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Coltrane, John 1926–1967

John Coltrane 19261967

jazz saxophonist, composer

At a Glance

Naval Tour Of Duty

Free-lanced In Philadelphia

Apprenticeship With Thelonious Monk

Solo Trane

Rejoined Davis

Continued Solo Career

New Musical Explorations

The Art Of Free Jazz

Selected discography

Sources

Jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane led, between 1960 and 1966, one of most influential groups in the history of jazz. Since his first jobs with nationally known band leaders in the late 1940s, Coltranes careerwhich included stints with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monkwent through several phases and stylistic changes before culminating in the playing of free jazz based upon the omission of a harmonic center. Like saxophonist Charlie Parker, he opened up new improvisatory variations by expanding the musical vocabulary of jazz. Apart from bringing into vogue the playing of chords on the saxophone, Coltrane often led groups which employed either two basses or two drummers. His solemn manner, spiritual outlook, and chronic drug use made him an avant garde cultural hero among countless jazz artists and 1960s rock musicians. Inspired by the music of Africa, India, and the Far East, Coltrane brought together disparate musical and cultural elements (including modern symphonic music by such composers as Igor Stravinsky), which made him one of the founders of a world music consciousness, and a creative force whose profound impact has yet to be fully recognized.

John Coltrane was born on September 23, 1926, in Hamlet, North Carolina, to John Robert Coltranea tailorand Alice Gertrude Blair, members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church who displayed talent as amateur musical instrumentalists. A few months after the birth of their son, the Coltranes moved one hundred miles north to High Point, North Carolina. Not long after, Coltranes father separated from the family, leaving Alice and her sister to raise John Jr. A bright student in grammar school, Coltranes subsequent musical interests shifted his attention away from his school studies which earned him average grades. Around the time of his fathers death from stomach cancer in 1939, Coltrane took up alto saxophone and then clarinet. Shortly afterward he played in a local community band, and in the fall of 1940, became a member of William Penn High Schools newly formed music ensemble. During this time, he spent countless hours in private musical practice which became an obsessive endeavor.

After graduating from high school in May of 1943, Coltrane joined his mother in Philadelphia, and enrolled in the Ornstein School of Music, where he received private saxophone lessons from Mike Guerra. [Coltrane]

At a Glance

Born John William Coltrane, September 23, 1926, in Hamlet, North Carolina; died of liver cancer July 17, 1967; son of John Robert Coltrane (a tailor) and Gertrude Blair; married Naima Grubbs October 3, 1955, and divorced in 1966; married Alice McCleod (pianist/harpist) in 1966; children: John W. Jr., Ravi John Coltrane; Education: Ornstein School of Music circa 1943; Granoff Studio.

Career: Played alto saxophone in a Navy Band, 1945-46; free-lanced with various musicians in Philadelphia, 1946-49; with Eddie Cleanhead Vinson, 1948-49; with Dizzy Gillespie, 1949-51; performed with saxophonist Earl Bostic, 1952; toured with saxophonist Johnny Hodges, 1954; performed with organist Jimmy Smith before joining Miles Davis quintet, 1955; performed and recorded with Thelonious Monk, 1957; returned to Miles Davis group and recorded with Kenny Burrell, 1958; quit Miles Davis group and recorded album Giant Steps, 1959; led own group, 1960-65; added Eric Dolphy to group, 1961; played jobs with Wes Montgomery and recorded with Duke Ellington, 1962; recorded with singer Johnny Hartman, 1963; performed with two drummers and recruited saxophonist Farrell Pharaoh Sanders, 1965; led with new ensemble, 1966; Military service: U.S. Navy 1945-46.

Awards: Down Beat Jazz Musician of the Year, International Critics Poll, Readers Poll, Best Saxophone, and Best Miscellaneous (soprano saxophone), New Star Combo, 1961; Down Beat Jazzman of the Year, 1965; album Love Supreme voted Album of the Year by Down Beat and Jazz, 1965.

trane] was easily the best student in my class, accounted Guerra in Chasin the Trane. I wrote out complex chord progressions and special exercises in chromatic scales, and he was one of the few who brought his homework back practically the next day and played it on sight, he continued. At this time, Coltrane befriended such Philadelphia jazzmen as Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson, and Ray Bryantmusicians with whom he often performed with in small groups around the city.

Naval Tour Of Duty

Inducted into the Navy in 1945, Coltrane was first stationed in California and then spent a tour of duty on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Between regular military duties Coltrane, called Trane by other naval personnel, performed on clarinet and alto saxophone in a dance band, The Melody Masters. Shortly before his discharge in August of 1946, and while still in Oahu, Coltrane took part in his first recording session with a small group of Navy musicians, playing bebop-style numbers on alto saxophone. Back in Philadelphia, Coltrane, funded by Veterans Administration benefits, continued his musical education at the Granoff Studios. Like many young jazzmen of the post war period, Coltrane balanced his study of music between formal and informal training. Philadelphias jazz scene had high technical standards in comparison with many local scenes outside New York, noted Lewis Porter in John Coltrane: His Life and Music. This clearly had an impact on Coltrane, who was fascinated with technical and theoretical matters. He both contributed to and benefitted from this aspect of the Philadelphia jazz life, he continued.

In 1947 Coltrane spent three months in the band of trumpeter King Kolax, and then continued to study music and free-lance around Philadelphia, until joining Jimmy Heaths big band. After disbanding his group in Philadelphia, in November of 1948, alto saxophonist Eddie Cleanhead Vinson hired Coltrane as a tenor saxophonist as part of his new unit. Coltrane toured with Vinson until leaving the band in the summer of 1949, and by September was hired as lead alto saxophonist for Dizzy Gillespies big band. Though honored to be a member of Gillespies ensemble, Coltranes position on alto offered him little room for improvisation. In between playing Gillespies new bebop novelty material, Coltrane did manage to perform complex modern compositions such as Gillespies Night in Tunisia and Thelonious Monks Round Midnight.

When financial troubles caused Gillespie to break up his big band in 1950, the trumpeter formed a small unit which included Coltrane on tenor saxophone. As a member of the Dizzy Gillespie Sextet, Coltrane was joined by vibraphonist Milt Jackson, bassist Percy Heath, and drummer Specs Wright. In March of 1951 Coltrane recorded on Gillespies Detroit-based Dee Gee label with Milt Jackson, Kenny Burrell, both of whom he would later collaborate on solo recording projects. In New York that same year, Coltrane, as a result of his increasing drug use, was fired by Gillespie.

Free-lanced In Philadelphia

Back in Philadelphia, Coltrane continued his study of music through relentless practice and free-lance jobs. In April of 1952 he toured with alto saxophonist Earl Bostic. Coltrane free-lanced around Philadelphia, until joining Johnny Hodges in March of 1954. In a Down Beat interview with Don Demichael, Coltrane described the musical value of his stint with Hodges: I was getting first hand information about things that happened way before my time. Despite an enthusiasm for Hodges music, Coltranes drug habit forced the bandleader to fire him.

In September of 1955 Coltrane worked in Philadelphia with organist Jimmy Smith. In John Coltrane: His Life and Music, Lewis Porter noted that during this period, Coltrane utilized a very slow vibrato, lending to poignant delicacy to his sound. At faster tempos, Coltranes tone became more raspy and intense. When tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins left Miles Davis band, the trumpeter invited Coltrane to fill the job. At first, Coltrane found playing with Davis uneasy and frustrating. After a very brief return with Jimmy Smith, he rejoined Davis band later that month. Two months later, Coltrane appeared on the Prestige album The New Miles Davis Quintet, soon to be followed by sessions that yielded Davis classic works, Cookin, Relaxin Workin With Miles Davis, and Steamin. He then appeared on Davis first solo Columbia release, Round About Midnight. By 1957 Coltranes increasing drug use began to take its toll. In his memoir Miles, Davis recalled his waning tolerance for Coltranes addiction: Trane was a beautiful person, a real sweet kind of guy, spiritual, all of that. So you really couldnt help loving him and caring about him, too. I figured he was making more money than he ever made in his life, and so when I talked to him I thought he would stop, but he didnt. Without heeding his bandleaders advice, Coltrane was fired by Davis in April of 1957.

Apprenticeship With Thelonious Monk

In the summer of 1957 Coltrane, bassist Wilbur Ware, and drummer Shadow Wilson, backed pianist Thelonious Monk at New Yorks Five Spot on the citys lower east side. Though it lasted only several months, Coltranes stint with Monk proved an invaluable musical experience. Monks habit of leaving space behind the soloist (termed laying out) allowed Coltrane freedom to explore various harmonic possibilities. Ted Goia wrote, in The History of Jazz, Rather than emulating Monks use of space or compositional style of improvisation, as so many others did when playing with the pianist, Coltrane stayed true to his own emphatic style. As Goia added, In an amazing turnaround, Monk came to adapt to Coltrane, even going so far as not playing behind some of the horn solos, allowing the tenorist to stretch out with just bass and drum backing (as the saxophonist would do a few years later with his own band). Shortly before joining Monk, Coltrane cut the number, Monks Mood, which later appeared on the Prestige album Thelonious Himself. As a regular of Monks group, he attended an April 1957 session which yielded material featured on the album Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane, a work containing such Monk classics as Ruby My Dear, Trinkle Tinkle and Nutty. Several years later, in Down Beat, Coltrane recalled, Working with Monk brought me close to a musical architect of the highest order. I felt I learned from him in everywaythrough the senses, theoretically, technically.

Solo Trane

In May of 1957 Coltrane recorded his debut album, entitled Coltrane, for Prestige Records (over the next months he would record material which make up the albums Dakar, and Traneing In). That same year, Prestige arranged a deal with Blue Note Records allowing Coltrane to record one album, which brought forth, Blue Train, a modern jazz classic, yielding such Coltrane numbers as the twelve bar-structured Blue Train and Moments Noticea sixteen-bar original which Lewis Porter noted, in John Coltrane: His Life and Music, that displayed Coltranes preoccupation with placing changing harmonies under a repeated note in the melody.

At this time, Coltranes musical explorations coincided with an increasing interest in world religions and spiritual consciousness. In the liner notes to A Love Supreme, Coltrane wrote, During the year 1957, I experienced by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which led me to a richer, fuller more productive life All Praise to God. As Valerie Wilmer noted, in As Serious as Your Life, [Coltrane] was not the first musician to speak of spiritual matters, but his example was one of the most compelling and persuasiveone that exemplified the hip element by becoming a musician of value or worth to the community, and African American culture.

Rejoined Davis

In 1958, after periodically kicking his drug habit, Coltrane rejoined Davis expanded-unit which included alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderly. In February and March of 1958 the sextet recorded Milestones. During this two-month period, he also recorded two solo efforts Soultrane and Tranes Reign, and co-led a date with guitarist Kenny Burrell. In the spring of 1958, Coltrane recorded on Davis album the classic numbers On Green Dolphin Street and Richard Rogers My Funny Valentinematerial which comprised the album 58 Sessions. In March and April of 1959 Coltrane took part in sessions which produced Davis classic album Kind of Blue. Despite his invaluable experience with Davis sextet, Coltrane had, by 1959, desired to expand his own musical horizons, and spent many hours at the piano working out harmonic variations [Coltrane composed most of his work on the keyboard]. As he told Ralph Gleason, in the liner notes to Ole Coltrane, All the time I was with Miles I didnt have anything to think about but myself so I stayed at the piano and chords, chords, chords! I ended up playing them on my horn.

Continued Solo Career

A work with an immense impact on the jazz world, Coltranes Atlantic album, Giant Steps, was cut in three sessions held between April and December of 1959. His original numbers, Giant Steps and Countdown, became test pieces not only for saxophonists but for other instrumentalists as well. In the albums liner notes, Coltrane explained that he titled Giant Steps for the intervals of the compositions bass line which moved from minor thirds to fourths in contrast fourths or in half-steps.

After a European tour with Davis, Coltrane left the trumpeters group in April of 1960, and five months later, (after several personnel changes) assembled a quartet with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Steve Davis, and drummer Elvin Jones. In Jones inventive musicianship Coltrane found the ideal drummer whose revolutionary circular-style of playing and furious sense of swing seemed to anticipate his musical ideas. In October the quartet recorded the Atlantic album, My Favorite Things, featuring Rodgers and Hammersteins title selection, on which Coltranes eastern-sounding soprano saxophone inspired numerous jazz interpretations of the original stage number. In May and June of 1961, he gained the Impulse labels permission to record an eighteen-piece orchestral work, Africa/Brass. In November of the same year, the quartet cut [with Reggie Workman on bass and a guest appearance by Eric Dolphy] Live at the Village Vanguard which included the feral blues Chasin the Trane. Coltranes extended soloing, noted Nat Hentoff in the albums liner notes, is particularly fascinating for the astonishing variety of textures Coltrane draws from the full range of his horn and the unflagging intensity of his inventions.

During the early 1960s, Coltranes agonized saxophone cries and atonal intervals led critics to label him the angry tenor, (a title he despised). Despite criticism, Coltranes fierce attack and astonishing display of unique musical ideas were balanced by his tasteful playing of ballads and blues. In describing the man behind the media image, Elvin Jones commented, in Thinking in Jazz: [Coltrane] was so calm and had such a peaceful attitude, it was soothing to be around him. To me, he was like an angel on earth. He struck me deeply. This is not just an ordinary person, and Im not a believer to think very seriously about that. Ive been touched some way by something greater than life. Coltranes deepening religious consciousness inspired him, in December of 1964, to record the album Love Supreme. A four section suite, Love Supreme became Down Beat magazines album of the year, and emerged as Coltranes best-selling recording.

New Musical Explorations

In 1965 the Impulse label released Ascension, Coltranes first tonally free effort. This forty-minute performance, observed Ted Gioia in The History of Jazz, found Coltrane and his rhythm section supplemented by a half-dozen horn players in a wild free-for-alla superheated encounter that, for many listeners, served as the fitting logical and anarchistic end point to this quest of freedom. In September of 1965 tenor saxophonist Ferrell Pharaoh Sanders joined Coltranes ensemble. Frustrated that his piano had taken a background role, Tyner left the band at the end of 1965, and was replaced by pianist and harpist Alice McCleod, a former Detroiter who became Coltranes second wife in 1966. After Coltranes addition of drummer, Rashied Ali, the groups two-drum line-up found disfavor with Elvin Jones, who soon left the group (Jimmy Garrison stayed with Coltranes group until the summer of 1966).

The Art Of Free Jazz

By 1967 Coltranes music no longer employed the use of a steady beat (most notably in the absence of a walking bass), and abandoned the use of a tonal center in his compositions. As saxophonist Dave Leibman noted in Down Beat, In 66 and 67, Trane employed no harmonic basis at all, but worked on the base level of harmonic minimalism, which he could paint any picture over, moving in and out of the stated key, playing in many keys at once. In February and March of 1967 Coltrane recorded the album Expressions. He also recorded, in February, a number of duets with drummer Rashied Ali, posthumously released as the Impulse! album Interstellar Space. At this time, Coltranes chronic use of LSD attributed to his worsening health. After complaints of pains in his stomach in May of the same year, he was hospitalized. Two months later, Coltrane was admitted to Huntington Hospital, in New York City, where he died of liver cancer on July 17, 1967.

Despite his untimely death, Coltrane left behind a musical legacy of profound human message. In an interview quoted in the book John Coltrane: His Life and Music, Coltrane expressed his ultimate creative purpose: I think music can make the world better and, if Im qualified, I want to do it. Id like to point out to people the divine in a musical language that transcends words. I want to speak to their souls.

Selected discography

(with Dizzy Gillespie)

The Champ, Savoy, 1992.

(with Miles Davis)

The New Miles Davis Quintet, Prestige 1955.

Cookin, Prestige, 1956.

Relaxin, Prestige 1956.

Workin With Miles Davis, Prestige, 1956.

Steamin, Prestige, 1956.

Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants, Prestige, 1956.

Round About Midnight, Columbia, 1956.

Milestones, Columbia, 1958.

Miles Davis 58 Sessions, Columbia, reissued material, 1991.

Kind of Blue, Columbia, 1959.

(with Thelonious Monk)

Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane, Jazzland, reissued on Original Jazz Classics, 1987.

The Thelonious Monk Quartet Featuring John Coltrane, Live at the Five Spot/Discovery! Blue Note.

(solo)

Dakar, Prestige, 1957.

Blue Train, Blue Note, 1957.

Traneing In, Prestige, 1958.

Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane, New Jazz, 1958, reissued on Original Jazz Classics, 1987.

Giant Steps, Atlantic, 1960.

My Favorite Things, Atlantic, 1961.

Ole Coltrane, Atlantic, 1961.

The Complete Africa Brass Sessions, Impulse!, 1961.

Live at the Village Vanguard, Impulse!, 1962.

Coltrane, Impulse!, 1962.

Ballads, Impulse!, 1962.

John Coltrane in Stockholm 1963, Charly Records, 1986.

A Love Supreme, Impulse!, 1964.

Cresent, Impulse!, 1964.

Ascension, Impulse!, 1965.

Sun Ship, Impulse!, 1965.

Meditations, Impulse!, 1965.

Coltrane Plays the Blues, Atlantic, 1966.

Expression, Impulse!, 1967.

Interstellar Space, Impulse!, 1967.

Boxed Sets

John Coltrane: The Prestige Recordings.

The Last Giant, Rhino Records.

Sources

Books

Berliner, Paul F., Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation, University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Davis, Miles with Quincy Troupe, Miles the Autobiography, Simon & Schuster, 1989, p. 209-210.

Gioia, Ted, The History of Jazz, Oxford University Press, 1997, pp.245-246. Thomas, J.C., Chasin The Trane: The Music and Mystique of John Coltrane. Da Capo, 1976.

Porter, Lewis, John Coltrane: His Life and Music, University of Michigan, 1998.

Wilmer, Valerie, As Serious as Your Life: The Story of Jazz, Pluto Press, 1977, p. 25-44.

Periodicals

Down Beat, October 16, 1958; September, 29, 1960; June 1988, pp. 20-27.

Other

Additional information for this profile was obtained from the liner notes to: Giant Steps, Atlantic, 1960; Live at the Village Vanguard, by Nat Hentoff, 1962; John Coltrane, A Love Supreme, 1964; Ole Coltrane, by Ralph Gleason, Atlantic, 1961.

John Cohassey

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Coltrane, John

John Coltrane

Jazz saxophonist

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

The legendary saxophone virtuoso John Coltrane continues to influence modern jazz even from the grave. Coltranes death more than two decades ago only enhanced his reputation as an artist who brought whole new dimensions to a constantly innovative musical form. The sheets of sound and other bizarre stylistic elements that characterize Coltranes jazz sparked heated debate at the time of their composition. Today his work is still either hailed as the very pinnacle of genius or dismissed as flights of monotonous self-indulgence. In an Atlantic retrospective, Edward Strickland calls Coltrane the lone voice crying not in the wilderness but from some primordial chaos whose music evokes not only the jungle but all that existed before the jungle. The critic adds: Coltrane was attempting to raise jazz from the saloons to the heavens. No jazzman had attempted so overtly to offer his work as a form of religious expression.... In his use of jazz as prayer and meditation Coltrane was beyond all doubt the principal spiritual force in music.

Andrew White, himself a musician and transcriber of many of Coltranes extended solos, told down beat magazine that the jazz industry has been faltering artistically and financially ever since the death of John Coltrane.... Besides being one of our greatest saxophonists, improvisors, innovative and creative contributors, Coltrane was our last great leader. As a matter of fact, he was the only leader weve had in jazz who successfully maintained an evolutionary creative output as well as building a jazz star image. He merged the art and the money.

John William Coltrane, Jr., was born on the autumn equinox, September 23, 1926. He was raised in rural North Carolina, where he was exposed to the charismatic music of the black Southern churchboth of his grandfathers were ministers. Coltranes father also played several instruments as a hobby, so the young boy grew up in a musical environment. Quite on his own, he discovered jazz through the recordings of Count Basie and Lester Young. He persuaded his mother to buy him a saxophone, settling for an alto instead of a tenor because the alto was supposedly easier to handle.

Coltrane showed a proficiency on the saxophone almost immediately. After briefly studying at the Granoff Studios and at the Ornstein School of Music in Philadelphia, he joined a typical cocktail lounge band. Then he played for a year with a Navy band in Hawaii before landing a spot in the Eddie Vinson ensemble in 1947. He was twenty-one at the time. For Vinsons band Coltrane performed on the tenor sax, but his ears were open to jazz greats on both alto and tenor, including Charlie Parker, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Lester

For the Record

Full name John William Coltrane, Jr.; born September 23, 1926, in Hamlet, N.Y.; died of liver cancer July 17,1967, on Long Island, N.Y.; son of John (a tailor); married twice, first wifes name Naima (divorced), second wifes name Alice McLoud (a piano player); children: John, Rabi, Michele, Oran. Education: Studied music at Granoff Studios and Ornstein School of Music, both Philadelphia, Pa.

Jazz composer and horn player, 1945-67. Joined the Eddie Vinson band, 1947, as a tenor saxophone player; moved to the Jimmy Heath Group, 1948, and the Dizzy Gillespie orchestra, 1948. Worked with Earl Bostic, 1952, Johnny Hodges, 1953-55, Miles Davis, 1955-57, and Thelonious Monk, 1957-58; returned to Miles Davis ensemble, 1958. Formed own group, 1960, consisting of Elvin Jones (drums), McCoy Tyner (piano), and Jimmy Garrison (bass); some recordings include Steve Davis on bass and Rashied Ali on drums. Coltrane played tenor, alto, and soprano saxophone and flute. Group recorded with several labels, including Prestige, Atlantic, and Impulse.

Young, and Tab Smith. After a year with Vinson, Coltrane joined Dizzy Gillespies group for one of his longest stintsfour years. By that time he had paid his dues and was experimenting with composition and technical innovation.

The 1950s saw a great flowering of modern jazz with the advent of artists such as Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. Coltrane played horn for both Davis and Monk; the latter showed him tricks of phrasing and harmony that deepened his control of his instrument. Coltrane can be heard playing tenor sax on Daviss famous Columbia album Kind of Blue, a work that hints of the direction Coltrane would ultimately follow. Strickland writes of the period: Coltranes attempt to explore all the avenues made him the perfect stylistic complement to Davis, with his cooler style, which featured sustained blue notes and brief cascades of sixteenths almost willfully retreating into silence, and also Monk, with his spare and unpredictable chords and clusters. Davis, characteristically, paid the tersest homage, when, on being told that his music was so complex that it required five saxophonists, he replied that hed once had Coltrane.

What Coltrane called exploring all the avenues was essentially the quest to exhaust every possibility for his horn in the course of a song. He devoted himself to rapid runs in which individual notes were virtually indistinguishable, a style quickly labeled sheets of sound. As Martin Williams puts it in Saturday Review, Coltrane seemed prepared to gush out every conceivable note, run his way a step at a time through every complex chord, every extension, and every substitution, and go beyond that by reaching for sounds that no tenor saxophone had ever uttered before him. Needless to say, this music was not easily understoodcritics were quick to find fault with its length and monotonybut it represented an evolution that was welcomed not only by jazz performers, but by composers and even rock musicians as well.

In 1960 Coltrane formed his own quartet in the saxophone-plus-rhythm mode. He was joined by McCoy Tyner on piano, Elvin Jones on drums, and Jimmy Garrison on bass, all of whom were as eager as Coltrane to explore an increasingly free idiom. Finally Coltrane was free to expand his music at will, and his solos took on unprecedented lengths as he experimented with modal foundations, pentatonic scales, and triple meter.

His best-known work was recorded during this period, including My Favorite Things, a surprising theme-and-variations piece based on the saccharine Richard Rogers tune from The Sound of Music. In My Favorite Things, writes Williams, Coltrane encountered a popular song which had the same sort of structure he was interested in, a folk-like simplicity and incantiveness, and very little harmonic motion. It became a best seller.

By 1965 Coltrane was one of the most famous jazz artists alive, acclaimed alike in Europe, Japan, and the United States. Critics who had once dismissed his work all but waved banners to show their devotion to him, to quote Strickland. Not surprisingly, the musician continued to experiment, even at the risk of alienating his growing audience. His work grew ever more complex, ametric, and improvisatorial. Coltrane explained his personal vision in Newsweek. I have to feel that Im after something, he said. If I make money, fine. But Id rather be striving. Its the striving, man, its that I want.

Coltrane continued to perform and record even as advancing liver cancer left him racked with pain. He died at forty, only months after he cut his album Expression. The subsequent years have revealed the extent of his legacy to jazz, a legacy based on the spiritual quest for meaning and involvement between man, his soul, and the universe. Strickland concludes: Those who criticize Coltranes virtuosic profusion are of the same party as those who found Van Goghs canvases too full of paint. In Coltrane, soundoften discordant, chaotic, almost unbearablebecame the spiritual form of the man, an identification perhaps possible only with a wind instrument, with which the player is of necessity fused more intimately than with strings or percussion. The whole spectrum of Coltranes musicthe world-weary melancholy and transcendental yearning that ultimately recall Bach more than Parker, the jungle calls and glossolalie shrieks, the whirlwind runs and spare elegies for murdered children and a murderous planetis at root merely a suffering mans breath. The quality of that music reminds us that the root of the word inspiration is breathing upon. This country has not produced a greater musician.

Selected discography

(With Miles Davis and others) Kind of Blue, Columbia.

(With Davis) Round Midnight, Columbia.

(With Davis) Straight, No Chaser, Columbia.

(With Thelonious Monk) Trinkle Tinkle, Riverside.

(With Monk) Ruby My Dear, Riverside.

Blue Train, Blue Note, 1957.

Bahia, Prestige, 1958.

Coltrane Jazz, Atlantic, 1959.

Giant Steps, Atlantic, 1959.

Ballads, Impulse, 1962.

My Favorite Things, Atlantic.

Impressions, Impulse, 1963, reissued, 1987.

A Love Supreme, Impulse, 1964, reissued, 1986.

Crescent, Impulse, 1964.

Ascension, Impulse, 1965.

Transition, Impulse, 1965.

Sun Ship, RCA, 1965.

Meditations, Impulse.

Expression, Impulse, 1967.

The Best of John Coltrane: His Greatest Years, Impulse.

John Coltrane and the Jazz Giants, Prestige.

The Coltrane Legacy, Atlantic.

The European Tour, Pablo.

John Coltrane from the Original Master Tapes, Impulse.

The Gentle Side of John Coltrane, MCA.

Last Trane, Prestige.

The Master, Prestige.

More Lasting Than Bronze, Prestige.

On a Misty Night, Prestige.

John Coltrane Plays for Lovers, Prestige.

John Coltrane Plays the Blues, Atlantic.

Rain or Shine, Prestige.

Soultrane, Fantasy.

Stardust, Prestige.

Dial Africa, Savoy Jazz.

Gold Coast, Savoy Jazz.

Traneing In, Fantasy, 1985.

John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman, Impulse, 1986.

Countdown, Atlantic, 1986.

Coltrane, Impulse, 1987.

Standard Coltrane, Fantasy, 1987.

Africa/Brass, MCA, 1988.

Lush Life, Fantasy, 1988.

Sources

Books

Cole, Bill, John Coltrane, Schirmer, 1977.

Terkel, Studs, Giants of Jazz, Crowell, 1975.

Periodicals

Atlantic, December 1987.

down beat, July 12, 1979; September 1986.

New Republic, February 12, 1977.

Newsweek, July 31, 1967.

New York Times, July 18, 1967.

Saturday Review, September 16, 1987.

Anne Janette Johnson

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John Coltrane

John Coltrane

Saxophone player John Coltrane (1926-1967) created an innovative form of music that continues to influence modern jazz musicians, even more than two decades after his death.

Legendary saxophone virtuoso John Coltrane continues to influence modern jazz even from the grave. Coltrane's death more than two decades ago only enhanced his reputation as an artist who brought whole new dimensions to a constantly innovative musical form. The "sheets of sound" and other bizarre stylistic elements that characterize Coltrane's jazz sparked heated debate at the time of their composition. Today his work is still either hailed as the very pinnacle of genius or dismissed as flights of monotonous self-indulgence. In an Atlantic retrospective, Edward Strickland calls Coltrane "the lone voice crying not in the wilderness but from some primordial chaos" whose music "evokes not only the jungle but all that existed before the jungle." The critic adds: "Coltrane was attempting to raise jazz from the saloons to the heavens. No jazzman had attempted so overtly to offer his work as a form of religious expression. … In his use of jazz as prayer and meditation Coltrane was beyond all doubt the principal spiritual force in music."

"Last Great Leader"

Andrew White, himself a musician and transcriber of many of Coltrane's extended solos, told Down Beat magazine that the jazz industry "has been faltering artistically and financially ever since the death of John Coltrane. … Besides being one of our greatest saxophonists, improvisors, innovative and creative contributors, Coltrane was our last great leader. As a matter of fact, he was the only leader we've had in jazz who successfully maintained an evolutionary creative output as well as building a 'jazz star' image. He merged the art and the money."

John William Coltrane, Jr., was born on the autumn equinox, September 23, 1926. He was raised in rural North Carolina, where he was exposed to the charismatic music of the Southern church—both of his grandfathers were ministers. Coltrane's father also played several instruments as a hobby, so the young boy grew up in a musical environment. Quite on his own, he discovered jazz through the recordings of Count Basie and Lester Young. He persuaded his mother to buy him a saxophone, settling for an alto instead of a tenor because the alto was supposedly easier to handle.

Showed Saxophone Talent Immediately

Coltrane showed a proficiency on the saxophone almost immediately. After briefly studying at the Granoff Studios and at the Ornstein School of Music in Philadelphia, he joined a typical cocktail lounge band. Then he played for a year with a Navy band in Hawaii before landing a spot in the Eddie Vinson ensemble in 1947. He was twenty-one at the time. For Vinson's band Coltrane performed on the tenor sax, but his ears were open to jazz greats on both alto and tenor, including Charlie Parker, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, and Tab Smith. After a year with Vinson, Coltrane joined Dizzy Gillespie's group for one of his longest stints—four years. By that time he had "paid his dues" and was experimenting with composition and technical innovation.

The 1950s saw a great flowering of modern jazz with the advent of artists such as Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. Coltrane played horn for both Davis and Monk; the latter showed him tricks of phrasing and harmony that deepened his control of his instrument. Coltrane can be heard playing tenor sax on Davis's famous Columbia album Kind of Blue, a work that hints of the direction Coltrane would ultimately follow. Strickland writes of the period: "Coltrane's attempt 'to explore all the avenues' made him the perfect stylistic complement to Davis, with his cooler style, which featured sustained blue notes and brief cascades of sixteenths almost willfully retreating into silence, and also Monk, with his spare and unpredictable chords and clusters. Davis, characteristically, paid the tersest homage, when, on being told that his music was so complex that it required five saxophonists, he replied that he'd once had Coltrane."

Exhausted Every Possibility for His Horn

What Coltrane called "exploring all the avenues" was essentially the quest to exhaust every possibility for his horn in the course of a song. He devoted himself to rapid runs in which individual notes were virtually indistinguishable, a style quickly labeled "sheets of sound." As Martin Williams puts it in Saturday Review, Coltrane "seemed prepared to gush out every conceivable note, run his way a step at a time through every complex chord, every extension, and every substitution, and go beyond that by reaching for sounds that no tenor saxophone had ever uttered before him." Needless to say, this music was not easily understood—critics were quick to find fault with its length and monotony—but it represented an evolution that was welcomed not only by jazz performers, but by composers and even rock musicians as well.

In 1960 Coltrane formed his own quartet in the saxophone-plus-rhythm mode. He was joined by McCoy Tyner on piano, Elvin Jones on drums, and Jimmy Garrison on bass, all of whom were as eager as Coltrane to explore an increasingly free idiom. Finally Coltrane was free to expand his music at will, and his solos took on unprecedented lengths as he experimented with modal foundations, pentatonic scales, and triple meter. His best-known work was recorded during this period, including "My Favorite Things," a surprising theme-and-variations piece based on the saccharine Richard Rogers tune from "The Sound of Music." In "My Favorite Things," writes Williams, Coltrane "encountered a popular song which had the same sort of structure he was interested in, a folk-like simplicity and incantiveness, and very little harmonic motion. … It became a best seller."

Extent of Jazz Legacy Realized

By 1965 Coltrane was one of the most famous jazz artists alive, acclaimed alike in Europe, Japan, and the United States. Critics who had once dismissed his work "all but waved banners to show their devotion to him," to quote Strickland. Not surprisingly, the musician continued to experiment, even at the risk of alienating his growing audience. His work grew ever more complex, ametric, and improvisatorial. Coltrane explained his personal vision in Newsweek. "I have to feel that I'm after something," he said. "If I make money, fine. But I'd rather be striving. It's the striving, man, it's that I want."

Coltrane continued to perform and record even as advancing liver cancer left him racked with pain. He died at forty, only months after he cut his album Expression. The subsequent years have revealed the extent of his legacy to jazz, a legacy based on the spiritual quest for meaning and involvement between man, his soul, and the universe. Strickland concludes: "Those who criticize Coltrane's virtuosic profusion are of the same party as those who found Van Gogh's canvases 'too full of paint.' … In Coltrane, sound—often discordant, chaotic, almost unbearable—became the spiritual form of the man, an identification perhaps possible only with a wind instrument, with which the player is of necessity fused more intimately than with strings or percussion. … The whole spectrum of Coltrane's music—the world-weary melancholy and transcendental yearning that ultimately recall Bach more than Parker, the jungle calls and glossolalic shrieks, the whirlwind runs and spare elegies for murdered children and a murderous planet—is at root merely a suffering man's breath. The quality of that music reminds us that the root of the word inspiration is 'breathing upon.' This country has not produced a greater musician."

Further Reading

Cole, Bill, John Coltrane, Schirmer, 1977.

Terkel, Studs, Giants of Jazz, Crowell, 1975.

Atlantic, December 1987.

Down Beat, July 12, 1979; September 1986.

New Republic, February 12, 1977.

Newsweek, July 31, 1967.

New York Times, July 18, 1967.

Saturday Review, September 16, 1987. □

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Coltrane, John

John Coltrane (kōltrān´, kōl´trān), 1926–67, American jazz musician, b. Hamlet, N.C. He began playing tenor saxophone as an adolescent. Coltrane worked with numerous big bands before emerging in the mid-1950s as a major stylist while playing as a sideman with Miles Davis. Originally influenced by Lester Young, Coltrane displayed in his playing a dazzling technical brilliance combined with ardent emotion and eventually a kind of mysticism. His style, which was at once sonorous and spare, was influenced by the rhythms and tonal structure of African and Asian music. Coltrane made a number of influential recordings, among them the modal-jazz classics My Favorite Things (1961) and A Love Supreme (1964), and the later exemplars of free jazz, Ascension and Interstellar Space, his final album. From the late 1950s until his death he was considered the outstanding tenor and soprano saxophonist of the jazz avant-garde, and his music continues to be a strong source of inspiration to jazz and pop musicians.

See biographies by E. Nisenson (1994) and L. Porter (1998); B. Ratliff, Coltrane: The Story of a Sound (2007); L. Brown, John Coltrane and Black America's Quest for Freedom (2010); discography by Y. Fujioka et al. (1995).

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