The story Myers relays through the words of Yusuf Lateef adds another tantalizing piece to the puzzle of the Coltrane legend. Lateef says that ‘Trane’s first wife Naima bought him a harp, and he was fascinated by the rippling glissandos it made. Lateef says that the sheets of sound were his attempt to re-create this phenomenon on the saxophone. The fact that he would leave Naima to marry harpist Alice McLeod a few years later also becomes a little more curious with this revelation.
The world of The Beats, coffee-shops, and incredible jazz is now a late ‘50s cultural cliché, but for those who were there, it must have been a great time. The arrival of the British Invasion, and especially of The Beatles took the world by storm in the early ‘60s, and nothing has been the same since. As jazz vocalist Carole Sloan put it after seeing The Beatles at Shea Stadium; “The kids had been drifting away from jazz for years. But by this concert in 1965, they were completely gone, and they were never coming back.”
There were a few attempts to respond to the changing musical landscape. The first is what the author refers to as “Jazz-Pop.” Producer/arranger/composers such as Burt Bacharach and Creed Taylor were the leaders in this field. A more resonant approach came from the ever-evolving Miles Davis, who pioneered what would come to be known as fusion. For many of us, fusion represented the last innovative advance in jazz, at least until it lapsed into self-parody in the late ’70s.
John Coltrane kind of stood apart from the crowd, as he kept pushing his music to the outer edges, all the way up to his death in 1967. His albums for the Impulse! label were both avant-garde, and successful. With ’Trane leading the way, there were a number of artists who shunned the commercial path in lieu of their own vision. An early, and extremely important organization along these lines was the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), which led to the formation of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. A few other notable names in avant-garde jazz are Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, and Ornette Coleman.
As mentioned, the bulk of Myers’ book details the years 1945-1972. So what has occurred in jazz in the past 40 years? His final chapter is titled “Jazz Hangs On,” which is just about all that it has done, at least as the mainstream is concerned. The high-octane fire of fusion bands such as Mahavishnu Orchestra and Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis was slowly adapted into more radio-friendly fare by Weather Report and others. All too quickly though, this became the dreaded “hot-tub” jazz of Spyro Gyra and John Klemmer, and it seemed to have very little connection to what many of us considered “real” jazz.