For 65 years, Bram Dijkstra of Del Mar has been collecting music. What began as a passion for the music of jazz great John Coltrane, is now a collection of nearly 50,000 vinyl records that spans genres from jazz and early R&B to Latin, reggae, Afrobeat and countless other musical genres and movements.
The “John Coltrane Memorial Black Music Archive” – as Dijkstra dubbed his collection – has been called “one of the leading music collections in America”. As well as being an exhaustive collection of black music, it bears witness to the wide-reaching impact of African rhythm and sound structure on world music.
KPBS Midday Edition spoke with Dijkstra about six selections from his archive, the importance of the songs themselves and the role John Coltrane played in his lifelong passion for music.
Here is more information about the John Coltrane Memorial Black Music Archive, in Dijkstra’s own words:
Well, it’s called the “John Coltrane Memorial” collection because as a Dutch boy I became absolutely fascinated by the sound of John Coltrane – which I first heard with Miles Davis. I started studying his music, and he basically became the reason I came to the United States about 60 years ago.
interconnection [of the archive’s music] it is through rhythm, through the various poly-rhythms that come out of Africa and then spread through a diaspora of various forms of rhythm. Different cultures embrace certain types of rhythms, but they all coalesce into one sound which is truly an extremely important form of communication.
In the music of the Dogon, from Mali, there is a myth that the drum taught mankind to speak. This notion is really something that weaves through all forms of music that are related to the drum, because the drum is the articulation of what we really feel; our emotions. It fuels our emotions, and it’s just fascinating to me to see how different cultures bring out those elements.
‘Avila and Tequila’ by Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers
“Avila and Tequila” is essentially Blakey’s attempt to blend jazz and new world beats with African beats. What he did, at times during his concerts, was compose a drum track. Its musicians – people like the wonderful tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, the great pianist Horace Silver, and Kenny Dorham, a wonderful trumpet player – were all picking up rhythm instruments and starting to play them, and Blakey, who was probably the most aggressive drummer you can imagine, would play on all that.
‘Bonsue’ by Joe Mensah
Joe Mensah was Nigerian and he was creating music at the same time Fela Kuti was starting to play his music. They were both heavily influenced by American jazz, and what’s interesting is that where Fela Kuti mainly played tenor saxophone, Joe Mensah actually played an instrument that actually disappeared into history: the Moog synthesizer.
‘El Toro (Live)’ by Mongo Santamaría
‘El Toro’ is absolutely one of the most magnificent pieces of music I know. It has great solos from Mongo Santamaría, but also from all his musicians. What’s fascinating is that some of his musicians were American and some of his musicians were South American or Cuban, and they all blended together in the most amazing way. I’m afraid you won’t hear much of it, but it’s absolutely one of the most fabulous pieces of music you can imagine.
‘Balance Ya-Ya’ by Raoul Guillaume
It is actually an early piece of Haitian music that predates what later became Kompa music. It’s a shape called ‘Congo’ – I don’t know why they called it ‘the Congo’, but it clearly has a lot of elements that come from Africa. So the link between Africa and Haiti, quite obvious, is very striking in this piece.
“Zombie” by Fela Kuti and Afrika ’70
Essentially, this is one of Fela’s many attacks on the political situation in Nigeria; the way the Nigerian government was trying to force people to do the political will of the government. “Zombie” is an indication of what he thought the Nigerian government wanted to do with the Nigerian people.
“Just Friends” by the Cecil Taylor Quintet with John Coltrane
What’s fascinating is that Cecil Taylor, when this album was recorded in 1958, was on the rise as a true experimental musician. At the time, his music had not yet evolved as it would later and, at the same time, John Coltrane’s music was on the way to evolving into something completely different from his hard bop surroundings. So Cecil Taylor and Coltrane got together, and I think the most fascinating thing about “Hard Driving Jazz,” which is this album, is that they inspired each other.
What I feel [when listening to John Coltrane] is absolute creativity, a kind of desire to know more about everything: about life, about creativity, about the world in general – a pushed style of creativity that could push the world in a different direction. Coltrane was one of the most creative people not just in jazz, but in the whole world of music and culture, and I’ve always considered him one of my biggest inspirations.
—Bram Dijkstra, March 2022
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. You can find a playlist of Bram Dijkstra’s selections from John Coltrane Memorial Black Music Archive on Spotify here.