Most jazz lovers know that in 1965 the great saxophonist John Coltrane (1926-1967) played the Penthouse, the erstwhile Pioneer Square jazz club where he recorded the important transitional album “Live in Seattle.” Few, if any, however, know that on the last night of Coltrane’s six-night stand here — Saturday, Oct. 2, 1965 — he played an extended version of his masterpiece, “A Love Supreme,” which he had released on an album earlier that year but rarely ever played again.
Thanks to two Seattle saxophonists — the late Joe Brazil, who recorded the Penthouse show, and Steve Griggs, who discovered the tapes 50 years later — a recording of that performance has come to light. On Oct. 8, Impulse! Records will release “A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle,” one of only two known live recordings of Coltrane’s magnificent, spiritually inspired suite. (The other was made in Antibes, France.)
More than a historical find, the new recording is an avant-garde gem that broadens our understanding of an iconic work. It features four new interludes as well as solos by recently added ensemble members Pharoah Sanders (saxophone) and Donald Rafael Garrett (bass), plus — of special historical interest for Seattleites — alto saxophonist Carlos Ward, who sat in. Wilder, more open and more varied than the comparatively sedate original recording, the Penthouse version of “A Love Supreme” also runs more than twice as long.
It is not for the faint of heart. In 1965, Coltrane’s classic quartet with McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums) had begun to add new players and explore “free jazz,” which included shrieks, dissonant cries, braying multiphonics (simultaneous notes on a horn), diffuse rhythmic patterns and programs that sometimes went for hours.
“The set I saw seemed almost unbearably long,” recalls drummer Jon Keliehor, a member of the Frantics, a Seattle blues-rock band of the era. “I felt like I could easily have entered some sort of trancelike state.”
Indeed, transcendence was the aim. “A Love Supreme” is Coltrane’s four-part pilgrim’s progress — “Acknowledgment,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance” and “Psalm” — which register his discovery and acceptance of faith (and gratitude for the strength to be able to give up drugs). In Seattle, the four new interludes include a marvelously sinuous bass duet; a smacking solo by Jones with some splendid cymbal work; and a two-part bass solo with some jaunty swing. Another stunning extra is the stuttering, urgently expressive solo on “Resolution” by Ward, who was playing with Brazil in the band that opened for Coltrane.
“Carlos Ward was a standout that night,” says Seattle bassist Pete Leinonen, who also made a point of coming to the club.
Coltrane agreed. After their set, he encouraged Ward to move to New York, where he later played with the successful funk/disco band B.T. Express, as well as Abdullah Ibrahim’s popular octet, Ekaya.
But the real Seattle hero behind “A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle” was Brazil, who not only had the presence of mind to record the show but may well have been the impetus for Coltrane playing the piece at all. Brazil, who moved to Seattle in 1961, had befriended Coltrane while living in Detroit. They shared a mutual interest not only in music but in chanting and Eastern spirituality — in particular, the Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita, which they discussed at length while Coltrane was in Seattle. That week, Brazil also booked studio time during the day to record yet another album with Coltrane’s expanded band, “Om,” with Brazil playing wooden flute. It’s not a stretch to credit Brazil with putting Coltrane in the frame of mind that prompted him to revisit “A Love Supreme.”
Griggs, the man who discovered the tapes, agrees.
“The more I tried to re-create the scene of Coltrane in Seattle, the more Joe Brazil became the main thread,” he says.
Brazil, whom former Garfield High School band director Clarence Acox once called a “visionary,” later brought jazz education to the Central District with the Brazil Academy of Music and taught a wildly popular jazz history class at the University of Washington, where his failure to gain tenure became a campus cause célèbre. When he died in 2008, he left behind 750 boxes of reel-to-reel tapes and 80 videos, many featuring famous musicians who had visited his class.
Griggs, who has been researching Brazil’s life and work since 2012, still remembers the exact date — April 24, 2015 — when he discovered “A Love Supreme” on those tapes.
“I heard ‘Psalm’ first,” he says, “and I was blown away, because I knew it was rare, that he never played it in public, except in France. But then when I turned the tape over and realized here’s Joe Brazil doing his matinee set, then it ends, then the next thing is the opening fanfare [of “Acknowledgment”], and — Oh my God, I realized the whole suite is here!”
Griggs collected no fees when he hand-carried the tapes to a producer in Beverly Hills, who in turn shared them with Impulse!
“This is totally a labor of love,” he said.
The same might be said of the album itself.