Suite by the Sea - Excerpted from A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album, by Ashley Kahn
The practice of promoting one's own recordings - of shaping one's live repertoire to match the selections on a recent album - is still an ambivalent enterprise for many jazz musicians, as artistic sensibility squares off against commercial demand. For those lucky enough to have landed a minor hit - like Adderley, like Coltrane - it only exacerbated the issue.
Coltrane's set lists had always sought a balance. He treated most clubs as greenhouses with a cover charge - supplying the opportunity to experiment with and nurture new material while keeping the regulars happy with familiar pieces. Gig tapes from mid-1963 show him playing recently composed originals like "After the Rain" and "Alabama" as well as his better-known favorites like "My Favorite Things" and "Impressions."
Yet among many live dates in the months immediately following the release of A Love Supreme, no performances of the suite exist, either in part or in its entirety. Was this a willful disregard of a promotional possibility? A slight of his own work? Coltrane was neither obtuse nor stubborn. Why, then, ignore his signature album? If anything, he was more sensitive to the demands of his material than most. As Adderley attested, as jazz began to produce more and more extended, artfully crafted compositions like A Love Supreme, the music demanded a different set of rules - and venues:
If I went into a nightclub like the Sutherland Hotel in Chicago and played a John Lewis-type "Fontessa" thing…it would actually lose customers for jazz…if you drop long things - serious works - on them where there are cash registers ringing and the waitress is hollering "two bourbons" and all that's going on, it just does not work.
Coltrane himself felt the change actutely; the Half Note was not going to cut it anymore:
Now there was a time when it felt all right to play clubs, because with my music, I felt I had to play a lot to work it out…the music, changing as it is, there are a lot of times it doesn't make sense, man, to have somebody drop a glass, or somebody ask for some money right in the middle of Jimmy Garrison's solo…I think the music is rising into something else, and so we'll have to find this kind of place to be played in.
"The Trane who was into the major long extended composition…was difficult for people who were not accustomed to hearing that kind of music," remarked journalist A.B. Spellman. "I know that myself, going to the Village Gate, Vanguard, wherever he was playing." To Ravi Coltrane, A Love Supreme marked the turning point:
It's interesting to hear the way live gigs were going on at the time. There were a lot of things that were being fused together. Maybe a set would be two tunes, but they would be broken up. He would play a melody, then leave the stage, then McCoy would play, and then there would be a drum solo, and then Trane would come back and play a kind of a shorter solo like "One Up, One Down," and then that would go into a bass solo, and Trane would come back for the head for another tune. It would be only a few things, but it would be broken up into these kinds of features. I think it's a cool way to do things. I think that A Love Supreme affected the way a lot of live performances were going after '64. Most of the gigs in '65 were like suites.
Occasionally - in a soft-seat theatre, at an outdoor festival - Coltrane did find appropriate venues for his suite-like efforts. Today, as once-in-lifetime music events roll by with numbing regularity, it's refreshing to look back to a time when it was all impromptu. That John Coltrane did eventually choose to perform A Love Supreme live only once in its entirety, that it transpired when microphones and TV cameras happened to be there to capture it, and that the former was not induced nor dictated by the latter - that was serendipity.
* * *
In late July 1965, France's Cote d'Azur was a busy, bustling place. The ancestral seat of many landed families of Italian descent, it had become an international destination, summer playground for jet-setters and students, and home to Pablo Picasso. The fishing villages that dot the coast west of Nice - Cannes, Frejus, St. Tropez - had long ago seen the higher value in their blue skies and flat, crescent-shaped beaches, and began actively competing for tourist revenue.
In 1960, a businessman and music fan named Jacques Hebey convinced local leaders in Antibes to invest in a scheme aimed at drawing notoriety and crowds to the small town, which lay across the bay from Nice's metropolitan sprawl. His idea: a week-long series of concerts struck in the mold of the Newport Jazz Festival, mixing seaside atmosphere and world-renowned musicians on an outdoor stage. To bring in the necessary contacts to book major jazz names, Hebey partnered with Barclay Records executive Jacques Souplet. From June 6 to 14, 1960, the first Festival International de Jazz in Antibes was held, with an eclectic mix - Charles Mingus, Helen Merrill, Bud Powell, Albert Mangelsdorff, Sister Rosetta Tharpe - attracting audiences to a secluded, shaded beachfront called Juan-les-Pins.
In no time the festival exploded in reputation and pull. It presented a range of A-list talent - Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, Ray Charles and Lionel Hampton, Miles Davis and Fats Domino. It produced live recordings that became solid-selling albums, and boasted the primary state media outlet, ORTF (Organization of French Radio and Television Production) as its co-sponsor. Andre' Francis was there from the beginning, wearing many hats: on-air commentator, program producer, and stage emcee: ("I was the MC from 1960 to 1990 at all the concerts at Juan-les-Pins - my voice is on all the records recorded there, like with Miles Davis, where I pronounce Herbie Hancock, 'Hancook'.")
In '65, Juan-les-Pins was the king of the jazz festivals. It was a very international audience who came from Germany, England, Belgium, Italy, which is something that doesn't exist today because every country has its own festivals. It was the only one in the summer. The Nice Festival didn't exist, Cannes (Jazz Festival) had only happened one time in '59, and there was nothing else. Juan-les-Pins was the meeting place for modern jazz.
Jazz journalist Michel Delorme, then writing for France's Jazz Hot magazine, recalled: "I would go to the festival and organize my vacation around it, and so did the musicians. I remember Miles Davis in '63, he played three nights, but he stayed in Antibes for more than a week."
Never one to stay and play, Coltrane did not take advantage of such luxury on most of his fast-paced tours and certainly not on a brief European jaunt in '65. He had just completed an extended run in New York at the Village Gate (sharing a double bill with Thelonious Monk) when the quartet boarded the plane for their three-city sweep kicking off with the sixth annual festival in Antibes, then Paris, and a festival in Belgium. Francis:
The same year, I think there was Art Farmer, there was definitely Woody Herman, Jimmy McGriff, Nina Simone, and then for two consecutive nights, John Coltrane. And I don't think that the people who came to hear Woody Herman also came to hear John Coltrane. For Coltrane's concert, there were going to be people who already liked him and who accepted what he was doing. It was the avant-garde of the time.
The group arrived in Antibes on their first performance day, Monday, July 26, to unseasonable weather. "It was a little chilly at that time - real nippy," recalls Tyner; "I know it was raining, awfully cold," adds Jones. "None of us were prepared for that kind of weather, it was miserable and muddy." The festival program lists Coltrane sharing that same evening with organist Jimmy McGriff and French pianist/bandleader Jeff Gilson, who found himself face-to-face with the saxophonist after performing that afternoon:
When I finished, backstage, Coltrane came and he said, "Very good, young man, very good." He said that my group is in a good direction, he liked my music. I thanked him, and I spoke of the playing of Elvin. Because I liked very much Elvin Jones - for me, in 1965, he was the future of the drums. And Coltrane was very satisfied that I thought so.
Based in Paris with friends in the music business, Gilson had heard an advance copy of a future French album by Coltrane that he was inspired to mention. "Coltrane said, 'What can I play now?' after the compliment (I paid him). A Love Supreme was my idea because I heard the test pressing before Coltrane came, the Impulse session. (Michael) Delorme was my temoin--my witness." Delorme himself does not recall the encounter, but confirms that Vega - the record label releasing Coltrane's Impulse titles in France - would have received copies of A Love Supreme by that summer (though it did not issue it until spring of the following year). Whatever Coltrane's motivation, he was open to outside suggestion, often soliciting input from band members and other musicians. A request for an album-length composition would have surely stood out. "People didn't request suites that much," laughs Jones, "even after the record was distributed."
With more than a hint of civic pride, Francis has his own theory why Coltrane chose to honor Antibes with the only public performance of A Love Supreme:
I think that it's because Coltrane and the other musicians found themselves in a place that was extremely important at the time. It was a place that was very sacred for the artist, a feeling of atmosphere, of well-being, and of confidence.
If he was to do A Love Supreme somewhere, Antibes might as well be the place.
Just as unusual was Coltrane's decision to arrange his set list prior to performance. (Jones: "Normally I knew what he was going to play when he started to play, because he would never announce the titles or anything.") Because of Antibes's tape-for-broadcast aspect, RTF officials requested advance information, as Jones explains. "They have to do that for different reasons in Europe, when a piece is played, they have to pay the royalties and publishing rights." With bureaucratic dilligence, RTP files for that evening list all performers (including "Mac Coy Tyner") and song titles.
Could the quartet accurately recall the structure and flow of music recorded almost eight months before? Unquestionably. "I could always do that - in high school I would learn all the marches by heart, you know. It doesn't take that long to recall a piece from your memory while you're playing it." Says Jones. "We didn't have a score to refer to, which was OK. We didn't have to memorize all the things, you could live without it."
A Love Supreme had originally been struck with the profound, in-the-moment communication of all four musicians; as they spoke to and signaled one another instrumentally in the studio, so would they onstage. "The material really wasn't the challenge," asserts Tyner.
It's funny - I think A Love Supreme was a culmination of everything we did prior, in some kind of way. If we were a new band that had just been put together and didn't have a chance to play and to grow together, then I think it would've been a tumultuous challenge, but wasn't like that. So all we had to worry about was, "let's just get in there and play, and see what happens."
To Jones, tackling the suite was not an exercise in re-creation but refinement:
If you play together over and over, and learn to exploit the dynamics that are there in the music - which is just as important as the notation - and have it improve, that's an accomplishment. That's the challenge.
Jimmy McGriff finished his set to warm applause, according to Andre Francis, who remembers that "on this night especially, there was a big crowd. Moreover, there were also a lot of people who couldn't afford admission to the festival so they were seated in the back of the gardens, you can't see them, but behind the tents. The majority were students who were between twenty and twenty-four. So they were listening from outside the grounds.
Meanwhile, as Jones noticed, the first few rows held a different crowd. "That part of the Riviera, there's a lot of retired folks, and they just live there year round, and they're always going to a concert or ballet or whatever." It was the VIP section: "the first three rows was mostly people who had been invited by City Hall," adds Francis. Delorme saw them too, and predicted their reaction. "You have people who are given free tickets, and so, for them to go to the concert is like the cinema - something just to go out. Which explains that maybe a third of the audience was not going to listen to Coltrane."
All was ready in Pinede Gould, the small beachfront square in Juan-les-Pis lined by pine trees and festival tents. As audio - and video tape started to roll, Francis introduced the final performance of the evening in French:
And now, the stage is given to four musicians who are among the most important in contemporary jazz - on drums: Elvin Jones! On bass: Jimmy Garrison! On piano: McCoy Tyner! And the saxophonist of today - John Coltrane! John Coltrane will play a theme, rather a composition in several movements that recently recorded in the United States - it is titled A Love Supreme.
With the Mediterranean behind them and an audience of a few thousand - plus three television cameras - in front, the Coltrane quartet stepped on to Antibes's small wooden stage, tuxedoed and focused. Without a word or glance, Coltrane launched into the opening flourish of "Acknowledgement."
The version of A Love Supreme that ensued shared much with its studio precedent; all four parts were covered, with Coltrane on tenor saxophone throughout. Solo sections were set aside for all four musicians. Though scattered applause marked sectional gaps, the suite was performed without interruption, emphasizing Coltrane's holistic regard for it.
A faithful, blow-by-blow rendering of the album it was not. The original cohesiveness, one of the recording's singular characteristics, was unlaced and dissipated. The sharp, clearly defined peaks of intensity were replaced by lengthy, high-energy plateaus. The weather-like shifts of mood - from warm, gentle breezes to stormlike fury - were swept away; in the words of Delorme: "He played only forty-eight minutes, but those forty-eight minutes were really, really a thunderstorm."
The expansion certainly accounted for some of the change; what had been a thirty-two minute sonic canvas was stretched by fifty percent, and distortions were inevitable. "Acknowledgement" measures almost six minutes (roughly two shorter than the original), while "Pursuance" lasts over twenty-one (as compared to a mere 10:42 on the album).
To Ravi Coltrane, the fact that the band was away from home left a telltale mark on the music as well.
I listen to it and I have all these offstage images I my mind, when you're on the road you know what these things are like: you haven't slept, you haven't eaten, you can't hear yourself on those huge stages with no monitors (speakers). At the Vanguard, a band that strong can be greatest thing in the world, but from listening to Antibes, you can tell that things were loose and not totally together.
Garrison seems to prove the point from the outset. Following Coltrane's opening invocation, "Acknowledgement" finds the saxophonist assuming the bassist's role at the start, leading the way with the suite's signature four-note riff. The band locks in and the saxophonist takes off, blowing an inspired five-minute solo echoig more of the mid-suite energy than the loose, sermonlike intonations of the beginning. Ravi notes how the primary melody-ba-dwee-dah - echoes Coltrane's "more harmonically organized approach on the December 10, 1964 session: "Not exactly, but close."
Eventually, Coltrane returns to the "a love supreme" mantra, hanging with one key, then dropping a step, but no chanting is offered. The next day he explained, with a wink, his decision to drop the vocal. Delorme recalls: "I did the interview for Jazz Hot and I asked him, 'Why didn't you sing on the first part of A Love Supreme?' and he said, 'Yeah, I opened my mouth and nothing came out.' That was about the only time I heard him joking…"
Coltrane's traffic-cop role - cueing transitional passages, recalling the melody - surely demanded his primary focus. On the video tape of the performance, as "Acknowledgement" winds down, one can see Coltrane cede the tune to Tyner, and cross stage right. The pianist strikes a few chords, opening the way to an apparent bass solo; again, Garrison seems unsure. He plucks once, twice. On camera, Coltrane determinedly strides back to the microphone to set up the dramatic opening of the next piece.
Coltrane again takes charge, whipping the band back into gear with the theme to "Resolution"; an easy tempo - mellower than the studio take - follows. With Jones lightly tapping on the cymbals and Garrison locking it all together, the band recognizes familiar territory and settles into the swing of the tune. After stating the finger-snapping melody, Coltrane pulls back from the microphone and crosses to the side of the stage to stand under the ORTF insignia as his pianist takes over.
Tyner's solo is a five-minute standout. He opens, smartly quoting the "Resolution" theme, fluctuating single-note runs with his right hand and elevating cascades of left-hand chords. In the latter half of his improvisation, he attacks both together to startling effect: a ripping motion set against sharp bursts of clusters moves the energy in opposite directions simultaneously. Tyner credits A Love Supreme itself for providing a generous field of intensity to explore:
I do remember doing that concert - there was something special about playing that music, that suite. The different dynamic levels of the movements themselves. The dynamic range was very wide. It was a big sound, and then when we wanted to we could get real quiet, gentle, you know.
Tyner builds to one last, staggering crescendo as Jones kicks in a full cymbal barrage, and Coltrane returns to center stage.
Most apparent in the four-minute sax solo that follows - and indicative of Coltrane's personal progress since recording A Love Supreme - is his vocabulary. What was lyrical phrasing in the studio has now grown a more brittle bite, evolving into unresolved flurries of notes favoring the upper register of the horn. Breathlessly emotional, Coltrane's altissimo cries screech forth, seemingly determined to locate some lost note. On video, he appears rooted to the stage, feet firmly planted as his upper body rocks to the urgent rhythm of his playing. At one point, he pulls himself off-mike and the swell of his solo lowers noticeably.
At that point in the concert, Francis left with a camera crew to film audience reactions to be edited into the final broadcast. "I only listened to Coltrane attentively from backstage for ten minutes," he reports, but he noticed that most of the seats in the VIP section were now empty. He also could see that the music had cast a different spell on those remaining.
It was listened to in a different way, another kind of participation. The other jazz performances had more to do with the spectacle itself, whereas the audience for John Coltrane's concert listened to it as an absolutely pure music. I remember seeing people at the concert closing their eyes to feel the music more deeply.
How could they not, suggests Francis, in such a setting?:
There was a marvelous, magic feeling that completely absorbs you in this natural beauty - something that you can't experience in a regular concert hall. It was particularly potent, because there was this music with a religious spirit, under the stars, putting you in a deep, almost blossoming state.
Coltrane restates the blues-tinged melody and then retreats from the microphone, allowing "Resolution" to trail off. Applause overlaps the start of a brief drum solo, as Jones offers a surprisingly subdued exercise, infrequently punctuated by short reports on the cymbals. He develops a rolling figure, tom-tom to snare to cymbal, marking the end of his improvisation, and Coltrane blows the beginning of "Pursuance."
For many, the saxophonist's ensuing performance is the unpolished jewel of the evening. Where some might complain of the general feel of the concert (Pat LaBarbera: "Antibes is a little rushed for me - it feels like they have a time constraint that they're trying to get through"), "Pursuance" - and particularly Coltrane's solo - strikes the right balance ("I like the energy that Trane is using on it - and he's a little more adventurous"). To others it stands out as a career milestone.
"It's just ridiculous," exclaims Dave Liebman. "You can feel the creative tension that Coltrane is going through during that period. You hear Trane just breaking all boundaries. I can hardly tell what the form is!" As the tune kicks off, its minor blues structure almost immediately vaporizes; Coltrane offhandedly states the theme once, then tosses it away, diving into a breakneck solo, much faster than that on the album. "The tempo is faster than they usually play," Liebman notes. Branford Marsalis agrees:
That's a very, very fast tempo for that group. Just amazing…they play it much faster - which is not that unusual in a live setting for that group. But it has a freedom that the recording doesn't have. Trane's just going for it, with such freedom, abandon. It was beautiful, man.
Maybe the solo liberation more than abandon, for in Coltrane's free-sounding exhortation lies an uncanny range of style and texture from a rich, twenty-five-year-old palette - low-end honks that speak of his fifties R&B gigs; breathtaking scalar sweeps that bring to mind his "sheets of sound" phase with Monk; upper-register squeals from his more recent, spiritual phase; densely packed lines that presage the free, harsh-sounding period to come. Andrew White, transcriber extraordinaire, labels it "solo number 527, that's 'Pursuance' from Antibes. That is the hardest Coltrane solo out of all 650 that I've done." Why?
The complexity and the depth of his linguistic contribution is incredible. It's really substantial - a real high-water mark. I have the transcription to bear that out. What's also incredible is how it seemed to change between him and Elvin Jones.
As if by cue, two minutes into Coltrane's solo, Tyner, then Garrison drop out, leaving saxophonist and drummer in a tight, mano-a-mano duet. The resulting collision of improvisational force brings to mind the same powered pairing that fueled "Chasin' the Trane": Jones seeking the song's structure, Coltrane pushing against it. To Liebman, their creative struggle sounds the beginning of the end for the quartet:
The way they play on "Pursuance," you can feel Elvin fighting and he's on it, and going with it. You can feel the change of the guard is happening. If not literally, it's figuratively in the air.
Marsalis, for one, thinks otherwise. "That's all hindsight. You didn't hear that in '65 and say, 'Boy, they sound like they're going to break up!" For whatever reason, Coltrane himself harbored a foreboding that the future of the quartet was threatened, as he told a Norwegian journalist the morning after the concert: "What I'm most afraid of is losing the musicians I have with me. Especially Elvin."
Tyner and Garrison reenter as Coltrane ends his solo and restates the melody to "Pursuance." Piano and drums share an extended cadenza and take the tune out: scattered applause rises then fades, as Jones takes another turn, this time stepping into a modest , measured series of rolls, maintaining a noticeably low level to his brief solo, as if to counter the explosive weight of what came before.
As Jones hits a final cymbal crash and pulls back from the drum kit, Tyner and Coltrane exit stage right, leaving Garrison alone.
The next eight minutes belong to the bassist and amount to the most extended - and arguably impressive - recorded improvisation by him. With eyes closed - and an open-eared perspective - he coaxes an exhaustive variety of jazz and non-jazz sounds from his instrument, a veritable tour de force of the many ways the bass can be handled. A few years later, he described his all-encompassing approach:
I think my experience has taught my ear to just play music, not just one kind. For instance, I'll use the bow in a concertized manner, you know, I'll try and use it in a flamenco manner. I had been trying - I don't know what you call it - using the other side of the bow. (col legno). What I'm saying is that my ear, with the experience I've had, I hear all these things, and the longer you play, and the more you play, you're able to come up with different ideas - a wider spectrum.
Following a stated, then merely suggested, skipping beat in a minor key, Garrison plucks, chords, strums with his fingers, then raises his bow to demonstrate the depth of his arco technique. At first he plays in a classical manner, then slides up and down the strings with a rapid rhythm, then bounces the bow, and finally uses the back of the bow as a hammer, eliciting a timbre reminiscent of the dulcimer. Laying down the bow, he returns to a Spanish sonority, strumming with a dramatic edge, and cueing the close of his solo. "When it's time for the band to come back again at the end of my solo," Garrison stated, "I'll play the chord changes to let the band know that this is where the tune is."
With practiced timing, the last low note on the bass leads to the first synchronized downbeat of "Psalm": Coltrane, Tyner, and Jones fly in together, announcing the free-rhythm mood piece that will last another eight and a half minutes. As he works from memory, Coltrane's somber, eloquent tone implies the word-phrasing of the album. But frequent embellishments that add lyrical filigree to the former syllable-by-syllable reading betray either Coltrane's inability to recall all the words of his poem, or are simply an intentional melodic departure.
In either case, Coltrane's plaintive solo finds him scaling peaks of intensity, sermonizing with a rasp, then answering his own acclamations with more purely musical runs. An intense inner dialogue reveals itself: at times, both preacher and saxophonist eerily inhabit the same sonic space. In various photographs taken toward the end of the evening, Coltrane appears to have sweated through his tux, as - with eyes closed and brow furrowed - his fingers seem to fly off the horn, and the lights highlight drops of perspiration falling from his chin.
Coltrane's parting, blown as he steps back from the mike, is a drawn-out, fluttering figure. Audience members begin to stand as Tyner, Jones, and Garrison supply an atmospheric climax: a shimmering cymbal and a sustained piano chord are the last sounds from the stage as the spell of the tune rings on. The clapping and cheering begin to swell.
But then, just as quickly, a round of whistles and boos is heard among the huzzahs. Coltrane has led his group off the stage, tired and spent. The chorus of confusion continues.
"A third of the audience was yelling because they wanted more," explains Delorme. "They thought forty-eight minutes was not enough. Another third was yelling because they didn't like it, and the last third was yelling because they loved it." Coltrane remains offstage, while the derision continues, more extreme than ever before. "There had been whistling and booing in '60 with Miles," Delorme adds. "But in Antibes in '65, people really yelled - for whatever reason…you can hear some of that on the tape."
The emcee's reaction is likewise preserved on the recording of the evening. Speaking in French, Francis begs understanding from the crowd:
That's it for this concert (jeers)…you can hear John Coltrane again tomorrow evening (more jeers)…understand my friends that this music is not measured by the timepiece - more than anything John Coltrane's musical talent…he wanted to give us of his deepest self, so allow him to avoid repeating himself and to get some rest (applause)…tomorrow night then, again - John Coltrane, Jimmy McGriff, and also the British band of Bruce Turner.
The European critical community witnessed the reaction of the Antibes audience, and a British reporter noted, "the audience were a little puzzled and disappointed to hear just one piece," while a Spanish colleague explained it in terms his home readers could grasp:
Some of the crowd was excited, others were surprised, and the minority that always demands more from their idols - much more if they are famous - were disappointed. That's how bullfighters die.
Most scribes in attendance were simply blown away, filing reviews straining for words to describe the music's effect. "You really had to be there," reported an Italian journalist. "Like a furious hurricane, Trane grabbed the crowd with the force of a cyclone, traversing a long series of choruses that I can only describe as stupefying. Stupefying in its richness, audacity of invention, its expressive salvation, and also its uncompromising iron-like power." "His playing has developed into a much more 'further out' sound, intense, fascinating, at times charging like an angry bull…(and) angry loud barks with his horn," wrote a Norwegian commentator. One can only surmise the number of raised eyebrows elicited by France's Jazz magazine, as its lead correspondent devined a profundity of dizzying depth:
For me, it (was)…the summit of Coltrane's life work, the extreme point of his playing…never has the tenor saxophone known its limits so closely (Ornette Coleman's efforts are in comparision timid and prudent). It (was) the threshold of a bursting for the instrument, the borderline of madness for music. Because, without a doubt, jazz has never been brought to such a point of exaltation, the improvisation so close to delirium, and beauty so close to monstrosity, which is its superhuman perfection. A music not celestial but infernal, in which the love of God is the death of man…it is the convulsive beauty of a jazz that flagellates itself and that breathes blood.
The most informed overview appeared in Jazz Hot, in which Delorme described a post-concert conclave and accurately placed the performance within the context of Coltrane's career:
The audience who left the Pinede Gould on the right-hand side will certainly remember a small gathering of men engaged in a heated discussion. They happened to be some of our foremost critics, some venting their outrage, whilst others asserted that their faith in John Coltrane had in no way been shaken. The former admittedly had their reasons. No one had yet heard the record, and this hardly helped toward the success of the performance given at the festival. Already committed to the next stage of his development, the John Coltrane of Antibes of '65 had already covered over half the distance that separates the record A Love Supreme from the Ascension album. Was it not symptomatic that he spent his days listening to recordings of Albert Ayler?
And that's exactly what Coltrane did. While the rest of the band hit the beach the following afternoon, he remained yards away in his hotel room, practicing as usual, playing along to a tape of an Ayler concert. Among the guests he received was Jean-Pierre Leloir, a noted photographer who presented him with a concert shot from 1962, showing the saxophonist and Eric Dolphy. Dolphy had passed away only a year before, and Coltrane still felt the loss. He studied the image, whispered, "That's my boy…," and, propping it up on the mirror, serenaded it with his horn.
That night, Coltrane acquiesced to the festival's request and performed more familiar material: "Naima," "Impressions," and "My Favorite Things." His next two concerts found him in Paris, then Belgium, and then home. He would never return to France or even Europe again. Nor did he ever choose to perform A Love Supreme again, not in its entirety.
Coltrane's sole live rendering of his signature suite now survives in the memories of the lucky few in attendance and - fortunately - on tapes buried in the sepulchral archives of France's National Audio-visual Institute (INA) in Paris, where they have acquired a mythic prestige. Though the audio recording has been released in a variety of formats on a variety of European labels (sans permission of the performers or their heirs), it has only recently seen legitimate release in America, courtesy of the Verve Music Group.
Long rumored yet rarely seen, the video recording has never been released publicly in any country; in fact, assiduous research hints that the original videotape is lost. Yet somehow, from some source, a number of multgenerational copies exist that include a mere twelve minutes of the total performance, cutting off in Tyner's "resolution" solo. Frustrating, yes, but the cassettes do offer an exciting - if wavy and distorted - memento of a special evening in 1965.
* * *
It seems too convenient and too easy to step back, listen to more than a decade's worth of live recordings, and proclaim A Love Supreme as Coltrane's most compelling live performance. From tapes professionally produced by his label to radio broadcasts more humbly engineered by fans with handheld microphones, there are simply too many concerts in too many venues and situations to make such a categorical judgment. However, if Coltrane's performance of July 26, 1965, in Antibes is only compared with other full-set, live recordings by him in the company of his Classic Quartet, it is easier to accept Andre Francis's contention that "at this concert, there was a dimension that I hadn't ever encountered before":
I saw so many performances at Juan-les-Pins that I'd be unable to order them. I heard practically everybody in many places - Charlie Parker, from the oldest to the most recent musicians. But what's certain is that A Love Supreme was for me the summit of the career of the man.
Michael Delorme, another consummate concertgoer, admits, "I was just so shocked after the concert, after the music stopped. It took about five minutes for me to recover and talk to people." Decades later, he finds only one experience on par with that night in Antibes:
I had that impression, too, at a concert in Paris with that English group called the Clash in 1979. I was really overwhelmed by the music, and I couldn't take any music after that, by anybody. It was like Coltrane's playing that night. It was impossible to listen to anything else after Coltrane.
Even McCoy Tyner, after many years and countless gigs, acceded: "I remember it was a very exciting and fiery performance by the band. If you see the footage, you can see the animation that was going on."
On July 27, the day after he performed A Love Supreme for the last time in its entirety, Coltrane was typically self-critical. "I did not play as I wanted last night. I know what I was trying to do, but it is not always easy to achieve." Then he added:
I want to get to a point where I can feel the vibrations of a particular piece at a particular moment and compose a song right there, on the spot - then throw it away.