Original Document
Original Document
Saxophonist Archie Shepp on First Hearing John Coltrane at the Red Rooster Club in Philadelphia, 2000.

I heard him before that I think at a place called the Red Rooster. He was playing out in West Philadelphia. Because from time to time, my neighbor, a boy I grew up with, Reggie Workman. We used to live right next door to each other and his family was sort of my family growing up 'cause he had so many brothers and sisters and then I moved on the next block and we remained friends and when I first went to hear Charlie Parker I was invited by my neighbor upstairs. It was a man, I told you earlier, who used to have these debates with my father, Mr. Myers. He was the man took me to hear Charlie Parker, and so I invited Reggie to go with me.

And from time to time Reggie and I exchanged those kind of things and so this night he was going to hear Coltrane . . but he didn't tell me he it was Coltrane and I really ... didn't think to ask him. He just told me it was a band out there playing. I think McCoy Tyner was playing that night, that's why we went out. 'Cause he played with Trane when he was still in High School. It might have been McCoy, it might not have, but when we got to this club, I think it was the Red Rooster, there was this band playing. I remember the song they were playing, it is "What is This Thing Called Love" and the tenor player was playing, you know he did some nice things, but he didn't seem like he could get started, he put his horn down. He'd play a few notes and he really didn't play much that night, I mean, but when he'd play it would be interesting, but he didn't play much.

And so I remember leaving thinking, "Well gee, I could have done that," so I asked Reggie who was the tenor player, and he said that was Coltrane ... and I said "Wow, that was Coltrane." ...But the final meeting with John really awaited my hearing him at the Five Spot [a famous club in New York City], 'cause I immediately felt that I'd said something silly to myself when I thought I could have done that, but my expectations of the Coltrane I had in my imagination at that time anyway was someone who was just gonna blow me away on first hearing.

Actually he did when I finally did meet him, but that was after he himself had gone through a lot of personal evolution ... not so much on his horn, he always was an expert player, but at least from the time I heard him, but I think he went through a lot of personal metamorphosis between the time I heard him that night and he only played a few notes and when I finally got to meet him in his apartment on Columbus Avenue, he played almost without interruption. He just came out of his bedroom, 'cause I had come by very early in the morning to see him, he was still asleep. And when he got up he, his horn was just lying on the sofa. He came to his sofa, picked it up and he played, I'd say 7 to 8 minutes, maybe 10 of just uninterrupted saxophone, something like "Giant Steps," and then he put his horn down and said, "Can you do that?" (laughs) And then he asked me to play for him. I mean he wasn't challenging me or anything, he was just really telling me that I should learn to do that, in order to really become expert at the saxophone. And I think that was his point. 'Cause John treated everybody pretty equally. He'd talk to you - which is why I think a lot of people took him for granted - whom he befriended, and that was true too, that some people did do that. But he was so egalitarian, and in his manner so fraternal, that when you talked to him you got the feeling I mean you're just talking to another saxophone player. I mean he'd talk to you about his problems, problems he's having, and you'd talk to him about yours, he was like a doctor of the saxophone, in a way ... of music."

Credit: Archie Shepp, Interview with Steve Rowland, Amherst, MA, 2000.  unpublished. © 2000, Steve Rowland and CultureWorks, Ltd.
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