Jazz virtuoso Charles Tolliver to reimagine Coltrane’s iconic ‘Africa/Brass’ on 60th anniversary

Tolliver, who created the definitive transcriptions of the legendary work, will incorporate a vocal choir in this new show

Portrait of Charles Tolliver with trumpet
Charles Tolliver is an acclaimed trumpeter, bandleader, composer, arranger and educator.
Cover of Africa/Jazz
Africa/Brass, released in September 1961, is an important album within John Coltrane’s musical journey.

UC Santa Cruz will celebrate the 60th anniversary of John Coltrane’s iconic Africa/Brass with jazz virtuoso Charles Tolliver joining the UC Santa Cruz Jazz Orchestra and Jazz Choir in a reimagining of the work.

The live performance, featuring Karlton Hester as a soloist and Charles Hamilton as a performing artist will be at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 4 at the UC Santa Cruz Mainstage. Presented by the Music Department, the show is being directed by Charles Tolliver and emceed by KPFA-FM and KCSM-FM radio host/producer, Greg Bridges.

Tickets are $5-$30 and available at ucsctickets.com. (COVID–19 protocols will also be in place for this in-person performance.)

In late 2020, Tolliver shared with Hester his plan to revisit Africa/Brass for the 60th anniversary and asked whether it could be hosted at UC Santa Cruz. The Music Department went on to invite Tolliver to campus for fall 2021. In addition to teaching a class on spontaneous composition and jazz music theory, Tolliver is also working in Charles Hamilton’s jazz ensemble to present Africa/Brass. The preparation, which has involved the transformation of the UCSC Big Band into a full jazz orchestra with vocals, has required an intense focus to prepare students for this historical occasion.

“This project is a great opportunity for the UCSC students to perform the music of John Coltrane, the epic Africa/Brass, and for them to work with many seasoned professionals who reside in the area, providing outstanding mentorship that’s usually not available outside of New York and other music hotspots. It will also be productive for the music department and the campus as a whole because of the magnitude of what we are performing and the audience we will reach,” said Charles Hamilton.

Africa/Brass was released in September 1961. It is an important album within Coltrane’s musical journey. Unfortunately, after the recording sessions the original orchestra arrangements were destroyed in a fire in Los Angeles.

At the urging of bassist Reggie Workman, the only artist still alive who performed on the original recording, Tolliver in 1998 created the definitive transcriptions of Coltrane’s monumental work.

Tolliver reimagined and reorchestrated Africa/Brass by adding a vocal choir as he created and scored it, updating the original recorded performance made so electric by the John Coltrane Quartet and brass orchestra.

Tolliver is an acclaimed trumpeter, bandleader, composer, arranger and educator. In 2007, he issued on Blue Note Records his big band recording With Love which earned a Grammy nomination. The Jazz Journalists Association presented Tolliver with the “Best Large Ensemble of the Year 2007” award for his new tour de force group The Charles Tolliver Big Band.

In an historic reenactment and presentation of Thelonious Monk’s historic 1959 Town Hall concert in 2009, he was featured performing his definitive transcription of the lost scores of arranger Hal Overton’s orchestrations of Monks’ music exactly as it was performed and recorded for the original concert. His latest big band CD Emperor March, recorded live at the Blue Note in New York City, was released in March 2009.

Tolliver has an extremely individual and distinctive sound which sets him apart from other trumpet players.

Characterized by a strong sense of tradition, he said in a recent Downbeat magazine interview about his approach to improvising that, “I like to rumble. I take the most difficult routes for improvisation. It’s easy to play a number of choruses effortlessly and never make a mistake, never break down. That’s no fun. You need to get in hot water by trying something out right from the jump, get yourself out of that, and move on to the next chorus.”

About the UC Santa Cruz Music Department

The UC Santa Cruz Music Department offers a uniquely diverse curriculum with the option of completing a BA concentration in either Contemporary Practices, Global Musics, or Western Art Music. We promote more open and exploratory modes of thinking, fostering the celebration and critical examination of global musical practices. We choose to reflect on, learn from and proactively act upon the changes we already see in our student body, with great interest in African and African diasporic traditions–west African drumming, jazz, blues and hip hop in particular–and Mexican, Latinx and Chicanx expressive traditions such as mariachi, Mexican folklorico dance, son Cubano and son jarocho. Our department is distinct in how we incorporate elements of theory, composition, literature, history & culture as well as performance. Our students graduate with both a deeper and wider understanding of musical theory and practice, making them better prepared to pursue either graduate training or careers in music

The UCSC Music Department is currently raising funds for the John Coltrane Jazz Program Enrichment Fund. This fund will help the department invite more visiting artists to teach, collaborate and perform with students and faculty, as well as support students with scholarships for musical lessons, festival participation, competitions and non-local performances.

For more information about the UC Santa Cruz Arts Division please visit arts.ucsc.edu.