John Coltrane recorded “Alabama” in 1963 in response to Birmingham Church bombing. On September 15th, 1963 members of the Ku Klux Klan placed sticks of dynamite under the front steps of the church. The dynamite ignited during the church service, killing four young women and injuring many members of the congregation. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said the eulogy for the victims at their funeral later that week. Coltrane composed “Alabama” as his response to the bombing, and he patterned the music on the speech inflections in King’s eulogy. The piece was released on the album Live In Birdland in 1964.
In 1940 Duke Ellington and His Orchestra played at the Crystal Ballroom in Fargo, North Dakota. Jack Towers and Dick Burris were two local radio broadcasters for the U.S. Department of Agriculture who were also huge Ellington fans. They asked if they could record the performance and were granted permission provided they did not use it for commercial purposes. The recording was unusual for a number of reasons. At the time, live recordings were almost always made in concert halls or night clubs. It is rare to have a recording of a musical ensemble playing dance music live. Further, live jazz recordings at the time were rarer still. Towers and Burris brought a portable Presto-S disc cutter which they set up next to Ellington’s piano. The disc cutter could record fifteen minutes a side on sixteen inch discs. Most records at the time could only play three minutes a side, but Towers and Burris had access to the Presto because the UDSA used it to create lectures that could be played in farm colleges and extension services. The recording is significant because it captures Ellington’s Orchestra in its prime with the natural flow of the performance by not forcing the musicians to stop playing due to recording time constraints. The discs sat in Towers’ basement until the 1970s when Towers retired and took up record restoration as a hobby. He remastered the discs and got permission to release them commercially. The remastered album , Duke Elligton At Fargo Live, 1940, won the Grammy Award For Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album in 1980.