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Coltrane Derailed

With McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones, John Coltrane found new ways to swing, play blues and ballads and use Afro-Latin grooves—the essential elements of jazz. But there are persistent questions buried deep in the John Coltrane mythos, ones that are hidden in the background of the discussion of his music because few professionals want to say publicly what they really think of him and the albums he made in the summer and fall of 1965 with augmented personnel—Kulu Se Mama, Ascension, Sun Ship, Om and Meditations—and the post-Classic Quartet LPs he made up until the end.

Before McCoy Tyner left the band in late 1965—unable to deal with the many squeakers, howlers, shriekers and honkers his boss invited onto the bandstand—he asked Coltrane what he was doing. But the pianist could get no answer in musical terms, something that had not happened before. When Red Garland asked Coltrane if he truly believed in what he was doing—leading “the new thing”—the saxophonist said only that if he stopped he would abandon all of those who had followed him. Many then and now believe Coltrane’s apprentices followed him into an artistic abyss.

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Originally Published

Stanley Crouch

Stanley Crouch (1945–2020) was one of the leading American cultural critics of the late 20th and early 21st centuries—and one of the most controversial. A poet, educator, and aspiring jazz drummer in the 1970s, he became a writer for the Village Voice and an artistic consultant to Jazz at Lincoln Center in the 1980s. In subsequent years, he regularly wrote essays, columns, and reviews for a variety of publications, including (from 1999 to 2003) JazzTimes. He was the author of 11 books, including the 1990 collection Notes of a Hanging Judge: Essays and Reviews, 1979-1989 and the 2000 novel Don’t the Moon Look Lonesome.