John Coltrane was one of the biggest influences in modern jazz. His free form style of playing made him a stand out then as well as today. John Coltrane was born September twenty-third nineteen twenty-six in Hamlet, North Carolina. Shortly after birth his family moved to High Point, North Carolina. Both his mother and father were musicians which led him to start playing the clarinet. After hearing the Duke Ellington Band on the radio he became obsessed with the alto saxophone being played by Johnny Hodges. Clarinet exit, one of the greatest saxophonists of our time enters. Thirteen was an unlucky age for John Coltrane. Within a year his father, uncle, and minister had died. Unknown to him, but these losses would have a lasting impact on himself and the music of his later years. In nineteen forty-three he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania after graduating school. There he worked at a sugar refinery and attended the Ornstein School of Music. He was drafted by the Navy in nineteen forty-five where he played clarinet in a band called the Melody Makers. A year later he returned to Philadelphia and launched his musical career.
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John Coltrane started playing in bars and clubs with various R&B acts around the Philadelphia area. In this era musicians were to walk around and play their instruments including on top of the bar. Coltrane along with any other serious musician looked at this display as humiliation. On top of having to perform these devastating acts the critics at the time found his music to be a bit too bizarre. With depression thoroughly setting in, John turned to Heroin. This was the drug of choice for black musicians in the forties. At first it brought these great jazz musicians together then eventually torn them apart. After a two year stay with Dizzy Gillespie, Coltrane was asked to leave due to his erratic behavior caused by the drug. He was back to walking bar tops and playing shady clubs. As his addiction to Heroin grew so did his interests in eastern philosophies. If not playing or learning he read about the philosophies. With the early deaths of important male figures he needed to have something to enlighten his curiosities of life. At this time he met a musician named Naima who was able help him get his life back on track. They were married.
In the early to mid-fifties Miles Davis signed him on to play with his quintet. This union would change Coltrane forever, along with me. They became the for front of a jazz movement called new wave. New wave was a style that sought experimentation with keys, chords, and modes. Coltrane took periods of improvisation within a single chord or scale pattern and tweak them into a harmonious bizarre sound. A style used strongly in the Indian musical practices. This new experimental sound was used greatly in the sixties. He began to develop his own style. Coltrane s speed through the scales of the sax could not be imitated. Though the collaboration of Davis and Coltrane through this time was ground breaking it ended the same way it did with Gillespie in late nineteen fifty-six. John Coltrane then contemplated giving music up forever.
John and Naime moved from New York to Philly into Naime s mother s house shortly after being fired from the Miles Davis quartet. Coltrane s depression, along with himself, hit an all time low. Heroin and alcohol ravaged his life and brought him to the realization that it was going to be drugs or the sax. Thankfully, he chose music. For the next two weeks John would lock himself in his room for a purification process. Within those two weeks he went through an Islamic spiritual rebirth that would take him on the quest to find the mysterious sound. Not to mention very painful withdrawal. He left that room with a new zest for life. He was a changed man heading on a journey to live a productive and more meaningful life.
In nineteen fifty-seven the most important learning experience of his life would begin; an apprenticeship with Thelonius Monk. Coltrane s style was somewhat there with the experience gained through Miles Davis; however it was still in the grasp of repression. In Monk s quartet they focused more on the harmonic structure of the song rather than its melodies. Coltrane s style became more distinctive and with his new faith and sobriety he set out on his own. Most importantly during his period with Monk one of his first albums, Blue Trane, was released. This was his first widely recognized piece of work which critics applauded.
Always on Time
Marked to Standard
In nineteen fifty-eight the Thelonius Monk group disbanded. He went on to play twenty different albums, with various artists, that year. He also went back to work with Miles Davis. At the time he was the most important tenor in jazz. Earnest Hemmingway called this period of his life the sheets of sound . His vertical and sailing lines are why it was referred to as that. Coltrane was playing faster than ever during this time and formed sounds that had never been heard. He once said that Monk had showed him how to make two or three notes at once just by looking at the mechanics and feeling of the sax. Playing like this Coltrane came up with an array of sounds resulting in a never ending amount of solos. This truly was the right time for him to set out on his own.
John Coltrane owned jazz in the nineteen-sixties. In nineteen sixty John Coltrane set out with his own band which consisted of McCoy Tyner on piano, Reggie Workman on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums. He pushed music to its limits and drew crowds bigger than ever before while in search of the new sound. Holding a seashell to your ear and how one describes it was his answer to this strange sound. He fused the music of India, the Middle East, and Africa with the new freer jazz style that was being sought after. This new free jazz was like the counter-culture in which it lived. It intentionally left all structure, tonality, and direction to the slow jazz generation. A free jazz genre show seemed more like a random improvisational jam session than anything else. As the sixties went on so did Coltrane. He experimented more with variations of sound and instruments. In his obsession to show his musical vision he began taking LSD to explore his music universally. With LSD he was able to discover the inner self he had longed to confront. In a way he became at peace with himself as well with everything he had lost and yearned for. With his direction headed towards the freer fusion based sounds he did receive some negative feedback from the older generation fans but gained a new anti-establishment fan that would keep his music alive for generations to come.
Coltrane s legendary performances of My Favorite Things soared though out the nineteen sixties. Nineteen sixty was the first and only studio recording he did of the song. In nineteen sixty-three he played it at the Newport Jazz Festival which sounded a lot like the studio version. The next time he played it was at the nineteen sixty-five Newport Jazz Festival. This version showed a lot more piano work by McCoy Turner and a more sophisticated sound from the previous versions. Coltrane himself used different chord substitutions and sounds making his sax emerge as altissimo and multi-phonics. A fourth version was played with a new group in nineteen sixty-six in Tokyo, Japan. This band consisted of Alice Coltrane on piano, Pharoah Sanders on a second saxophone, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Rashied Ali on drums. It was played in a free style which led to long solos by everyone in the group.
John Coltrane loved jazz and everything about the music. Listening to other musicians and the different styles of jazz was something of a norm to him. He felt if by practicing day and night he would be able to achieve a better than perfect status. When he felt that he was being passed by he would try new challenging ways of expression through his music. In late nineteen sixty-six he felt that something was wrong. When the following year rolled around he wasn t feeling good at all and with his health deteriorating he stopped performing in the public eye. That May he started experiencing extreme stomach pain and was rushed to the hospital. On July seventeenth of the year nineteen hundred and sixty-five John Coltrane passed away of liver cancer. He only spent twelve years performing on the world stage but the contributions he made were everlasting.