Building A Jazz Library Part 1

The final Atlantic release before Coltrane’s death was The Avant-Garde with Don Cherry sharing the lead. Recorded in July 1960, several months ahead of My Favorite Things, it was the first studio recording (although not the first release) with Coltrane playing the soprano sax. With Cherry on trumpet, Ed Blackwell on drums and Charlie Haden playing bass on two tracks, the influence of Ornette Coleman is unmistakable and it’s fascinating to listen to Coltrane sounding ever so Ornette. Contrast this album with Coltrane’s evocation of The Modern Jazz Quartet in Bags & Trane recorded only a year and a half apart, and you can’t help but be impressed with Coltrane’s range.

What constitutes an original or “first pressing” of these Coltrane albums? All eight albums were recorded and released within the space of six years. During this short release window of 1960 through 1966, Atlantic Records went through numerous label variations: The older, solid black label from the late fifties extended into 1960 for no more than the blink of an eye. The next variation (the “bullseye” or “ring” label) was used during most of 1960. Giants Steps is the only Coltrane Atlantic album to be found on either of these label variations.

During the period 1960 through 1962, Atlantic switched to a new bi-colored label, with red top over plum bottom (for mono), with a “white fan” contained in the white bar separating the two halves. During the first half of 1962, they added a small registration logo over the white fan. The next five Coltrane releases, from Coltrane Jazz to Coltrane Plays The Blues first appeared with a white fan label. Earliest pressing of all but Coltrane Plays The Blues should not have the registration mark.

From 1962 through 1968 the fan turned from white to black and the word Atlantic was added vertically next to the fan. Coltrane’s Sound and The Avant-Garde were first issued with this label.

Later pressings and reissues appeared on several other label variations.  From 1966 through 1968 the mono label changed slightly, moving the vertical Atlantic bar from the side of the ‘black fan’ to run horizontally under it. Then in 1968 Atlantic totally revamped its label and all further variations (both mono and stereo) appeared on a label with a green top and red below, with the record company address along the bottom.  An “1841 Broadway” address reflects a pressing from 1968 to 1973; a “75 Rockefeller” address was used from 1973 into 1975; and in mid-1975 a Warner Logo was added next to the Rockefeller address.

Each of the eight Coltrane Atlantic albums is worth all the stars in anyone’s rating system but of course some are more heavenly than others. If I could only take three as I rushed from the (not so metaphorical) burning building, those would be My Favorite Things, Coltrane Olé and Giant Steps, three perfect albums from one of the greatest musicians of all time. Two of these three titles are still available new—the UHQCD mono versions of My Favorite Things and Giant Steps — and are the foundation of any Coltrane collection. The Rhino/Kevin Gray vinyl mastering of Giant Steps is also available for those demanding stereo and/or vinyl. Those will probably disappear from circulation before long. If you are a completest, and don’t mind buying used, the Atlantic mono box sets are still out there.