Over a half century ago, legendary jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane left a studio session in New Jersey with an album’s worth of material that wouldn’t be unearthed for years.
These recordings were recently compiled to create a new album released on June 29 entitled, Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album.
The album not only contains previously unheard music from the legendary musician, but it also marks the era when he delved into the “free jazz” movement.” Coltrane is often attributed as one of the forefathers of the style, which is an unrestricted approach to jazz that broke down typical standards.
The 14-track project was released courtesy of Impulse! Records and features recordings from Coltrane and his Classic Quartet, comprised of musicians Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner. There are two previously unheard tracks deemed “Untitled Original 11383” and “Untitled Original 11386.” Additionally, the song “One Up, One Down,” which was only heard on a bootleg recording in the past, appears on the album as a studio recording for the first time.
On March 6, 1963, Coltrane and his cohorts recorded the material at Van Gelder Studios in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Later that day, Coltrane left the session with reference tape and brought it to his home in Queens, N.Y. to share with his wife, Naima. Though the musician eventually remarried, the recordings stayed with his first wife and weren’t discovered until her death.
Ken Druker, vice president of Jazz Development at Verve Label Group, the umbrella label to Impulse! Records, said listening to the new project is like being a “fly on the wall” at the height of Coltrane and the Quartet’s career together.
“The music itself reveals Coltrane’s unique ability to appeal to the mainstream while simultaneously creating ambitious, avant-garde compositions. Throughout the album, Coltrane adheres to many traditional jazz structures, but the record is also ripe with experimental moments. I think that the work recorded during this session really captures a moment in the musical evolution of Coltrane and his quartet as their style became increasingly more ambitious and genre-bending in the years before Coltrane’s death.”
Born in Hamlet, N.C. in 1926, Coltrane’s passion for music developed as a youth when he took up playing the clarinet, according to his official website. He relocated to Philadelphia in 1943 where he immersed himself in the local music scene where he joined forces with saxophonists Jimmy Heath and Benny Golson. After briefly serving in the Navy during World War II, Coltrane decided to pursue music as a profession.
From there, he climbed up the ranks in the Philly music scene playing the sax in a number of big bands. Eventually, he went on to work with famed musicians Earl Bostic and Dizzy Gillespie. Though his success was building, he developed a heroin habit during this time that he wouldn’t shake until years later.
In 1955, he was called to audition for famed trumpeter Miles Davis’ band in New York City. After spending four years with Davis’ group, he rose to the national spotlight. From 1959 through 1961, Coltrane was signed to Atlantic Records where he recorded his famous songs like “Cousin Mary,” “Naima,” and “My Favorite Things,” the latter of which became his biggest commercial success.
Thereafter, he signed to Impulse! Where he released the recordings Live at Birdland, Live! at the Village Vanguard and Impressions. Also, during this time, he met and married his second wife, Alice, who was a pianist.
Coltrane died on July 17, 1967 after suffering from liver cancer. While his life was tragically cut short, this latest album is a testament to an enduring legacy of jazz by one of the best to ever play it.
“Coltrane is unquestionably not only one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time but one of the greatest artists, period,” Druker said. “He was an innovator that completely transformed jazz and flipped it on its head. His cutting-edge, inventive, and often avant-garde approach to music was way ahead of his time, but this did not scare away contemporary audiences. Coltrane’s versatility, originality, and raw talent have certainly solidified his place as one of the greats, and his work continues to influence numerous musicians today.”