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.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.
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?'"