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NOW: TODAY’S POST is some remarkable silent film footage of Coltrane and Dolphy at the original Birdland nightclub (on Broadway in Manhattan, just north of 52nd Street) sometime between February 8th and 21st, 1962. During those two weeks, John Coltrane’s quartet with McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, and Jimmy Garrison (he had replaced Reggie Workman at the end of 1961), plus Eric Dolphy, were performing there every night except Mondays. They were alternating sets with the Bill Evans Trio, and with the Clara Ward gospel singers. Here’s an ad that appeared in the New York Times on February 9, 1962:
This film was taken by Burt Goldblatt (1924-2006), an accomplished still photographer and artist.
He created many iconic jazz album covers, and his work also appeared on television shows and in books. Musicians clearly liked him, and they sometimes paid tribute to him in song titles and so on. Here is an interview with him (it gives the wrong birth year, but is very informative). At this link you can see many of his creations. Here are two examples:
Sometimes when Goldblatt was photographing musicians, he also made home movies on his 8-millimeter silent film camera, just for himself. Eventually he had these films transferred to VHS videotapes, and some of the VHS tapes were sold by the family after he died. I digitized this Coltrane and Dolphy footage myself, allowing me to share it with you now.
First you will see Dolphy playing bass clarinet and alto sax. At 4:55 it switches to Coltrane on tenor. And at the very end, at 11:00, you will see the outside of Birdland, and the poster advertising the three groups performing. (That poster says Coltrane “quartet,” but the Times ad above correctly says “quintet.”) You can see Garrison briefly at 0:25, but Tyner is not shown . You also see the drum set at 9:41 but Elvin is not visible.
Luckily, you do not need to imagine what the band sounded like. They were broadcast both weekends on the radio, and the legendary collector Boris Rose recorded those at home. Sometimes these are listed as Friday broadcasts, but they were around midnight, so they were technically Saturday mornings. Here is the broadcast from Saturday morning, February 10, 1962 (but please know that the last track, which starts at 40:03, is from June 1962, not from the weeks with Dolphy):
And here is the quintet broadcasting on February 17. First there is one second of the gospel singers—I’m not sure why that’s on the tape (probably Rose rewound the tape to erase it and missed that second). Then there is a funny moment when the veteran radio host “Symphony Sid” Torin cannot understand what Coltrane is saying and makes him repeat “Inch Worm” a few times. Coltrane laughs during this exchange. Then he and his group perform some phenomenal music:
I’ll see you again soon. In the meantime, be well!
All the best,
P.S. All newly found material, including this film, will be mentioned in the new edition of our John Coltrane Reference, due out in 2024. Here is the current edition.
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Coltrane and Dolphy: Unknown Silent Film Footage, 12 minutes, 1962!