On October 8, 1963, John Coltrane, along with pianist McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison on double bass, and drummer Elvin Jones were at Birdland, and a part of their performance was captured on tape by Rudy Van Gelder.
Released in 1964, Coltrane Live At Birdland became ‘Trane’s second live album on Impulse!, although only three of the five tracks on the original LP release were actually from the gig at the famous Manhattan club; the other two are from a session at Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs studio a little over a month later.
The three tracks from Birdland are Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro-Blue,” Billy Eckstine’s “I Want To Talk About You,” and “The Promise,” a Coltrane original. The Eckstine song was originally recorded by Coltrane on his 1958 album Soultrane and here it features a superb extended cadenza that lasts over eight minutes.
A week or so after the Coltrane Live at Birdland recording the band headed to Europe where they played gigs in Stockholm, Oslo, Gothenburg, Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, and Stuttgart over a three-week period. The subsequent session at Van Gelder’s yielded two more Coltrane originals, “Your Lady” and “Alabama.”
The latter track is Coltrane’s tribute to the four children killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, in Birmingham, Alabama by white supremacists. The album’s original pressing accidentally included a false start, which was corrected in later copies, but restored to the CD edition that also included another track, “Vilia” which uses a melody from the Franz Lehár’s “Vivias,” with chord changes and a great deal more swing.
Critics have called this “Coltrane’s finest all-around album” and it’s impossible to disagree. The playing of Tyner is brilliant throughout, especially on “The Promise” and as we’ve already mentioned the cadenza on “I Want To Talk About You” is outstanding, made even more remarkable by the way that ‘Trane never loses sight of the fact that this is a beautiful ballad. If you want to let someone hear what Coltrane is all about, then this is as good a place as any to start.