Still Searching, Still Chasin’: John Coltrane’s Village Vanguard Recordings
Nate Chinen on the saxophonist’s Village Vanguard Recordings as a life-altering experience
Fifty years ago this November, as you may recall, John Coltrane set up for a weeklong engagement at the Village Vanguard in Manhattan. He brought his tenor and soprano saxophones, his working rhythm section and a frontline partner, multireedist Eric Dolphy. He also brought the awareness that tape was rolling for an album.
Live at the Village Vanguard, released on Impulse! the following year, would feature just three long tracks culled from four nights of recording; most of the rest would be scattered across several subsequent LPs. Then, in 1997, the year marking the 30th anniversary of Coltrane’s death, Impulse! finally put out The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings, a four-disc box set with all the available tracks, their chronology painstakingly pieced together.
It was an important release, a clarifying burst of context, and I was one among many critics to greet it with favorable coverage. What I didn’t say then—couldn’t have realized then—was what that music would mean to me. This might sound trite and overblown, but on some level it changed my life.