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Musicians Plan Noteworthy Tribute to Coltrane


There hasn't been a jazz player of truly heroic proportions since tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, who died in 1967 at age 40. Coltrane, known by the diminutive 'Trane,' made a monumental contribution not only to jazz, but to other musical genres--and to saxophonists, and all manner of instrumentalists and vocalists.

Through the years, scores of Los Angeles-area musicians--from saxophonist Harold Land to pianist Nate Morgan--have fallen under Coltrane's spell. Growing up in South-Central Los Angeles, where he still resides, Morgan discovered Coltrane's music at age 17.He finds something essential in the saxophonist's work.

"When I listen to Trane, I hear a conviction, a devotion and surrender that I hear nowhere else," he said recently. "For some reason, this man was both an artistic and a spiritual conduit."

In the last decade of his life, Coltrane became a deeply religious man who embraced Christianity. It was fitting, then, that four days after Coltrane's death from liver cancer on July 17, a jazz vespers service was held at St. Peter's Church in New York to honor him, with performances by saxophonists Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman.

To commemorate the 29th anniversary of that service, Morgan's quartet, vocalist Queen Radiya and bassist Art Davis will perform at a John Coltrane memorial jazz vespers service Sunday at First Lutheran Church in Glendale. Archival material from the original service will be read, and Davis will play bass and offer recollections of his years of performing and recording with Coltrane. Morgan will offer one or two compositions by the saxophonist as well as some of his own tunes. One of these, "He Left Us a Song," is dedicated to Coltrane and makes reference to "A Love Supreme," one of Trane's more memorable tunes.

Morgan, 43, has played jazz vespers at First Lutheran twice previously and finds the setting ideal because it opens doors to acceptance of the music.

"Spiritualism is spontaneous and so is the art form of jazz," he said. "And the church is a high institution, people have so much respect for it, whereas jazz, from its inception, hasn't had a good rap to go with it. The music needs to be elevated, so to have it presented in this venue is very important."

Morgan's quartet spotlights the fine vibist Onaje Woody Murray rather than a saxophonist, giving the group a different sound. "Onaje and I have played together in various bands for about 20 years," Morgan said. "He has so much energy and our concepts are similar."

Davis recorded three albums with Coltrane: "Ole," "Africa/Brass" and "Ascension." And he played in several of the groups, including the quartet that played at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1961.

"I can't say enough about John," said Davis, who lives in Newport Beach. "Playing with him, there was nothing but love, peace. It was rejuvenating. By the end of the night, I'd be looking forward to playing the next day, and that isn't always the case."

* Nate Morgan's quartet, Art Davis and Queen Radiya appear at the John Coltrane Memorial at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at the First Lutheran Church in Glendale, 1300 E. Colorado St., Glendale. Free, donations accepted. Information: (213) 245-4000.

School Days Forever: Marty Harris has been playing jazz piano for close to 40 years, and with big names such as Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Clark Terry, Bob Cooper and Teddy Edwards. Still, the pianist doesn't rest on his achievements and is always on the lookout for a chord or a melody that will add freshness to his work.

"When I hear a pianist such as Lou Levy or Cedar Walton play something I like, I'll try to use that in the way that I play," said Harris, who appears tonight, with trumpeter, singer and comedian Jack Sheldon at Chadney's. "You listen to those guys or Kenny Barron, Ross Tompkins, you can't help but pick something up."

Harris said that playing with Sheldon, with whom he's performed off and on for over two decades, is always a blast. "Jack knows so many songs, and he's very serious about his music, so I'm in a frame of mind to play well," said Harris, who lives in Burbank. "And the rhythm section of [drummer] Ray Brinker and [bassist] Trey Henry puts me in places I haven't been before. That's always interesting."

* Marty Harris with Jack Sheldon, 9 p.m.-1 a.m. tonight at Chadney's (3000 W. Olive St., Burbank; no cover, one-drink minimum per show; 818-843-5333).


May Still Cooking: In a recent story in this column on pianist Ray Sherman, it was stated that Billy May, the great orchestrator who arranged the charts for the Time-Life Big Band series on which Sherman was featured, was deceased. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the report of the death of May, who is 81 and happy and healthy in San Clemente, was greatly exaggerated.

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