Sunday, August 23, 2009

John Coltrane's Penny Whistle Tapes

My friend Max Hoff is a fan of both James Joyce and John Coltrane. During the legendary Bistro Poetry Era in Boulder Creek, Max would often entertain by reciting large sections of Finnegans Wake (pictured above) which he had memorized. Max played Joyce's words like an instrument which is not surprising since the saxophone is alleged to be the instrument most closely resembling the human voice and Max is a master of the sax. Some of Max's best sax performances can be heard at the Church of Saint John Coltrane in San Francisco where Max is a Deacon.

Imagine my glee when I discovered on the web a review of an album of John Coltrane playing the penny whistle. I could hardly wait to tell Max. In addition to critical examination of each of the tracks the reviewer explained the circumstances of this rare recording:

As is often the case with revelatory musical discoveries, the story behind the sounds is nearly as fascinating as the music itself. While convalescing at his home in the rut of the liminal period before his stint with Monk, Coltrane discovered an odd relic in a basement crate. The property of his deceased great-uncle Thaddeus, the crate contained an impressive collection of vintage 78s along with various personal effects- among them a tarnished brass penny whistle.

Coltrane, still weak from his recent struggle with smack, used the whistle as a means of strengthening his embouchure and breath capacity. In the bargain he realized its convincing musical potential as well. Anxious to invite friends over for jam sessions, but still too physically diminished to hoist his regular horn, Coltrane set up a primitive portable cassette recorder and single microphone (both on loan from his Jersey friend Rudy Van Gelder) and taped many of the living room whistle performances for personal study.

Shortly after reading this review I was bottling wine with Max at the Ahlgren Vineyards a few miles north of Boulder Creek and asked him if he had ever listened to Coltrane's penny whistle performances. "No way," exclaimed Max. "Coltrane never played the whistle." Ha. Ha. I had evidence Max was wrong and bet him $5.00 that a record of Coltrane's whistle sessions existed, put out by an obscure record label in Provo, Utah.

I lost that bet. In my excitement I failed to note the date of the review.


linus r. said...

I have an interest in the piccolo from my collection of vintage Klezmer 78's mostly re-issued on cd's only until recently.... lovely instrument esp. with marching band type Yiddish Klezmer stuff...
(the idea of Coltrane playing this
feeble instrument is utterly ridiculous).... for in for a mass at the St. John Coltrane Orthodox Church!!....

nick herbert said...

The skill of fine musicians such as Joannie Madden (Song of the Irish Whistle), Paddy Mahoney and Sean Potts of the Chieftains have raised the lowly whistle to concert status. I would love to hear a whistle player of such caliber turn this spoof album into reality as a tribute to the genius of John Coltrane. Trane Whistle indeed!

viagra said...

Wow i guess that he's a great fan, I follow many artist but I'm not like that I don't know why but I really like them haha