solo set and this too is quite formulaic. But I do recall simply loving each Coltrane solo as I still do, inevitably mixing that nostalgic sense of first discovery with the continued appreciation of today. I’m not incisive enough to really discern differences  in absolute quality of playing – though it’s hard to make a bass solo soar like Harden’s flugelhorn – but Coltrane’s tenor sax solos do always seem that little bit more adventurous than the others; more on the edge of breaking from the formula and routine. Yet that could be the wishful thinking/hearing of my original joy and the occasional nostalgic revisiting – though listening as I write to final track Snuffy, Coltrane’s solo following Hayes’ piano really does dart out of the starting gate and run much more wildly and entertainingly.

It makes my Top Fifty for all the obvious and right reasons as I hope I have outlined here. As well as my first introduction to Coltrane, it consolidated an incipient interest in jazz, and a fairly traditional form of jazz as well. Whilst I moved on to the more adventurous and avant-garde, I think I had my fix of that already from the prog rock representation of the time.


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