On March 6, 1963, John Coltrane and his classic quartet — McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and drummer Elvin Jones — recorded an entire album’s worth of material at the legendary Van Gelder Studio.1
On June 29, 2018, the music they recorded that day — seven tracks, including two never-before-heard original compositions — is finally being released as Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album, via Impulse! Records and Universal Music Canada.
The reason it’s taken over a half century for this piece of music history to come to light? Well, for starters, until relatively recently, no one even knew it existed.
Only one recording from that day was ever released commercially; the rest was lost, most likely destroyed as part of cost-cutting measures by the label. “Our best guess is that, at some point, the tapes moved out to California,” explains Ken Druker, who co-produced Both Directions at Once alongside Coltrane’s son Ravi. “ABC-Paramount, the parent company, was looking to save warehousing costs, and — it pains me to even say this — flagged any master that had not been used for a commercial release to date, and got rid of those.”
Luckily, there was a second copy. “Rudy Van Gelder would sometimes run a quarter-inch reference tape at the same time he was recording the master,” says Druker. “So the artist could take it home, listen to it, and come back with comments.” Coltrane took his copy of the tapes to his home in Queens with his first wife, Juanita Naima Coltrane. And there they stayed, until Naima’s children discovered them a few years ago.2 “So collectors have known about it,” he explains. “But no one had ever heard it.”
Druker says he had no idea what to expect the first time he listened to the tapes: “Many of the songs didn’t have a title. I didn’t know why there was a complete day of recording that no one ever knew about.”
But he was thrilled by what he heard. “It’s more than I really could’ve hoped for,” he says. Not just in terms of sound quality — no small consideration for tapes that had been collecting dust for over 50 years — but also the way it functions as an auditory time capsule. “It really does capture, I think, what the band sounded like, where they were headed musically at that time,” he explains. “What they would have sounded like live, in a club, only captured at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio.”
In the liner notes to Both Directions at Once, legendary saxophonist Sonny Rollins compares the lost album to “finding a new room in the Great Pyramid.” Among collectors, the tapes have been referred to as “the Holy Grail of jazz.” But in a sense, it’s also like finding Coltrane’s own personal Rosetta Stone. He was constantly evolving and growing as a musician, and these recordings offer new insight into where Coltrane and his band were headed during a very formative period. “Within the next year and a half, with Crescent and A Love Supreme, that’s the direction they were going musically,” explains Druker.
That’s what inspired the album title, according to Druker — “It captures that dichotomy” — and what makes it so interesting to fans: “This is music that pointed the way to the future.” Not just for the band, but for jazz itself.
You can see Coltrane experimenting with early versions of material. There’s a tight, solo-less, three-minute version of “Nature Boy,” as opposed to the more meandering eight-minute version he’d release in 1965.3 There’s four different takes of one of Coltrane’s most famous compositions, “Impressions,” including ones with just the trio, and no Tyner on piano.4 “What really jumped out at us was the trio performance,” explains Druker. “That was noteworthy.”
He’s reluctant to call this music — or any music — “important,” since it’s ultimately meant to be enjoyed, not studied. But, he admits, “I think in the history of his recordings, in context, it’s a very important recording.” And, of course, it helps that the lost tapes are also, you know, good. “It’s an incredible listen. It’s such wonderful music.”
It’s hard to say why the recordings were never released at the time. Part of it could just be timing — the very next day, the quartet would head back to Van Gelder Studio to record John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, which would go on to become a classic album in its own right.5 Part of it could be that Coltrane moved on musically shortly after, exploring these new sounds and techniques even further. “And then, within four years, Coltrane was dead. And he had recorded so much,” explains Druker. “There were posthumous releases, but not really from this period.”
As for the chances that there could be more tapes like this out there, waiting to be discovered? Druker just laughs. “I mean, if you would’ve asked me that before this was found, I would’ve said zero percent, and then all of a sudden, it showed up. So I think for the time being, it’s zero percent, until someone finds another tape.”
“There’s nothing known, like this, out there now. There are more tapes that Naima’s family found, but none of them have completely unknown sessions.”
It’s what makes Both Directions at Once such a rare — and yes, important — find. A piece of music history lost, and now found.
Photo: Chuck Stewart Photography
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Located in Englewood, New Jersey, it’s the Abbey Road/Motown/Sun Studio of jazz. In addition to Coltrane: Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Herbie Hancock (and many, many others) all recorded there.|
|2.||↑||You know how every so often, you’ll hear stories about people coming across Babe Ruth rookie cards or antique figurines in their parents’ basements? Kind of like that, only much, much cooler.|
|3.||↑||“It’s obviously a song that was on his mind for a while,” says Druker.|
|4.||↑||You can listen to all four on the Deluxe edition of the album.|
|5.||↑||And, not for nothing, one that the studio likely considered to be more mainstream and “commercially viable” at the time.|