Treasures Galore!

Jazz Messenger, June 15, 2007 I launch this blog with two bits of news that should make all jazz fans quiver. A brief prelude: Three years ago, an archivist at the Library of Congress discovered, during a routine inventory, the long-lost tapes of a 1957 concert at Carnegie Hall by Thelonious Monk’s quartet featuring John Coltrane. The tapes were pristine. The music was glorious, Monk playing his most archly elegant piano, Coltrane his most relaxed yet searching tenor sax. Blue Note released the concert tapes on CD, to jaw-dropping acclaim.

The Monk-Coltrane session was but one set of a marathon concert that night of Nov. 29, 1957. Others on the bill, according to the album’s liner notes: Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Chet Baker & Zoot Sims, and Sonny Rollins. And they all played two shows, at 8:30 and at midnight!

The Voice of America recorded the whole concert (except for Holiday’s sets; she denied permission). The Library of Congress has long had custody of all VOA tapes. I’ve been wondering for three years whether the other reels from that night would ever be unspooled. Now (here comes the first bit of news) we have the first sequel: One set of Sonny Rollins’ performance has been uncovered—he played in a piano-less trio, his most fiery format—and Rollins will be releasing it soon on his own label, Doxy.

The set totaled only 20 minutes, which leads us to the second bit of news: On Sept. 18, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the concert, Rollins will play at Carnegie Hall, in a trio that consists of Roy Haynes (possibly the greatest jazz drummer alive) and Christian McBride (one of the most agile young bassists). The concert will be recorded—and it will be released on the same disc (or perhaps as part of a two-disc set) as the 1957 session.

This second bit of news is only slightly less extraordinary than the first. Rollins, at 76 still the most inventive improviser in jazz, draws one complaint from even his most avid fans: His regular band, though good, is beneath him; he should play more often with his peers. Rollins once regularly staged concerts with all-star “guests,” but the last time he did was in 1995, at the Beacon Theater in New York. (I was there. The main guest was alto saxophonist Jackie McLean, who was staggeringly great that night, outblowing Rollins—something I’d never seen anyone do—in an extended blues duet.)

Well, Roy Haynes is certainly Rollins peer, and Christian McBride will do. This concert should be the jazz event of the year. And the recording—coupling Rollins in ’07 and ’57—might be more than that.

Live recordings have been a godsend for me. One night in August 1980, during a trip to San Francisco, I drove by the Keystone Korner jazz club; the marquee proclaimed that Bill Evans was playing. The friend that I was visiting asked, “Wanna go see him?” I replied, “Nah.” Two weeks later, Evans died. I regretted my stupidity for years. (In my defense: Evans’ most recent albums at the time were pretty grim; I thought he was a drugged-out has-been. The recordings that documented his brilliant last-candle revival—The Paris Concert, Turn Out the Stars, The Final Village Vanguard Sessions—weren’t released till after his death.) A quarter-century later, Fantasy Records came out with two eight-CD box-sets—The Last Waltz and Consecration—that captured every note of every set from that week-long gig at Keystone Korner.

Similarly, on May 30, 1982, the alto saxophonist Art Pepper played at the Kool Jazz Festival in Washington, DC, where I was living. I had to go out of town that week. Two weeks later, he died. At least I’d seen Pepper play live a few times before. Still, I moaned my loss. Now, 25 years later, his widow, Laurie Pepper, has released the tape of that concert on a CD, Unreleased Art, Vol. II: The Last Concert—the second in a series of unreleased Art Pepper concerts that she plans to issue on her own label, Widow’s Taste.

Who knows what other treats are out there, gathering dust in some closet or shelf, awaiting discovery?

Charles Mingus’ widow, Sue Graham Mingus, recently unearthed the tapes of a 1964 concert at Cornell, featuring Mingus’ most dazzling sextet (with Eric Dolphy, Clifford Jordan, Jaki Byard, Johnny Coles, and Danny Richmond); Blue Note is issuing it on two discs next month.

A new offshoot of Concord Records is coming out with never-before-released archival tapes from the Monterey Jazz Festival, some going back 45 years, featuring Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, and more.

It’s like a golden age of the golden age of jazz.

Here’s what I’d like to see: a gigantic box-set of the entire Carnegie Hall concert from November ’57. The tapes must be somewhere in the Library of Congress. Arranging the rights would be a nightmare. But is there someone who might have a go at it? (Are you listening, Michael Cuscuna, Phil Schaap, Mike Hobson, or Chad Kassem?) A few thousand of us maniacs would surely pay a hefty fee for the privilege of stepping into that time machine.

Stephen Mejias's picture

Coincidentally, just yesterday, I was listening to (and loving!) the Monk-Coltrane Carnegie Hall recording. A wonderful treasure, indeed. And this is all great news, Fred. Very exciting.

Joe Harley's picture

Nice to see you bloggin' Fred! And thanks for the exciting Sonny news.Your story of missed concert opportunities reminds me of the story of one of my friends. He was in San Francisco in 1967. On one side of the street John Coltrane was playing. On the other stripper Carol Doda (famous for having one of the first truly gigantic boob jobs) was, uh, stripping. I asked for his decision. He looked down and said "Doda". A few months later Coltrane was dead. Doda continued to parade her breasts in SF for the next 20 years.

Jim Tavegia's picture

Maybe those who have the means could forget aabout buying the Wall Street Journal and do something meaningful with their money rather than fuel their egos and fund the Monk release.