Alabama (John Coltrane song)
"Alabama" is a musical composition by John Coltrane who – performing with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones – released the fourth and fifth takes of a November 18, 1963, studio session on Coltrane's 1964 album, Live at Birdland, released as an LP January 1964. It is widely beleived[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).
Jazz historian Bill Cole, in his 1977 book, John Coltrane, stated 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."[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. They 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. The quartet had been performing a twelve-day gig at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco, nightly, from November 26, 1963, through December 8.
Recording by legacies of the original artists
"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 sons of 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. The trio – Jack, Ravi and Matt – also performed "Alabama" on the fifth day of the Berlin Jazz Festival, November 5, 2016, on a rainy Saturday night – four days before the world learned that Trump had been elected president.
(released January 1964)
Selected session releases of the 1963 recording
(released June 5, 2016)
Videography and filmography
- John Coltrane (tenor saxophone); McCoy Tyner (piano); Jimmy Garrison (bass); Elvin Jones (drums)
- (video via YouTube)
- Quest WPCP-5094
- Qwest Records 9 45130-2 (CD)
- Qwest Records 9 45130-4 (cassette)
- Reprise Records 9 45130-2 (CD)
- Qwest Records 9362-45130-1 (LP)
- Qwest Records WBCD 1752 (CD)
- Reprise Records WBCD 1752 (CD)
- BMG Direct Marketing, Inc. D 100372
- Music journalist Francis Davis – more than thirty-four years after Coltrane's death – stated in the 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)
- 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)
- Bailey, C. Michael (August 10, 2005). "John Coltrane: John Coltrane: Live At Birdland". All About Jazz. Retrieved August 3, 2020.
- Cole, Bill (1976). John Coltrane. Schirmer Books, a division of Macmillan Publishing. Retrieved April 12, 2021 – via Internet Archive. LCCN 76-14289, ISBN 978-0-3068-1062-6, ISBN 0-0287-0660-9 (hardback), ISBN 0-0287-0500-9 (paperback), OCLC 680351269 (all editions).
- Davis, Francis (September 23, 2001). "Music – Coltrane at 75: the Man and the Myths". New York Times, The (print edition includes color photo). 150 (51885). p. 25. Retrieved April 29, 2021. ISSN 0362-4331 (publication); EBSCOhost 5505233 (article).
- Lord, Tom, ed. (n.d.). "Alabama". The Jazz Discography Online (tune ID 60656). Chilliwack, British Columbia: Lord Music Reference Inc. Retrieved April 30, 2021. OCLC 182585494, 690104143.
- Micucci, Matt (November 18, 2016). "Nov. 18, 1963 ... John Coltrane Records 'Alabama'". Jazziz. Boca Raton. Retrieved May 1, 2021 (Michael Fagien, MD, founded Jazziz in 1983 and has been editor and publisher since)CS1 maint: postscript (link)
- Muhammad, Ismail, PhD (June 17, 2020). "On John Coltrane's 'Alabama'". The Paris Review. Retrieved August 3, 2020. ISSN 0031-2037.
- Stucky, Rami Toubia (2013). "Rhythm, Rage, and Restraint: The Music of Nina Simone and John Coltrane on the Birmingham Bombing" (PDF) (honors student academic paper). Brunswick, Maine: Bowdoin College, Africana Studies. Retrieved May 1, 2021.
- Williams, Richard (November 7, 2016). "Coltrane's 'Alabama' in the Time of Trump". thebluemoment.com (essay). A blog about music by Richard Williams. Retrieved April 30, 2021.