He opted for the fresher spin; he approached Coltrane from an entirely new perspective by bringing in Pat Metheny on guitar. Garrett had never played with a guitarist before the Pursuance sessions, let alone recorded with one, but his interplay with Metheny lifted the music to soaring heights. Garrett frames the songs differently than Coltrane did, but he somehow retains every bit of the power and emotion the master breathed into them. And that's no small feat.
Interestingly, the true gems on Pursuance are some of the less frequently heard songs in the Coltrane catalogue, such as "Lonnie's Lament" and "After the Rain." In choosing numbers that were less famous than standards like "My Favorite Things" or "Blue Train," Garrett was following his primary purpose in recording the album: to bring more attention to Coltrane's music. "I didn't think that whatever I did to the music was gonna really change anything. Even though I tried to put my little interpretation on it, the main objective was for people to go back and check out the source."
Calling one of the landmark jazz albums of the decade his "little interpretation" is typical of Garrett's modest and cheerful personality. But fans and critics alike recognized Pursuance as something far more momentous than a pointer to the Coltrane section at music store. In 1997 the ultradiscriminating readers of Down Beat named Pursuance jazz album of the year in the annual readers' poll. They also voted Garrett alto saxophonist of the year, just as they had in 1996 and now again in 1998.
Garrett followed Pursuance with Songbook, an album of originals that was greeted with similar praise. He is now preparing material for a new solo project but has been busy over the past few months chipping in as a sideman on other artists' projects, including releases from drummer Roy Haynes, vibes player Bobby Hutcherson, and pianist Herbie Hancock (who has a George Gershwin tribute album in the works). But no matter who he's playing with or where he's doing it, Garrett remains as much a listener as a performer. "Miles taught me to be open-minded about music, and to always try to learn from anybody who plays. Beginners, advanced -- you can learn something from everybody."
As usual, he is now on the road and in the clubs, spreading the Garrett gospel with an open ear. After all those sets in front of all those faces, he still gets a thrill out of converting the reluctant listeners, the ones who walk in with sour looks on their faces, but who wind up dancing on their chairs by the end of the night. "I feel that we're educating them. We're saying, 'Okay, this is the real thing. This is what it's really about.'"
Kenny Garrett performs at 9:00 p.m. Saturday, November 14, at Young Circle, Hollywood Boulevard and U.S. 1, during the Hollywood Jazz Festival, which continues on Sunday. Tickets are $10 each day. Call 954-779-3032 for more information and a complete lineup.