John Coltrane - tenor, soprano saxophones; Pharoah Sanders - tenor sax; Alice Coltrane - piano; Jimmy Garrison - bass; Rashied Ali - drums
Incredibly, this concert took place during a Saturday afternoon on a bill that included The Jazz Crusaders, The Bill Dixon Quartet, The Charles Lloyd Quartet and the Horace Silver Quartet. As the headliner of this star-studded affair, Coltrane came to Newport with a new lineup. The classic quartet of Coltrane, pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones had performed the previous year at the 1965 Newport Jazz Festival. But by the time of '66 Newport, McCoy Tyner had left the band and was replaced by Detroit pianist Alice McLeod, Coltrane's second wife. They had been together since 1963 and were married in Mexico in October, 1965. She replaced Tyner in the group in January, 1966. Coltrane's longtime drummer and shamanistic rhythmatist Elvin Jones had also departed when he was unable to adjust to the concept of two drummers in an expanded group (Rashied Ali had come on board in late 1965 and was first documented on the November 23 studio recording, Meditations). And second tenor player Pharoah Sanders was added to the group by the end of 1965. This new quintet lineup had just come off an engagement in late May at the Village Vanguard (documented on the Impulse album, Live at the Village Vanguard Again!) and was primed to blow minds at Newport.
They open their July 2nd set with a powerful invocation on "My Favorite Things," the Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune from the Broadway musical The Sound of Music, which Coltrane had transformed into a hypnotic modal vehicle on his 1961 Atlantic album of the same name. On this mesmerizing, Eastern flavored interpretation of that ditty originally sung by Julie Andrews, Coltrane blows with white-hot intensity on the soprano saxophone, an instrument that had been closely associated with Sidney Bechet since the 1930s. With Coltrane switching to tenor sax, they next launch into the spiritual, hymn-like "Welcome," which opens on a calming note (with allusions to the memorable melody from "Happy Birthday") before gradually building to dissonant peaks of ferocious intensity and polyrhythmic turbulence. Trane returns to the mellow refrain to close out part one of this tune and remains in a gentle mode through part 2, as his wife Alice layers on gentle piano accompaniment. The 24-minute set-closer, "Leo" (which Coltrane and Ali would later record on their duets album, Interstellar Space) features lengthy extended soloing from Coltrane and also second tenor man Sanders, whose cathartic screams in the altissimo register over Ali's polyrhythmic thunder bring the piece to a whole new level of intensity. Following Sanders' riveting solo of blast furnace intensity, Alice Coltrane delivers a cascading piano solo that flows like water over a droning key center. Trane returns with another burst of seemingly inexhaustible energy, blowing heroically for another ten minutes before returning to the intervallic leaping theme, closing out Coltrane's final appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival. He died the following year on July 17, 1967.
Emerging from important sideman work with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk in the 1950s, tenor saxophonist John Coltrane would become one of the most powerfully galvanizing forces in the history of jazz. An intellectual and intensely passionate player, he came to redefine the way the tenor saxophone was played through the course of his astonishingly productive but brief career as a leader during the 1960s.
Born in 1926 in Hamlet, North Carolina, Coltrane's remarkable musical journey began in Philadelphia, where he played in R&B joints and walked the bar with his tenor sax. Following a stint in the Navy from 1945-1946, he played in the King Kolax band and in Jimmy Heath's big band through 1947. Following a tour of one-nighters with Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson in 1948, he joined Dizzy Gillespie's big band in 1949 as lead alto player, later appearing on Gillespie's 1951 small group recording for Savoy, School Days. He gained further seasoning by touring with Earl Bostic in 1952 and playing in Johnny Hodges' nonet in late 1953 (he is billed as "Johnny Coltrane" on Hodges' 1954 Verve release, Used to Be Duke). By September, 1955, he was hired to replace Sonny Rollins in the Miles Davis quintet featuring pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones. That formidable lineup set a new standard of excellence on a series of recordings for Prestige during the mid '50s -- Cookin', Relaxin', Workin' and Steamin' -- as well as on 1956's 'Round About Midnight on Columbia. Coltrane would leave Davis' group in April, 1957 under particularly strained circumstances (the saxophonist had a heroin addiction during his tenure with Miles, who ultimately fired him for his unreliable attendance on gigs).
By the summer of 1957, Coltrane had a spiritual awakening, kicked his heroin habit and entered into a period of intensive woodshedding. By July of that year he began an extended engagement at the Five Spot Café in Thelonious Monk's quartet featuring Wilbur Ware (and later Ahmed Abdul-Malik) on bass and Shadow Wilson (alternating with Roy Haynes) on drums. It was in that setting, playing Monk's challenging music on a nightly basis, that Trane began developing his startling "sheets of sound" approach that would become his signature. Trane's work with Monk that summer sent shockwaves through the jazz community. As trombonist J.J. Johnson said to critic Ira Gitler: "Since Charlie Parker, the most electrifying sound I've heard in contemporary jazz was Coltrane playing with Monk at the Five Spot. It was incredible, like Diz and Bird."
1957 was a banner year for Coltrane. Aside from his summer residency at the Five Spot with Monk and their historic Carnegie Hall performance in November, he also released his own debut as a leader (Coltrane on Prestige) and recorded the classic Blue Train for the Blue Note label, while also appearing on sessions led by Red Garland, Mal Waldron, Art Taylor, Kenny Burrell and others. By 1958, Coltrane rejoined Miles Davis' band and recorded such landmarks as 1958's Milestones and the 1959 modal masterpiece Kind of Blue (the best-selling jazz album of all time). That same pivotal year, he debuted on Atlantic with the harmonically complicated Giant Steps (the title track remains a proving ground for jazz musicians to this day) and the following year introduced the soprano sax (an instrument previously associated with Sidney Bechet) on My Favorite Things, the first recording to document the classic Coltrane quartet of pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones.
For Impulse!, the fledgling label which advertised itself as "The New Wave in Jazz," Coltrane recorded 1962's exquisite Ballads, the super-charged Live at the Village Vanguard, 1964's Crescent and his immortal work A Love Supreme, along with 1965's envelope-pushing offerings like Transition and First Meditations. He introduced an expanded ensemble on the free jazz manifesto Ascension, which featured tenor players Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. He introduced a second drummer, Rashied Ali, on the intensely probing Meditations. Coltrane's wife, pianist Alice McLeod, replaced Tyner in the lineup in 1966, appearing on Live at the Village Vanguard Again! Trane's last recording in February, 1967 was a series of provocative duets with drummer Ali released posthumously as Interstellar Space. His final performance was in Baltimore on May 7, 1967. He died of liver cancer on July 17, two months before his 41st birthday. (Milkowski)