Over the past three years, Prestige Records has released boxed sets of Coltrane’s numerous sessions from the mid- to late ‘50s, each spotlighting a specific dimension of his tenure with the label. Fearless Leader - released in September 2006, in celebration of Coltrane’s 80th birthday - showcases his recordings as a bandleader. Interplay, released in September 2007, contains Coltrane’s early collaborative recordings with a variety of stellar musicians from the same era. Side Steps is the third and final set in this series, scheduled for release on October 6, 2009. The 5-CD set captures Coltrane in a supporting role, as a sideman to leaders like Sonny Rollins, Gene Ammons, Red Garland, Tadd Dameron and others. The collection of 43 tracks represents the entirety of Coltrane’s session work as a Prestige sideman, from mid-1956 to early 1958, with the exception of his work with Miles Davis (which is featured in The Miles Davis Quintet: Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions, released in 2006).
“It is easy to measure Coltrane’s musical growth through his recordings with Miles, and as a leader, while at Prestige,” says jazz historian Ashley Kahn in his extensive liner notes for the Side Steps collection. “But it is especially revealing to gauge his progress through impromptu studio sessions with a wider variety of musicians and music. They tested his increasing abilities, and allowed him to apply the techniques and confidence gained from Miles’s tight-lipped tutelage (and his later apprenticeship with Thelonious Monk). They also introduced his name to an expanding community of fans and fellow musicians, and permitted him entry into the rank and file of jazz players, many of whom were destined to become leaders and help shape the future of the music.”
In short, Prestige was the place where Coltrane cut his teeth, according to Nick Phillips, coproducer of the boxed set. “This is where he was really gaining his experience,” says Phillips, who is Vice President of Jazz and Catalog A&R for Concord Music Group, Prestige’s parent company. “You can hear him developing his individual voice in these recordings, already sounding like no one else but John Coltrane, yet not having fully developed into the John Coltrane who would become one of the most important and influential artists in the history of jazz.”
On Disc one, Coltrane joins two other up-and-coming horn players of the day - trumpeter Donald Byrd and saxophonist Hank Mobley - in a session recorded in May 1957 and led by pianist Elmo Hope. “Weeja” and “On It” are both Hope originals, the former a bebop number and the latter a blues tune that includes Coltrane and Mobley trading lines. Coltrane delivers a breathy solo on