This grainy un-credited photo of John Coltrane sitting in with Thelonious Monk’s group at Cobo Hall in Detroit surfaced recently.
As the story goes:
“George Wein, the producer of the Newport Jazz Festival, also puts on other concerts of a similar nature. He remembers one affair in particular where Coltrane and Monk shared the bill, their first appearance together in almost ten years. ‘This was in February 1966, at Cobo Hall in Detroit…..we got hit with an all day snowstorm, but surprisingly enough we had a crowd of 11,000 out of 15,000 capacity. Monk and his band made it, but John’s rhythm section was snowed in and only John and Alice were there. Monk went on first, but by the second half John’s men still hadn’t showed up and I was getting worried.’
In order to alleviate such worries, Wein asked Coltrane if he would mind playing with Monk to close out the concert. Monk, hearing this, immediately danced his approval and gave his former sideman an affectionate hug, while the saxophonist nodded his assent. They played mostly Monk’s music, in particular those tunes from their 1957 collaboration. For the last few numbers, Alice sat in on piano, joining her husband for some of his own songs.
Afterward in the dressing room, Wein, who’d really enjoyed Monk and Coltrane together, thanked the saxophonist and said, ‘I’m rather glad your rhythm section didn’t make it tonight.’
‘I thought you’d feel that way,’ Coltrane replied. Then, he said, reflectively, ‘You know, I often wonder whether what I’m doing now is the right way to play. Sometimes I feel this is the way I want to go, but other times I’d rather return to the way I used to play.’ He paused, adding, ‘But for now, I think I’ll continue in the direction I’m going and see what happens.’”
A little bit of digging reveals more information in the Cobo Hall Concert Database – the date was January 22nd, 1967 and the bill also included Dave Brubeck, Clark Terry and Sarah Vaughan. Coltrane passed away roughly six months later.
Cobo Hall (now the Cobo Center) in downtown Detroit has a capacity of 12,000 and it’s interesting that in 1967 – an era which jazz has been described as dying – this bill could pull a close to full house in a stadium sized venue which has hosted shows over the years by The Doors, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Bruce Springsteen, Parliament-Funkadelic, and many others.
Maybe the surprising thing is that no-one appears to have recorded it! Although given the number of surprises we’ve had over the last few years, we shouldn’t rule anything out!
BTW, although the Vancouver Jazz Calendar has been unavailable since last summer, I’ve been posting the A-Trane Calendar in the Jazz Forum under Live Jazz Listings for your jazz listening pleasure … N