|Name & Pictures||
John Coltrane (1926-1967)
| alto saxophone
Great American standards
first professional gigs were in a cocktail lounge trio in early to mid-1945
Enrolled in the United States 🇺🇸 Navy “to avoid being drafted by the Army, on August 6, 1945, the day the first U.S. atomic bomb was dropped on Japan” and was stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii at the Manana Barracks, the largest posting of African-American servicemen in the world. Wikipedia: John Coltrane describes Coltrane's situation as it progressed during his Navy career:
“By the time he (Coltrane) got to Hawaii, in late 1945, the Navy was already rapidly downsizing. Coltrane's musical talent was quickly recognized, though, and he became one of the few Navy men to serve as a musician without having been granted musician's rating when he joined the Melody Masters, the base swing band. As the Melody Masters was an all-white band, however, Coltrane was treated merely as a guest performer to avoid alerting superior officers of his participation in the band. He continued to perform other duties when not playing with the band, including kitchen and security details. By the end of his service, he had assumed a leadership role in the band. His first recordings, an informal session in Hawaii with Navy musicians, occurred on July 13, 1946. Coltrane played alto saxophone on a selection of jazz standards and bebop tunes.”
toured with King Kolax immediately after getting out of the Navy
studied jazz theory with guitarist and composer Dennis Sandole and continued under Sandole's tutelage through the early 1950s
in the summer of 1955, Coltrane was freelancing in Philadelphia while studying with guitarist Dennis Sandole when he was recruited by Miles Davis that formed Davis's "First Great Quintet" with Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums from October 1955 to April 1957 (with a few absences)
easily recognizable idiosyncratic style and tone, especially on soprano saxophone
playing has a lot of drive
driven to practice his instrument and did so constantly
“influenced innumerable musicians”
Miles Davis expanded this first quintet with Coltrane into a sextet with the addition of Cannonball Adderley alto saxophone in 1958 producing one of the definitive hard bop groups recording the Columbia albums Round About Midnight , Milestones , and the marathon sessions for Prestige Records resulting in five albums (Miles, Cookin', Relaxin', Workin', and Steamin') collected on The Legendary Prestige Quintet SessionsIn mid-1958, Bill Evans replaced Garland on piano and Jimmy Cobb replaced Philly Joe Jones on drums, but Evans only lasted about six months, in turn replaced by Wynton Kelly as 1958 turned into 1959. This group backing Davis, Coltrane, and Adderley, with Evans returning for the recording sessions, recorded Kind of Blue, considered one of the most important, influential and popular albums in jazz
The performance of "Chasin' The Trane" consisting of eighty choruses of Coltrane improvising on the blues was on his tenth album Coltrane "Live" at the Village Vanguard "Classic Quartet" of himself with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones. Contrasting with the positive reaction to his previous album for Impulse!, “this one generated much turmoil among both critics and audience alike with its challenging music” and began John Coltrane's experiments into avant-garde jazz (1961)
recorded "A Love Supreme" with his "Classic Quartet" (1965)
canonized as a Saint (1982) in the St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church of San Francisco, CA
Downbeat magazine Hall of Fame, Reader's Poll (1965)
- For musical examples see:
‣ "Essential Solos: 40 Great Improvisations: (100) Jazz artists and critics pick their favorite solos from the music's past and present," Jazz Times, November 2, 2017.
‣ "Perfect Jazz Recordings," Richard Brody, The New Yorker, September 23, 2014.
‣ Also see the Jazz Discography Project.
- The John Coltrane Reference, Lewis Porter, Chris DeVito, David Wild, Yasuhiro Fujioka, Wolf Schmale, February 16, 2013.
Personnel: John Coltrane, alto saxophone, possibly clarinet; unknown piano, guitar. Ca. early to mid-1945 (dates unknown). Unknown venues, Philadelphia, PA. François Postif (1962, p. 13): "My first real 'job,' I took down in Philadelphia in 1945 where I played with a pianist and a guitarist. A sort of cocktail music, but it offered me a living!"
From John Coltrane's completed questionnaire (undated, ca. 1956) for Leonard Feather's Encyclopedia of Jazz (reprinted in Thomas, 1975, photo section following p. 88; and Woideck, 1998, p. 84): HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE MUSIC BUSINESS? "In Philadelphia with a cocktail trio. This job was in 1945. I also joined the musician's union at that same time."
- Wikipedia: John Coltrane Fourth paragraph, first sentence.
- Wikipedia: John Coltrane affirms Coltrane's music took on an increasingly spiritual aspect up to his death in 1967 from liver cancer at the age of 40. “As his career progressed, Coltrane and his music took on an increasingly spiritual dimension.” (second paragraph, first sentence)
Don't just take Wikipedia's word for it. Consider the liner notes from the collaborative Bob Thiele produced album, "John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman," and the 'effusive' liner notes by poet and author, A. B. Spellman:
“The quartet (John Coltrane/tenor saxophone, McCoy Tyner/piano, Jimmy Garrison/double bass, Elvin Jones/drums) has been, till now (up to 1963) , concerned with other things, with the development of a kinetic vernacular which facilitated the release of a kind of group energy that was deeper in content and fuller in emotional color than any music I have experienced, anywhere.” (bold not in original) (quoted in “A Look Back at John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman,” Rusty Aceves, September 19, 2016).
Coltrane was not the first jazz person to promote spirituality in jazz because Duke Ellington and company had already done so in Ellington's "Black, Brown, and Tan Fantasy." See the article "Shadow Play: The Spiritual in Duke Ellington's "Black and Tan Fantasy," David Metzer, Black Music Research Journal, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Autumn, 1997), pp. 137-158. Additionally, the jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams, a convert to Roman Catholicism in 1956, wrote and performed spiritually oriented music, including especially Mary Lou's Mass. Here is the relevant section from Wikipedia: Mary Lou Williams:
“One of the masses, "Music for Peace," was choreographed by the Alvin Ailey and performed by the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater as Mary Lou's Mass in 1971. About the work, Ailey commented, "If there can be a Bernstein Mass, a Mozart Mass, a Bach Mass, why can't there be Mary Lou's Mass?" Williams performed the revision of Mary Lou's Mass, her most acclaimed work, on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971.
She wrote and performed religious jazz music such as "Black Christ of the Andes" (1963), a hymn in honor of the St. Martin de Porres; two short works, "Anima Christi" and "Praise the Lord." In this period, Williams put much effort into working with youth choirs to perform her works, including mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City before a gathering of over three thousand. . . . As a February 21, 1964 Time article explained, "Mary Lou thinks of herself as a 'soul' player — a way of saying that she never strays far from melody and the blues, but deals sparingly in gospel harmony and rhythm. 'I am praying through my fingers when I play,' she says.'I get that good "soul sound", and I try to touch people's spirits.'"
. . . . In April 1975, she played her highly regarded jazz spiritual, "Mary Lou's Mass" at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. It marked the first time a jazz musician had played at the church. (bold not in original)
See "Appropriating Universality: The Coltranes and 1960s Spirituality," Franya J. Berkman (1972-2012), American Studies, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Spring 2007), pp. 41-62. Published by Mid-America American Studies Association.
- Coltrane himself, when discussing his sheets of sound technique in an interview, said the following in DownBeat magazine, Sept 29, 1960:
“About this time, I was trying for a sweeping sound. I started experimenting because I was striving for more individual development. I even tried long, rapid lines that Ira Gitler termed “sheets of sound” at that time. But actually, I was beginning to apply the three-on-one chord approach, and at that time the tendency was to play the entire scale of each chord. Therefore, they were usually played fast and sometimes sounded like glisses.”
“I found there were a certain number of chord progressions to play in a given time, and sometimes what I played didn’t work out in eighth notes, 16th notes, or triplets. I had to put the notes in uneven groups like fives and sevens in order to get them all in.”
“I could stack up chords, say on a C7, I sometimes superimposed an Eb7 up to an F#7, down to an F. That way I could play three chords on one. But on the other hand, if I wanted to, I could play melodically . . . . ” (Quoted at "Sheets Of Sound Explained (John Coltrane)" at thejazzpianosite.com)
- Wikipedia: John Coltrane, second paragraph, second sentence.
- See the New York Times article about the formation of the church "Sunday Religion, Inspired by Saturday Nights," by Samuel G. Freedman, December 1, 2007, then read the moving descriptions of Coltrane's musically spiritual impact in Carvell Wallace's "A Place For The Soul To Sing: The Church of St. John Coltrane.”