Alabama (John Coltrane song)

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"Alabama" is a musical composition by the American jazz artist John Coltrane, first recorded in 1963 by Coltrane with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones. Two takes from that session appear on Coltrane's 1964 album Live at Birdland. It is widely believed[a] that Coltrane conceived of and performed the composition in response to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing on September 15, 1963—an attack by the Ku Klux Klan in Birmingham, Alabama, that killed four African-American girls: Addie Mae Collins (14), Cynthia Wesley (14), Carole Robertson (14), and Carol Denise McNair (11).[1][2][3]


Jazz historian Bill Cole, in his 1977 book, John Coltrane, states that Coltrane composed "Alabama" as a memorial to the four victims. The date of the first recording – November 18, 1963 – was sixty-four days after the bombing and four days before the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Cole asserts that the melodic line "was developed from the rhythmic inflections of a speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King."[3][4][b]

Coltrane, Tyner, Garrison, and Jones, again, recorded "Alabama" – along with "Afro Blue" and "Impressions" – for a 30-minute TV episode of Jazz Casual, hosted by Ralph J. Gleason. The group recorded it December 7, 1963, at KQED TV in San Francisco. The episode was broadcast February 19, 1964, on WNET TV in New York, and February 23, 1964, on KQED TV in San Francisco.[5] The quartet had been performing a twelve-day gig at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco, nightly, from November 26, 1963, through December 8, 1963.

Recording by legacies of the original artists[edit]

"Alabama" was one of the tracks on Jack DeJohnette's 2016 album, In Movement (recorded October 2015 at Avatar Studios in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of Midtown Manhattan). The other two musicians on the album, Ravi Coltrane (saxophone) and Matthew Garrison (bass), are the sons of the musicians on the original 1963 recording. In Movement was released June 5, 2016, in two formats – as a CD and as 2 LPs (ECM 2488). Music journalist Richard Williams pointed out that the personal connection to "Alabama" extended to DeJohnette, who not only had performed with John Coltrane, but had known Ravi and Matt since they were children. In addition, Jack is Matt's godfather and when Matt returned to the United States after living with his mother in Italy for 11 years he moved in with Jack. The trio – Jack, Ravi and Matt – performed "Alabama" on the fifth day of the Berlin Jazz Festival, November 5, 2016 and again at a free concert in Central Park on June 16, 2019 which lasted 5:17 minutes and can be seen below.

Selected sessionography[edit]

Recording date Artists Takes Notes
November 18, 1963
(released January 1964)
John Coltrane (tenor sax); McCoy Tyner (piano); Jimmy Garrison (bass); Elvin Jones (drums)
  1. 90018-1 (unissued)
  2. 90018-2 (unissued)
  3. 90018-3 (unissued)
  4. 90018-4 Impulse! (2:42) A-50
  5. 90018-5 Impulse! (2:23) A-50; IMPD-901
  6. takes 4 & 5 Impulse! (5:05) A-50; AS-9200-2
   Selected session releases of the 1963 recording
      "Alabama" take 5 (2:22)
      1. The Gentle Side Of John Coltrane
        1. Impulse! IMPD-901 (released as 2 LPs 1975)
        2. Impulse! ASH-9306-2 (released as 2 LPs 1975)
        3. Impulse! GRD-107 (released 1991 as a CD)
        4. GRP GRD-107 (released 1991 as a CD)
      "Alabama" takes 4 & 5 (5:08)
      (audio via YouTube; take 4: 0:00–2:42; take 5: 2:45–5:02)
        1. Impulse! A-50 (released as an LP January 1964)
        2. Impulse! IMPD-198 (released as a CD 1996)
      1. The Best Of John Coltrane - His Greatest Years (released as an LP 1970)
        1. Impulse! AS-9200-2
        2. ABC AS-9200-2
      2. Afro-Blue (released as an LP April 1971)
        1. Probe SBP-1025
        2. ABC ABCL-5012
      3. A John Coltrane Retrospective - The Impulse! Years (released as 3 CDs 1992)
        1. GRP GRD-3-119
        2. Impulse! GRD-3-119
      4. GRP GRBD-9874: John Coltrane – Priceless Jazz Collection (released as a CD 1997)
      5. Impulse! IMPD8-280 (8 CDs): Coltrane – The Classic Quartet - Complete Impulse! Studio Recordings (released November 3, 1998)
      6. Impulse! 314 549 913-2: The Very Best of John Coltrane (released as a CD 2001)
      7. Impulse! B0010591-02 (5 CDs): John Coltrane – The Impulse! Albums: Volume Two (released 2008)
      8. John Coltrane – 1963: New Directions (released as 3 CDs December 12, 2018)
        1. Impulse! 0602577020186
        2. UMe 0602577020186
        3. Verve 0602577020186
        4. Verve UCCI-9312/4
        5. Impulse! UCCI-9312/4
        6. UMe UCCI-9312/4[5]
October 2015
(released June 5, 2016)
ECM 2488
    Recorded at Avatar Studios in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of Midtown Manhattan. Released on Jack DeJohnette's album, In Movement.

Videography and filmography[edit]

  • Jazz Casual, Recorded in San Francisco at KQED TV December 7, 1963. The session was broadcast February 19, 1964, on WNET TV in New York, and on February 23, 1964 on KQED TV in San Francisco. The program was "Jazz Casual" with host Ralph J. Gleason.
John Coltrane (tenor saxophone); McCoy Tyner (piano); Jimmy Garrison (bass); Elvin Jones (drums)
OCLC 62319387, 48873091, 52033321, 318274404, 473671591, 904024420.
(video via YouTube)
The film score used the fifth take from the November 18, 1963, session: matrix 90018-5
  1. Quest WPCP-5094
  2. Qwest Records 9 45130-2 (CD)
  3. Qwest Records 9 45130-4 (cassette)
  4. Reprise Records 9 45130-2 (CD)
  5. Qwest Records 9362-45130-1 (LP)
  6. Qwest Records WBCD 1752 (CD)
  7. Reprise Records WBCD 1752 (CD)
  8. BMG Direct Marketing, Inc. D 100372
OCLC 32489850 (all editions)

See also[edit]


Original copyright[edit]

Catalog of Copyright Entries, Third Series, Music – Current and Renewal Registrations. Library of Congress, Copyright Office.
  1. Vol.  31; Part 5, No. 1, Section 2. January–June 1977 (1978). "Alabama." m. John Coltrane. 1 p. © Jowcol Music, Chicago; 5 May 1977; EU781801. p. 2313.


  1. ^ Music journalist Francis Davis – more than thirty-four years after Coltrane's death – stated in The New York Times that he was unable to find any corroborating evidence that Coltrane had intended for "Alabama" to be about the tragedy. (Davis; September 23, 2001)
  2. ^ Journalist Matt Micucci, on November 18, 2016, stated in a Jazziz essay, that "Coltrane was inspired by Martin Luther King's speech, delivered in the church sanctuary three days after the bombing [September 18, 1963], and patterned his saxophone playing on it. Like the speech, 'Alabama' shifts its tone from one of mourning to one of renewed determination for the struggle against racially motivated crimes". (audio of MLK's speech via YouTube) (Micucci, November 18, 2016)