Named after the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., this dirge opens with an ominous ringing of piano and bass chords -- seemingly announcing the approach of storm. It's worth noting that this John Coltrane song was originally recorded in the studio, but was released on the 'Live at Birdland' album.
The Billy Strayhorn-composed 'Lush Life' has been recorded many times over the years, but none are greater than this version done during a one-time 1963 meeting between Coltrane and the respected but not hugely popular singer Johnny Hartman. McCoy Tyner anchors this tune (accompanying both singer and saxophonist to great effect); however Coltrane's short double-time solo makes this number burn bright.
Recorded during the 1961 run at the Village Vanguard, 'India' features solos by Coltrane (on soprano saxophone) and Eric Dolphy (on bass clarinet). The song was featured on the the classic quartet's 'Impressions' album. Several years later, they would release their most famous record, 1964's 'A Love Supreme.'
'Chasin the Trane'
'Chasin' the Trane' is an unrelenting performance by Coltrane, who barely pauses during the 15-minute tune as he tears at melodic ideas and performs rhythmic summersaults, in what many be regarded as a classic performance from the 1961 run at Village Vanguard. Not his greatest composition, but arguably some of his greatest playing on the record.
'In a Sentimental Mood'
Coltrane cut a small group album with Duke Ellington that featured members from both leaders' bands. 'In a Sentimental Mood' matches Ellington's light sparkling piano with the dark simmering horn work of Trane. Everyone loves the album with Johnny Hartman, but this is a transcendent moment from another great collaboration.
From Coltrane's break-though album 'Giant Steps' -- which was recorded around the same time as 'Kind of Blue' with Miles Davis -- 'Naima' is the most soulful song of the Coltrane canon. Coltrane, known for his furious intensity and extended solos, barely plays above a whisper here, nor does he wander far from the melody during the four-and-a-half-minute song.
Coltrane only did one album for Blue Note, but 1957's 'Blue Train' is a classic. This session featured a rehearsed band and Coltrane's strongest composition before his work on 'Giant Steps.' The title's opening cut highlights the strong three-horn front line and reveals a sophisticated texture that wasn't in his other work during that time.
Coltrane was also a talented composer, capable of brilliant penmanship. The hypnotic brilliance of 'Acknowledgement' is a testament of this. The breathy saxophone notes reaching to the heavens and the earthy bass line pulling us back to earth send chills down the spine of any self respecting jazz fan, every time they hear it.
The song by which all saxophonist's measure themselves, 'Giant Steps' is the arrival of Coltrane as a player. This song starts at a full gallop, where a descending figure soon erupts into furious solo. It's as if the saxophonist can't seem to get the notes out fast enough, as he goes through the same three scales, over and over again.
'My Favorite Things'
Recorded in 1960, this John Coltrane song -- written by Rodgers and Hammerstein for the 'Sound of Music' soundtrack -- works on so many levels. The simple, folk-like melody inspired the saxophonist to go amazing heights. There weren't many gigs where Coltrane didn't use it as his centerpiece -- sometimes taking the tune out into the stratosphere for an hour at a time. A jazz landmark.