9 Little Known Facts About Jazz Great John Coltrane

Early Life
Coltrane was born in Hamlet, North Carolina during the height of lynching and segregation. At a young age, Coltrane’s father got him into music by introducing him Lester Young and Count Bassie and teaching him how to play a variety of instruments. At 13, Coltrane focused on perfecting his ability on the saxophone and he never stopped.

John Coltrane at the Guggenheim, New York, 1960

First Real Gig
After moving to Philadelphia in 1943, Coltrane joined the Navy. While stationed in Hawaii, he made his album as a member of the Navy band. This nameless album predates his first studio record Coltrane (1957) by a decade. According to Allmusic.com, “the thick unified sound of Coltrane (tenor sax), Splawn (trumpet), and Shihab (baritone sax) presents a formidable presence as they blow the minor-chord blues chorus together before dissolving into respective solos.” The album was his first record as a band leader.

Traveling Band Member
Coltrane was a member of many great jazz bands during the 1940s and 50s. Coltrane spent time in Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson’s band, Jimmy Heath’s band, and working with Dizzy Gillespie. This time was also the beginning of his relationships with musicians Miles Davis and Duke Ellington.

John Coltrane – Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington and the Trane
In the early years of Coltrane’s career, he was infamous for his drug abuse and alcoholism. In 1954, Ellington heard about the talent of Coltrane and wanted the young saxophonist to temporarily replace Johnny Hodges in his band. However, Coltrane’s misuse of drugs led to his termination from Ellington’s orchestra. Even though this occurred, the two recorded an album released Sept. 26, 1962 entitled Duke Ellington and John Coltrane that puts to bed the past issues the two may have had.

From left to right Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane

Miles Davis and John Coltrane’s Collaboration
Coltrane joined the Miles Davis Quintet one year after being fired from Duke Ellington’s Orchestra. Davis was impressed by the raw talent and skill Coltrane had as a player so he brought Coltrane into the fold. Their collaboration produced some of the greatest jazz records in history, including The New Miles Davis Quintet (1955), ‘Round About Midnight (1957) and Kind of Blue (1959). Even though Coltrane was sober for the majority of the time that he played alongside Davis, he just could not shake his heroin addiction. So the two parted ways.

Going Solo
“Coltrane was signed as a solo artist on Prestige, but his next stop was an apprenticeship of sorts with pianist and composer Thelonious Monk. With Monk’s guidance, Coltrane extended his solos and explored multiphonics, ” writes John Diliberto for NPR. Coltrane realized that starting his own band would mean that he could finally take control of his career. In the 1960s, his career took off when he created his quartet that included pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones.

Albums Created 

Coltrane created an impressive catalog in a short period of time. His discography includes 45 studio albums, 23 compilations albums, and 19 singles. Some his greatest work includes Giant Steps (1960),  My Favorite Things (1961), Impressions (1963) and Live at Birdland (1964). However, his most acclaimed and well-received record was 1965’s, A Love Supreme.

Similar Deaths

Like many other talented jazz musicians in the period, Coltrane found it difficult to come up, get recognized and be financially successful. Many took to alcohol and drugs.

“John Coltrane was a major innovator of avant-garde jazz in the 1960s and yet he passed away at 41 years of age in 1967 from hepatitis B and hepatocellular carcinoma,” says Dr. Paul Adams for the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. “For some jazz musicians, the images of a smoke-filled bar became part of their classic sound (eg, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Billie Holiday, Dexter Gordon) but liver disease eventually caught up with all of them.”


St. John Coltrane

“In the mid-60s, during his experiments with LSD, Coltrane played a show at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco, where in the audience were the eventual founders of the Church of Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane: Franzo King and his girlfriend Marina,” says writer Jules Suzdaltsev for Vice.com. The church which has roots to the African Orthodox Church uses the jazz great’s music in many of their services and prayer ceremonies. Amazingly, Coltrane was at first considered a god before being reduced to saint status. The founders of the church still operates in the Bay Area today, and Coltrane has been placed on the official list of saints.

source: atlantablackstar.com by

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