Dennis Owsley on Watching Coltrane Play the Night After the JFK Assassination



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Coltrane at Royce Hall

Dear Dennis,
I just found through Google search your 2013 article about the John Coltrane Quartet's November 23, 1963 concert at Royce Hall. I was a junior in high school when JFK was killed. I had been holding my tickets for weeks, waiting to see Coltrane live for the first time. No one seemed to know if the concert was going to happen, but I of course went to Royce and was relieved to find it open and seating ticket-holders. My memory is not as detailed as yours, but I remember sitting for a long-time, waiting for the performers to arrive. Maybe I had arrived quite early.
And then a stage hand appeared to set up the drums. And finally the dour foursome started their set, without any direct communication to the audience. The other thing I remember most vividly is the prolonged Coltrane cadenza, which was unlike anything I had ever heard. (And, as a young jazz saxophone player, I had listened to all his recordings many times, often on KBCA, played by DJs Tommy Bee, Chick Niles, or the Jammin Jai Rich.) It communicated his mourning more powerfully than anything I have ever heard. Although I never met him, hearing that concert allowed me to know a deep part of his heart. I believe he was deeply pained by the assassination.
Thank you for the beautiful article, which took me down an important path in my memory.
Best wishes,
Jacob Sperber

Jacob Sperber more than 1 year ago

Responding To Reading Dennis Owsley's "Watching Coltrane Play The Night After The JFK Assasaination", And One Additional Comment

This article by Dennis Owsley is a very important piece as it turns out!
As a professional jazz musician, I was employed by bandleader/saxophonist-
vocalist Tony Pastor and we were performing at The Riverside Hotel, Reno
Nevada in November 1963.
After learning of President Kennedy's assasaination on 11-22-63 I was in a controlled state of shock. As my mind started to cut through the haze caused by the traumatic killing of JFK, one of the first concerns I had was about the evening performance! Would we be expected to perform? As I walked through Reno, seeking a syngaogue to say a prayer for the President, I happened upon a pay telephone, and placed a call to my parents in Bethpage New York..I recall sharing my concern about whether we would be expected to perform..I further remember telling my Mom & Dad that if Tony or the hotel required us to play, I would immediately terminate my job and head home to New York!
I found a synagogue, which I entered and was informed that my presence had caused the congregation to reach a 'minion'....the quorum of ten Jewish adults required for certain religious obligations.
Later, upon returning to the hotel, I was informed that the entertainment was suspended for that evening.
I felt tremendously relieved!
I offer this background as a 'backdrop' to my activities and how they may reflect on this story of John Coltrane and his performance on 11-23-63.l
My best recollection of the days following the Kennedy murder, was that we (the band) performed on 11-23-63.
And so, if Coltrane performed on 11-23-63, it would not have been dis-respectful..although, if I had my druthers, and wasn't far from home playing an engagement, I would have certainly observed this horrific event for at least a week!
The account of the one commenter to this piece, varies from Mr. Owsley's....this writer remembers a vastly different performance date of 2-3 weeks after the 22nd of November...seventeen days later, on December 8, 1963, Frank Sinatra Jr
was kidnapped in Lake Tahoe, NV and I witnessed Frank Sinatra Sr. exiting a limo in front of the legendary Mapes Hotel, which he set up as his 'Kidnap Liaison Headquarters'..
If Mr. Owsley's article is about Coltrane and his group (as well as the other writer) I heard the group that
included Dolphy, Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner in 1961-62 at 'The Cork n Bib' Jazz Club in Westbury Long Island...
Although I was impressed with the rhythm section, in particular Tyner, I was very un-impressed with 'Trane' & Dolphy...
Although Elvin & Trane didn't play a 45 minute drum/sax duet, the saxophone solos seemed 'endless', shrill and in very poor intonation!
As a matter of fact, after the 15th or 20th 'painful' chorus of "My Favorite Things" (Which after that evening's performance, I appropriately re-named "My Most Un-Favorite Things") I walked out!
I'd encountered numerous 'marquee' level jazz the man, all very nice..Meeting Coltrane that night, I did not get the same impression!

Rich Pulin more than 2 years ago


I was at that Coltrane concert in 1963 at UCLA Royce Hall I remember that concert was held about 2-3
weeks after the Kennedy assassination. The trio started the concert and we were sitting very close to the
stage and you could hear Train warming up somewhere behind the stage. The trio played for at least 30
minutes. Then Train came out playing his tenor and they played about 3 tunes and then Coltrane and
Elvin Jones did a duet for about 45 minutes. Intermission -during intermission I talked to Leonard Feather
about the Free Jazz duet and he was not a avant garde fan so he said he wanted to ponder that part of the
concert. When the quartet came back they played until about 1am which was the latest show of many at Royce Hall that I attended. The quartet played quite a bit from the current Impulse album called
Coltrane with the blue cover. A fantastic musical experience!!

Elliot Burstein more than 2 years ago

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