My friends like to tease me by calling me a hipster. At first, it irritated me. The stereotypical hipster was something that angered me in high school, and to be associated with something like that was like a nightmare that came to life. However, after being called a hipster constantly through the years, I’ve learned to roll with the punches. Besides, they have a legitimate argument, since my favorite music genre is jazz.
Now, usually, they make fun of me for the well-known artists, like Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Anytime I mention someone not as popular, they act like I’m speaking a different language — some made-up hipster dialect that only other hipsters can understand. And despite my best efforts, most of the albums I try to show them only bring on more teasing. Except for one.
Blue Train was the second John Coltrane album that I listened to, and it’s the first jazz album I bought on vinyl. After being slightly underwhelmed by Giant Steps, I downloaded Blue Train on a Friday night my junior year of high school and played it on the 2 a.m. drive back from a friend’s house.
Giant Steps might not have been what I was looking for, but I definitely found out why Coltrane is a pioneer of sound when I listened to this album. The overall theme for this album, as you can probably tell, has to do with locomotives. Like any good conductor will tell you, it takes a lot of moving parts working together in unison to make a train run smoothly, and that’s just what this group of musicians does on this album, with Coltrane serving as the conductor to make sure everything runs smoothly.
When I saw the personnel for this album, I knew I was in for a ride. Anything with Lee Morgan, Paul Chambers and Coltrane together is a recipe for something special. For such a small group, it had a lot of star power to have on one album, but the beauty of the album comes from their ability to highlight each other’s playing style and work together. Each and every song on this album has an “all for one and one for all” mentality, with each player showcasing what they can do on their respective instrument without hogging the spotlight and being selfish. If anything, the spotlight might shine on Coltrane a bit brighter than the rest, but what else would you expect from a John Coltrane album?
Still, Coltrane has some great members to play alongside with on this album, even being upstaged by Curtis Fuller’s trombone in “I’m Old Fashioned.” For a slow ballad, you would think that Coltrane’s melodic sax would be better suited for the tune, but Fuller really shows the range of his trombone playing and gives Coltrane a run for his money. However, he still shows who’s boss on “Lazy Bird,” making use of his freestyle sax lines that are fast and furious, but play with purpose and resolve.
Each track on this album showcases impressive chops from each of the six members that make up the core on this outing, but the most impressive, and one of my favorite Coltrane songs, is “Moment’s Notice.” This track is so good; I’m honestly confused as to why Coltrane didn’t name the album after this song. It is the epitome of the synergistic theme that runs throughout the album, and it really shows how when each of these musicians get together and lend each other the best their talents have to offer, they make something that’s bigger than each of them combined.
This track never fails to put a smile on my face, from the opening energetic Coltrane sax melody to the way drummer Philly Joe Jones keeps impeccable timing with his ride cymbal and perfectly timed snare hits. Coltrane’s long-form soloing never gets tiring, and Fuller’s trombone and Morgan’s trumpet keep the party going. Even Chambers’ bass and Kenny Drew’s piano solos are enough to keep the energy high. It’s as if each musician is having a friendly competition between their instruments: not exactly trying to outdo each other, but not trying to sound like the worst out of the group.
My love for this song only grows the more I hear it and am able to pick out new nuances I didn’t hear before on previous listens. This song to me is like a stable group that you can always call up when you’re looking for something fun.
It also never fails to make good impressions on anyone I play it for, even for the people who don’t like jazz. One friend in particular, who does a fair amount of complaining and never hesitates to call my music choices hipster when given the chance, heard this song for the first time and gave me a validating “not bad.” It’s an understatement, but at least I’m not getting teased about it.
Spencer Lee is a junior majoring in narrative studies. His column, “Spencer’s Soapbox,” runs every Tuesday. He is also the chief copy editor of the Daily Trojan.