Music That Shaped Me: Blue Trane

Like lots of people who have an abiding interest in music, there have been a few moments that I can single out as pivotal in drawing me in. When I was small much of what grabbed me was the exuberant fun of punk/post-punk/new wave etc. In my mid-teens I found jazz. I had hated the smooth swing and trad varieties I had heard before finding bop and the musics that desended from it.

Punk slapped me in the face and woke me up. Jazz was more of a slow impact, but it hit me. One of the really cool things about moving to New York City as a teenager was getting to go to clubs that had previously just been part of the names of live albums. New York felt like a jazz city in a way that London didn’t (it is but it’s a little more under the surface and I didn’t see it as a teenager).

Blue Train is the first jazz album I really fell in love with. I had heard a fair bit before including some great albums like Kind of Blue (that Coltrane contributes massively to also), but there was something about this album that grabbed me and it has stayed with me.

To be honest part of what grabbed me was the cover. This was the only album Trane made for Blue Note and the cover was designed by the amazing Reid Miles. Part of the reason jazz was so cool for me is down to him. The Blue Note covers are great design and go with the sounds that were being recorded in the late 50s and early 60s.

The band are off the hook amazing too. Coltrane is brilliant (Coltrane is always brilliant), but the rest of the band are playing superbly too. Lee Morgan on trumpet, Curtis Fuller on trombone and Kenny Drew on piano are all excellent. At the time I wanted to become a jazz bass player so it was the rhythm section that really caught my ear. Philly Joe Jones plays drums beautifully on the whole album from the up-tempo numbers through to the ballad and Paul Chambers bass playing is so good it’s just not fair. I can’t find a note of his on this album that I would want to change.

The recording by Rudy Van Gelder at his studio in scenic Hackensack NJ is so good. The mono vinyl is wonderful. The CD remasters are pretty good too. It’s a startlingly clear album to listen to. Lots of that is down to the players and arrangements, but much of it is due to the recording too.

The tunes are so good. There are four up-tempo numbers and I could not pick a favourite from them. My favourite is the one I listened to last. There is a standout tune on the album for me though and it’s the ballad I’m Old Fashioned. It’s the only tune on the album not written by Trane. It’s a Jerome Kern tune (originally with lyrics by Johnny Mercer) written for a film called You Were Never Lovelier starring Rita Hayworth and Fred Astaire.

Trane’s version of this song has stayed in my head for more than 35 years. It’s the fourth of five tracks on the album. Everything else is fairly hard bop and then there is this beautiful ballad. Trane plays the head alone and it is some of the most beautiful tenor sax playing I have ever heard. Trane doesn’t even really take a solo. From his rendition of the head solos pass through a trombone, piano and the song ends with Lee Morgan’s trumpet solo. It is a stunning recording.

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