Two years ago, Ashley Kahn wrote the definitive story of the making of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, arguably the most important jazz album of the 1960s, as I wrote in my review for Blogcritics:
Along with John Coltrane's A Love Supreme and Giant Steps, Kind of Blue is one of those albums that even non-jazz fans own--they are definitive recordings from the 1960s. And yet, no album emerges in a vacuum. There's rarely a moment of divine inspiration behind an artwork--it's almost always a combination of talent and hard work, combined with an enormous amount of thought.
Kind of Blue is no exception. It was a logical progression in Davis' career, and in his ability to choose excellent sidemen. Davis had the core of a crack band that he at the time of Kind of Blue's two 1959 recording sessions, with Jimmy Cobb on drums, Paul Chambers on bass, and the dueling saxes of the avant-garde John Coltrane (soon to leave on a solo career that would rival Davis' in its stature and influence) and the more conventional, but playful technique of Cannonball Adderly.
For his sequel to the making of Kind of Blue, Kahn chose the perfect follow up: the making of John Coltrane's A Love Supreme.
In many ways, the two albums are linked, due to Coltrane's apprenticeship in the Miles Davis Quintet. And just as he did with his previous book, Kahn does a thorough job of placing Coltrane's album in the context of jazz history. As Kahn explains Davis had hired 'Trane in the mid-1950s, when Davis was a rising star, whose previous saxophone player, Sonny Rollins, had recently departed to kick his heroin addiction, and 'Trane was a struggling, though clearly extremely talented sax player in Philadelphia. Coltrane himself, in 1957, cleaned up his own problems with addiction, and devoted himself to his instrument, endlessly practicing, endlessly theorizing about his craft. He credited God for the transformation in his life.
The Perfect Combination
Coltrane and Davis were the perfect musical combination. As Kahn writes:
Their contrasting approach was even more pronounced during performances, and less balanced. Often, Coltrane would take three, four, even five times as much time for his improvisations as did Davis. Their own words revealed their respective philosophies: Miles listened to "what I can leave out"'; for Coltrane, "it took that long to get it all in".
Or as John McLaughlin, the jazz guitarist who would serve his own apprenticeship with Miles in late 1960s would say, "Miles was the epitome of economy, and Coltrane's playing was beyond large".