Jazz troubadour Sonny Fortune carries on the torch of John Coltrane, performs on his 73rd birthday at Dante Hall in Atlantic City.
When Sonny Fortune was in his early 20s, a jazz album changed his life.
“I don’t know my age, but I can do better at the time of year. In the late 1950s I first heard [John Coltrane] with Miles [Davis],” Fortune tells Atlantic City Weekly. “I was more into Sonny Rollins and what not; I think he had his stuff together. But when [Coltrane] left Miles and his original recording of My Favorite Things [came out], I’ll never forget.
“It was a Friday night. I don’t know where I was or who I was with, but I remember somebody played the album and I was so impressed I got up early that next Saturday morning, went down to that Market Street record shop [in Philadelphia] — it was about 4th and Market — and bought My Favorite Things and played it until it turned brown. That was the beginning of me just being overwhelmed by Coltrane.”
Fortune, a multi-instrumentalist who began playing saxophone while living in North Philadelphia, where he was born in 1939, remembers that nothing on the pop, soul or R&B charts at the time spoke to him like Coltrane’s landmark 1961 album.
“Coltrane turned me completely around,” says Fortune. “I was pretty much minding my own business until I heard him. At first I didn’t like him.”
While still a young man, Fortune turned his ears to jazz and in Philadelphia that wasn’t that strange a thing to do considering the amount of highly talented artists that came out of the City of Brotherly Love around the time Fortune was coming up.
“When I started to listen to jazz, I started moving away from R&B and soul music. In my younger years, to help this transition in my mind, I avoided that kind of music. You can imagine in my community, that wasn’t that easy! Everybody was listening to that [on the radio]. I was into doo-wop and what not, the Clovers and the Orioles and the Drifters, those were cats that I grew up listening to, but then I listened [exclusively] to jazz.”
In 1967, Fortune decided, like so many jazz musicians before him, to move to New York City.
“As a matter of fact, before I moved to New York, I saw Coltrane at his mother’s house one day and was talking to him about how I was thinking about going to New York and he wished me luck,” says Fortune. “He thought that I would do fine, and he said if you ever get the opportunity to play with drummer Elvin [Jones], take it!”
Coltrane, at age 40, died later that year.
“And I was working with Elvin when Coltrane died.”
Upon hitting the New York scene, the young Fortune picked up some solid work with Jones, as well as Frank Foster and Mongo Santamaria, with whom he’d play with for a couple years prior to a brief stint in California.
Fortune only stayed out west for less than a year before returning to New York, where he began playing with Coltrane’s famed pianist and fellow Philadelphian McCoy Tyner. He also continued to play with Jones and was a player on several of Miles Davis’ experimental, fusion-directed albums in the early ’70s.
“I recorded with Miles, when I was working with McCoy and that was like the beginning of us getting to know each other,” says Fortune, “because he asked me to be a part of this [recording] date, and so I did. He also asked me to join the band, but I was with McCoy at the time, and I didn’t want to leave McCoy.”
Fortune would eventually take Davis up on his offer and appear on several of the legendary trumpeter’s ’70s albums, including Big Fun, Get Up with It and Agharta. By 1975, Davis decided to take a rest from the music business, a sabbatical which lasted until 1980.
Fortune, however, was just getting into his groove. Carrying on the ideas and new music that Coltrane had developed, Fortune, while playing with Trane’s former bandmates or not, continued, he says, his “pursuit of [Coltrane’s] music.”
“I wanted to do the music that Coltrane was in pursuit of,” says the soft-spoken Fortune. “Even today I consider myself pursuing [his] music.”
After cementing his place in the New York jazz scene as a riveting player and noteworthy sideman to the greats, Fortune started recording as a leader, putting out a wealth of tasty albums on various labels from the 1970s through to the current day.
Before Kicking off the Jazz on the Beach concert series in 2000, Henrietta Shelton hadn't realized that it would put her American Express card $14,000 in debt. But the president and founder of the Chicken Bone Beach Historical Foundation, Inc., wasn't going to let a little thing like money stop her from nurturing the series into one of the city's most popular summer events. "It's just a project I believe in," says Shelton, a 31-year employee at the William J. Hughes Technical Center. The long-time A.C. resident is currently making final arrangements for this summer's concert series, which is scheduled to begin July 6 and run through Aug. 24 at Kennedy Plaza. Initially, the idea for the free weekly concert series, which has presented well known jazz musicians (Donald Byrd, Gloria Lynne, Greg Osby) on the Boardwalk during the months of July and August for the past several years, came to Shelton after presenting a single concert on the beach at Missouri Avenue featuring famed jazz vibraphonist Roy Ayers in August 2000. "We had over 2,000 people on the beach," remembers Shelton, who held the concert in memory of the spirit of all those summers she experienced growing up in A.C. during...
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"I hope my daughter will be introduced to a different type of music. She usually plays rock and R&B. I've always tried to keep my daughters busy with something constructive during the summer, no sitting around on your butt watching TV for months."
Since 2000, Atlantic City native Henrietta Wallace Shelton has been keeping the spirit of Chicken Bone Beach alive with annual free jazz series, workshops and special concerts. The term "Chicken Bone...
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Summertime, and the groovin’ is easy. Tourists fatten the regular jazz crowd cramming Kentucky Avenue, where the night never dies. Inside Club Harlem, they press against the bar and each other, as the organist and his quartet tune up on the bandstand. The music comes fast and the band is tight and the organ looses a torrent of sound. And there’s an added bonus for posterity: the live session is being recorded for an album, a rare occurrence in Atlantic City. This was the scene on the Saturday night of Aug. 9, 1969, when master jazz organist Lonnie Smith and company cut Move Your Hand, an exemplar of ’60s soul jazz, for the legendary Blue Note label. The title song, which became a hit, borrowed its lyric from a joke that Smith’s drummer told about a substitute preacher who couldn’t deliver the sermon because someone else’s hand was covering the text. (The joke is less than hysterical, but the number’s a grabber.) “One night, I was playing a little lick and just happened to say [“move your hand”] to the fellows in the band,” says Smith, now 67 and as busy as ever. “People loved it and always requested it.” It became...
Despite the fact that the Los Angeles Times named him “one of the top jazz pianists in the world” and Jazz Weekly hailed him as “the most lyrical piano player of our time,” outside of mainly jazz-music circles, Kenny Barron is not a household name.
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