Friday, February 27, 2009

How Football Explains John Coltrane

From "How Football Explains John Coltrane and Jackie Robinson," in Sal Paolantonio's new book, How Football Explains America:

The seamless connection of the game of football to African-American culture has roots that go back to America's only truly original musical art form: jazz.

Here's Harry Edwards, sociology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of The Revolt of the Black Athlete: "Most of what you see on the football field is timing and rhythm and beat. You could literally take a piece by Miles Davis with John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley and I think Red Garland on piano [Paul Chambers on bass, Philly Joe Jones on drums], a piece called 'Striaght, No Chaser.' Put that music to a play being run by the San Francisco 49ers and you see the rhythm that's involved."

"Straight, No chaser," is a Thelonious Monk composition. Monk always lived on the edge of life, wrote his music around the edges of jazz. He always found the cracks in the diatonic scale. In other words; Monk mastered the fundamentals, but then he found those shades of chromatic deviation. A perfect football metaphor.

"I Have been sitting on the sideline listening to that Miles Davis cut while [watching] the 49ers with Joe Montana and Roger Craig and Jerry Rice and John Taylor and Tom Rathman and you hear that piece, that 'Straight, No Chaser,'" Edwards said. "Then, all of a sudden Cannonball kicks in and you hear Montana: 'Hut, hut, hut.' Then everything starts to move, and you see that rhythm. It's like Coltrane coming in and picking up the pieces after Cannonball leaves off. And you hear that bass in the background. You hear Garland carrying the whole thing on piano and you see Joe handing the ball to Roger or Tom. It's all of one cloth. That's why some of the greatest American musicians are some of the greatest sports fans. They understood the game. They understood the risk. They understood the practice. You're not just getting ready to run a play during a game, you're downloading the rhythm of the play, the timing of the play, the purpose of the play, the spirit of the play into your automatic response system. So, when that play is called, you go up. You're not thinking now, you're just running the play."

Coltrane's groundbreaking solo with the Miles Davis sextet on "Straight, No Chaser" was recorded in 1958.

"Coltrane would go into his flat and practice for like 72 hours straight," said Edwards, "and it's the same way with plays. I watched the 49ers run play after play after play. It wasn't practice for practice's sake. It wasn't practice to get the play down. It was practice to make the play automatic. And it's the same way with music. That is shared. The risk, playing without a net, getting out there, trying to make it happen against competition. Competition in music being the piece itself. Asking yourself, 'Can I get this done?'"
This gives me a great idea. From now on, instead of being forced to listen to the idiots on ESPN who do Monday Night Football, I'm going to listen to some Monk and Trane and Dolphy while watching the game.


Liam said...

Cool post.

I wish the Columbia Lions didn't play like Kenny G.

cowboyangel said...

Kenny G! :-)

Stony Brook, then, must play like Chuck Mangione, which may explain why he's doing a concert here in two weeks. Stony Brook promo: "Recently Smooth Jazz stations throughout the U.S. recognized Chuck Mangione's “Feels So Good” as their all time #1 song."

Bands that once played at Stony Brook: Hendrix, The Who, The Doors, Janis, Jefferson Airplane, Frank Zappa.

Now: Chuck Mangione.

The real question: Which football teams play like Albert Ayler and Sun Ra?

John Schertzer said...

Right! And which ones play like the Art Ensemble of Chicago?

Actually, that might be more like the recent Celtics than any football playing I've seen.

cowboyangel said...


Art Ensemble... That's a good one. Maybe the Raiders back when they were good?! Tough, fast and doing things differently.

Jeff said...

I've been trying to come up with some clever wordplay or a palindrome using John Coltrane and Night Train Lane, but I'm not coming up with it.

Whatever beats or mathematical codas we need to come up with to land Julius Peppers and keep Richard Seymour, I hope Bill Belichick finds the answer.

No Matt Cassell for you guys? No more Lavernaues Coles either?

cowboyangel said...


Great catch on Trane and Night Train Lane. I thought Coltrane had an album or song called Night Trane, but I don't see anything. He definitely should have.

So, what was up with the Cassell-Vrabel trade? First you guys give Cassell the Franchise Tag, then you ship him and Mike off to KC for one 2nd Round pick?!?!? I guess Belichick must really like Scott Pioli.

Yeah, no more Coles. I'm not surprised, nor am I terribly upset. I liked him, but he was up and down last year. And more down than up, to be honest. Personally, I think he should quit. Those concussions aren't going to get any better. I have a lot of respect for the guy, though, for admitting that he had been sexually abused. That could not have been easy for an NFL player to do. I wish him well.

I'm excited about getting Bart Scott. And I'm warming to the idea of Rex Ryan as the coach. I do love an aggressive D, and he's definitely going to try and build one. You guys may beat us again, but I bet your offense will have a few more bruises after the games this year.

We'll see how he does with the O, however. Keeping Brian Schottenheimer didn't thrill me. Though maybe with Favre gone, things will be different. I have no idea what we're going to do for QB.

So, you guys going to pick up TO?