Guest Lecture: David Demsey

Dr. David Demsey will discuss his research on the music of John Coltrane on Thursday, Nov. 19, at 11:20 a.m. in Presser Choral Hall in the Bernhard Music Center on the Williams College campus. This free event is open to the public.

Dr. David Demsey is Coordinator of Jazz Studies; Curator, Living Jazz Archives; and Professor of Music at William Paterson University. He is the author of John Coltrane Plays Giant Steps and Chromatic Third Relationships in the Music of John Coltrane. Demsey is also an internationally known saxophonist who earned his doctorate at The Eastman School of Music and is much in demand as both a jazz and classical performer.

For jazz musicians John Coltrane, referred to by insiders just as “Trane,” occupies the place just right of God. There is something in his massive discography to please almost anyone. Ironically, the same listener might find something equally as repellent, so diverse was Coltrane’s production. His life spanned an explosive period of jazz in the 20th century and since his death in 1967 his influence has barely waned. A musician of prodigious power, he progressed at interplanetary speed through a musical and intellectual jazz universe. Cutting his teeth on traditional jazz and blues, partnering with Miles Davis to usher in cool jazz, a fire breathing be-bop musician, a crooner who drew tears from a ballad, and denizen of new forms of improvisational music and free jazz, John Coltrane’s career encompassed jazz and pushed its frontiers far beyond the comfort zone. His flame still burns within the hearts of his fans with an intensity that would surprise the uninitiated.

He lives on not only in his recordings, but also in his compositions, which still serve as templates of mastery. Giant Steps is no exaggeration: Coltrane’s iconic jazz piece was created and so definitively subjugated, that it is difficult for others to get a word in edgewise. Though his lightening technique was not unchallenged, his voice is unmistakable, putting him in a class, if not of his own, then along with Charlie Parker and Lester Young. His journey was the journey of jazz itself and lasted just 40 years.  Coltrane’s story is the story not only of a jazz musician of a certain era, it is the story of a genius.