July 10, 2011

The Dead Quote Coltrane

This started out as a couple comments on older posts, but I thought it might be better as a post on its own.

In the second half of '68, the Dead added a new section to Clementine with an interesting guitar/bass unison riff.
For example, you can hear it at 4:15 in track 11 here:
http://www.archive.org/details/gd68-10-30.sbd.sacks.1205.sbeok.shnf
or at 6:10 in track 3 here:
http://www.archive.org/details/gd1969-01-26.sbd.miller.109642.flac16

It's been pointed out that this riff sometimes recurs in Lesh's playing in later years - for instance, you can hear it a bit after 18:30 in the 4/26/72 Other One.

It turns out this is actually the bass riff to Coltrane's Greensleeves, off his Africa/Brass album:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RtcltPjuTkM

The musical reference is so obvious I'm sure someone's mentioned it before - but it's a recent discovery for me!
The Dead revered the Africa/Brass album, and Lesh and Weir cite it to this day as an essential, seminal album for them.

Weir: "We felt at that time, when we were listening to Coltrane, that we were hardly fit to grovel at his feet. But still, we were trying to get there - our aims were the same."

Lesh: "We never heard Coltrane live after the band started, so it was the recordings we would lean on. Mainly it was Africa/Brass. Bill Kreutzmann really got off on Elvin's drum solo on 'Africa'; of the other guys, it was pretty much the whole composition and the way it all developed, the use of the horns and stuff like that. And then just for the quality of Trane's playing, 'Blues Minor' is one of my favorites." [from the book the House That Trane Built]

Lesh says in his book, "I urged the other band members to listen closely to the music of John Coltrane, especially his classic quartet, in which the band would take fairly simple structures ('My Favorite Things', for example) and extend them far beyond their original length with fantastical variations, frequently based on only one chord."

Though Garcia sang Clementine, the music was actually composed by Lesh. Since the rhythm of Clementine is similar to Coltrane band performances like Greensleeves and My Favorite Things, I would guess Coltrane was strongly in Lesh's mind when he was arranging Clementine.
When Lesh talks about using Coltrane's My Favorite Things as an example the Dead used in expanding their jams, it makes me wonder if Clementine was a song that came out of the Dead's jamming on Coltrane themes. Musically, Clementine is quite a bit simpler than most of Lesh's compositions!
(One musically versed listener says, "Clementine is definitely in the style of the Coltrane arrangements of 'My Favorite Things' and 'Greensleeves.' All three are based on lilting triplet rhythms in a minor key with stepwise sequential melodies.")

Lesh has spoken often of the example of Coltrane's modal-jazz style:
"The Coltrane Quartet and the long jams they would do in one chord was a defining factor for us because it was a demonstration that this could be done. There's so much room inside this one chord. It's only one chord and you can never ever get to the bottom of it. Believe me, that was a major influence on us."

And from a newspaper article:
'“What do I have to say about ’Trane?” Lesh asks. “His music is very florid, convulsive, evocative, volcanic, and it all moves very steadily in its flow.” Coltrane also had a strong influence on the music of the Grateful Dead, who were looking for interesting ways to extend their concert “jams” without continuous repetition of the melody line. Coltrane’s modal use of the drone, sustained notes characteristic of world music from Scottish bagpipes to Indian sitars in his early ’60s compositions “Africa” and “India” allowed the jazzman to weave varied melodic and rhythmic elements in and around the drone, enabling musical improvisation without sacrificing a solid through-line.
“It was a logical extension of what we wanted to do,” Lesh says. “The improvisation over the drone note derives from ethnic music practices the world over, and helped us figure out how to play longer in new, more interesting ways.”'

Weir in particular was inspired by Coltrane's records of the early '60s, especially the playing of pianist McCoy Tyner:
"I listened to a lot of McCoy Tyner. I listened to his left hand a lot, and sort of took it from there."
"The John Coltrane record that had ‘Tunji’ on it (Coltrane) had me hugely enamored with his rhythm section - Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison - and the way they worked together. It was great the way they played off McCoy Tyner. Whereas a lot of guitarists cite other guitarists as primary influences, I listened to a lot of McCoy Tyner and what he had to say. It was Phil who turned me onto Coltrane.”
"I learned by trying to imitate a piano, specifically the work of McCoy Tyner in the John Coltrane Quartet. That caught my ear and lit my flame when I was 17. I just loved what he did underneath Coltrane, so I sat with it for a long time and really tried to absorb it. Of course, Jerry was very influenced by horn players, including Coltrane, but I never really explicitly thought about that relationship, because I didn’t really ever decide to pattern myself after McCoy Tyner’s piano. It just grabbed me."

As for Garcia: "I've been influenced a lot by Coltrane, but I never copped his licks or sat down, listened to records and tried to play his stuff. I've been impressed with that thing of flow, and of making statements that to my ears sound like paragraphs - he'll play along stylistically with a certain kind of tone...for X amount of time - then he'll change the subject, then play along with this other personality coming out, which really impresses me. It's like...his attitude's changing, but it changes in a holistic way, where the tone of his axe and everything changes."

Anyway, this was a long digression on a small subject. But for all the Dead's references to the Coltrane influence in interviews, it's still striking to find a direct quote in a Coltrane-soaked Dead song. And it illustrates how the Dead were composing in those days - remember that Clementine was written around the same time in late '67/early '68 that Weir snatched the Spanish Jam from a riff on Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain.
Many songs of that time were born in jams - Dark Star began as an instrumental; the Other One was a riff that Weir and Kreutzmann toyed with through '67 (Weir said he was thinking of Stravinsky's Rites of Spring); the Eleven was born as an experiment with Indian time signatures; the Bahaman tune We Bid You Goodnight was first played as an extended instrumental quote inside Alligator.
So it's quite possible that when the Dead tried to jam on a Coltrane theme, out came Clementine....


MORE QUOTES?

I suspect many jazz quotes are lurking in later Dead jams.

Some people say they hear the band quoting Brubeck's Take Five here and there. Here, for instance, is one brief example of Phil playing a similar line briefly, at 7:45 in this Other One:
http://www.archive.org/details/gd72-09-23.sbd.jeffm.2201.sbeok.shnf
(There are probably better examples as this one is only 15 seconds or so, but it's the first one I could find.) Phil does this line a lot in various Truckin'/Other One jams in '72, but it's probably more of a rhythmic nudge than a Take Five quote. (For one, it's in 6/8 time.)

In '76, often Keith would set the rhythm for the transition jams between songs, in a way that was unique to that year. One riff he'd play was very similar to the Take Five piano - you can hear it coming after Eyes of the World on 7/17/76, and here he leads the way after 1:40 in track 18, the jam before Comes a Time:
http://www.archive.org/details/gd76-10-03.sbd-aud.cotsman.12832.sbeok.shnf
But one listener notes: "I think the '76 jam would have to be called 'take 8' rather than 'take 5' though, because the phrase Keith is playing does use a lot of the same intervals and syncopated rhythm as Brubeck's comp in Take 5, but it is a longer phrase that fits into a standard 4/4 meter rather than the asymmetrical time signature that gives Take 5 its name. It's like Keith took the line and put a couple more beats in the middle to even it out to fit with the existing pulse the drummers are playing."

There's also another very common Phil riff in '73, a little reminiscent of Stronger Than Dirt, which the band often joins in counterpoint - for instance, it's developed at length after 6:20 in this Dark Star:
http://www.archive.org/details/gd1973-06-24.pset2.sbd.176.hamilton.sbeok.shnf
It's a similar line, sounds like it could be from some familiar jazz tune, but it may be original to Phil.
(In '73-75, the band thought it particularly cool to work out these complicated but unified funky riffs. As one listener says, "I hear the distinctive Phil riffs in that '73 Dark Star to be part of what I think of as a big 'family' of material in '73-75 based on intricate but driving bass-heavy loops. Stronger than Dirt, Slipknot, the post-Eyes jam, the Unbroken Chain instrumental break - all of these seem to overlap with the kind of intervals and rhythms you hear Phil playing with in that Dark Star section." Indeed, many listeners have trouble distinguishing these riffs from each other!)

But there is one line Phil often played in '72 jams that is definitely a familiar jazz quote: Footprints, off the Miles Smiles album.
Here's Miles playing it live on 4/12/70, opening for the Dead:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Z3bAytZOM4
And here's Phil quoting the bassline, after 6:25 in track 24, after Truckin':
http://www.archive.org/details/gd1972-04-11.sbd.jackson.smith.94377.sbeok.flac16
One listener observes: "Phil plays the bassline pretty repeatedly and while it does change the direction of the jam into something much jazzier (I say 'jazzier' because of how Billy is drumming - he's keeping time more on the cymbals rather than the drums), I wouldn't call this a 'Footprints jam,' though, since Keith isn't playing the chords to Footprints, and nobody else really plays anything close to it."

I haven't looked for many examples, but these are all little riffs that Phil would repeat quite frequently in those years that lend a jazz-combo tinge to the Dead's jams.


*

Quotes from:
http://www.jambase.com/Articles/4909/PHIL-LESH-OPERATING-PRINCIPLES
http://www.expressmilwaukee.com/article-2764-phil-lesh-reflects-on-his-influences.html
http://clatl.com/atlanta/show-n-tell-bob-weir-of-ratdog/Content?oid=1230232
http://www.heyreverb.com/2011/02/11/long-and-winding-road-bob-weir/
http://www.alanpaulinchina.com/2011/01/from-archives-bob-weir.html
http://jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/101003/enp_13733282.shtml

7 comments:

  1. This was a forum post by jerlouvis that's well worth repeating here:

    The Coltrane/free jazz influence on the band in '68-74 is every bit as evident in their playing and ideology as their blues, c+w and bluegrass roots, even more so than their rock influences... Here are a few examples of what I consider the band displaying the Coltrane/free jazz influence in a clear and indisputable fashion.

    http:www.archive.org/details/gd1973-06-26.sbd.goodbear.80602.flac16

    After the Bobby McGee the band returns to the Other One and at 13:00 minutes they fall into a very pretty space with Jer and Weir locked in and some killer Phil underneath, the band then launches into a stomping, ear-splitting jam, at about 15:37 you hear some very Coltrane-like bleating and honking. Throughout the song and especially in the 4 minute segment between 13-17 minutes Phil, Billy and Bob reflect strongly the influence Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner had on their playing styles. You only need to listen to some of the more "out" style Coltrane to hear it. For me this is some of the most exhilarating GD I have ever heard.

    http://www.archive.org/details/gd1974-06-08.sbd.miller.97268.sbeok.flac16

    This version of Playin' in the Band is just gorgeous, at the 12:00 minute mark Jerry leads a nice full band jam and at 13:00 minutes Jerry, Weir and Keith develop a beautiful trio with Keith playing insect-jam(tiger-jam) like licks which lead into a cacophonous, really out space. At approximately 14:33 some ungodly, screeching saxophone-like wails join the mix and the madness continues until about 17:00 when the music returns to earth somewhat for another six minutes of brilliant playing.

    For a final example I'd like to put up a kind of obvious choice in that it has a free jazz saxophonist in it.

    http://www.archive.org/details/gd1969-08-03.sbd.miller.30652.sbeok.flac16

    The Dark Star and Other One->Caution from this show are unique and deserve more recognition and praise. The band is joined by free jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd and electric violinist David LaFlamme from It's a Beautiful Day, they dive in head-first to a full-on free-for-all and create some truly inspired and singular music, a credit to the musicians involved in that, in a live performance setting, they melded what could be considered dissimilar instrumentation and styles in very demanding and challenging compositions and almost seamlessly spit out some intense killer music. For my money one the bands finest performances of the 60's.

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  2. These are brilliant analyses. Took me awhile to find a GD blog with thoughtful takes on music. But can anyone answer a question that's hounded me for years (as a non musician): Weir writes in a distinctive meter. What is the meter for Music Never Stopped and Estimated? Forgive ignorance. I'm Dave, NYC, infoadmin@dbcinet.net

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  3. Estimated Prophet is in 7/4, one of Weir's favorite meters:
    http://www3.clearlight.com/~acsa/rhythm.htm

    Music Never Stopped, I don't know - I'm no musician - though, like many Dead songs, it shifts meters in the middle jam. I think most of it is a regular 4/4.

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  4. at 9:26 in Dancing in the Streets on 1/18/70, Jerry actually quotes Coltrane's "A Love Surpreme" for a few seconds. It feels like he arrives at it somewhat randomly, having just fluffed a line in his solo, and he actually sounds surprised at what he's doing and quickly moves on. Funny moment!
    Bent

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  5. Nice catch Bent.

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  6. Regarding the Africa Brass line: Jimmy Garrison's line includes the b9 (Eb) of the Dmin. Either the changes in Trane's version are | Dmin \ \ Eb7 |(a la A Night in Tunisia) or it is D Phrygian, whereas the Dead give this line more of a British Blues feel, keeping it all within D minor. Most likely they didn't want to copy the line, but take the spirit of it and make it their own. It sure does have that 60s San Francisco sound. Good catch and thanks for writing this up!

    JM

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  7. Hmmm...some confusion as to who played bass on Greensleeves. My copy of Africa Brass Vol. 1 and 2 indicates Mr. P.C. and Reggie Workman on Vol. 1 and for the version on Vol. 2, either Workman or Art Davis. However, if you look at the fine print for Vol. 2, there's an indication that the orchestra on May 23, 1961 (when both takes of Greensleeves were recorded)was of indeterminate personnel; however, the rhythm section is listed as being Tyner, Garrison, and Jones, the classic quartet.

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