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Fragmentation Without Representation: The Triumvirate…And Then Some, Part 1

Gene Perla on Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman

Gene Perla

My best friend Don Alias and I used to comment to each other that we, “caught the tail end of the ‘real’ jazz scene.” That would be in New York City. What we meant is that the scene was family. The elders were generous in allowing the youngsters opportunities to show their capabilities. Make no mistake. If you couldn’t measure up, you were told to “get [the fuck] off the bandstand.” The first time I asked Elvin if I could sit in, I was still attempting to be a piano player. It was at the Five Spot, and he Okayed it. Before we played, he asked me what I’d like to play. I said, “Something not too fast.” He responded, “Me neither.”

My dream, as a Berklee student, was to come to NYC and play with Elvin and Miles. I saw the classic Coltrane quartet only once, but it provided the strongest impetus to follow those dreams. Of course, Kind of Blue was the crown jewel of jazz at the time. Then I heard Ornette’s The Shape of Jazz to Come, which convinced me that I’d have a better chance with one note at a time. The day after listening to those tracks, at 24 years, I became a bassist.

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