In 1977, 10 years after the death of John Coltrane, a group of Boston musicians organized a concert paying tribute to, as they put it: “One of the most remarkable musicians in history.” Now the concert is in its 38th year and will be celebrating two musical legends: John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman.
The Friends of the John Coltrane Memorial Concert will present “Ornette ‘n ‘Trane” on Saturday, Oct. 24, at The Blackman Theater at Northeastern University.
The evening features the John Coltrane Memorial Ensemble, a conglomeration of Boston-based musicians including Carl Atkins, Billy Buss, Leonard Brown, Jeff Galindo, Laszlo Gardony, Yoron Israel, John Lockwood, Jason Palmer, Rick Stepton, Stan Strickland and Bobby Tynes. Eric Jackson of WGBH’s Eric in the Evening will host.
Saxophonist, Northeastern professor and founder of the John Coltrane Memorial Concert, Leonard Brown, told me about the conception of the project: “The concert got started out of the consciousness and active involvement of a group of black musicians in Boston who felt the need to take leadership in the proper presentation perpetuation of great black music. This is coming out of a period of time — the early to mid-70s — when there was still a pretty strong contingency in the black community moving toward equality and fair treatment.”
Brown continues, “It was also part of the music, it wasn’t just political. We as musicians felt that we needed to take the lead in defining and presenting what black music is about because it comes from our culture.”
Today, Brown looks at the concert as a tribute to Coltrane’s musical and spiritual legacy. “We realize his spiritual message through music and the sound that he was able to manifest — it touched people all across the world in so many deep and wonderful ways. That’s the reason he’s still revered today.”
In an arrangement of Coltrane’s “Naima” for the 2009 concert, it is clear that these musicians have a special respect for Coltrane’s music. Coltrane’s strong tone and emphasized delivery of the melody in his original recording gives it a somber feeling.
After pianist George W. Russell, Jr., opens this arrangement with a dynamic solo introduction, the rest of the band comes in with a vamp on a bright tempo with playful brush work and chimes. They give the song a hopefulness while maintaining the sincerity of Coltrane’s original recording and honoring Brown’s belief that Coltrane wanted his music to be a "force for goodness."
With a dedicated and talented group of performers, this year’s concert aims to include similarly uplifting performances. The program is comprised exclusively of compositions by Coltrane and Coleman, who Brown says “both moved [jazz] music light years ahead.” The musicians will explore the intersection of Trane’s modal music and Ornette’s signature avant-garde sound.
Brown says, “They’re like two brothers.” The connection that Ornette and Trane have brings us back to the essential component of the concert: celebrating the spiritual legacy.
Coltrane’s music, Brown says, “touches people and makes us think about how we can be involved in making the world a better place.”
Claire Dickson is an 18-year-old jazz vocalist and writer. She is a 2014 National YoungArts Foundation finalist, Fidelity Investments Young Artists Competition at the Boston Pops grand prize winner, Michael Feinstein American Songbook Competition national finalist, 2015 GRAMMY Camp — Jazz session selectee, a 2015 U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts and has received eight Downbeat Student Music Awards. She is a freshman at Harvard College. You can find her at ClaireDicksonmusic.com.