John Coltrane

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John Coltrane (1963)

John William "Trane" Coltrane (born September 23, 1926 in Hamlet , Richmond County , North Carolina , † July 17, 1967 in Huntington , New York ) was an important American jazz musician . At first he played alto saxophone , since the early 1950s almost exclusively tenor and from 1960 also soprano saxophone . His innovations and his inspired playing had a lasting impact on the jazz world.

His style

Coltrane's own style developed in the era of modern jazz from hard bop to modal jazz and eventually even changed to free jazz . In the second half of the 1950s, influenced by Dexter Gordon and beyond Charlie Parker , he developed his own style of playing, which combined a very penetrating, bright sound on his tenor saxophone with an extreme rhythmic compression of the note values, while at the same time expanding and refining the bebop -Vocabulary in the harmonic-melodic area. This way of playing was described by the American jazz critic Ira Gitler with the term "sheets of sounds" (translation: "sound surfaces"). After Coltrane had got to know the modal playing style through his collaboration with Miles Davis , he immersed himself increasingly in experiments with scales and their possibilities. Influenced by Indian music ( Ravi Shankar ), the choice of the first name for one of his sons fell on Ravi, an expression of his admiration for the sitar virtuoso. From the mid-1960s onwards, he also opened up to free forms of play, such as on the album Ascension (1965), and consistently explored the possibilities this offered him in his playing. All of this exploration and discovery found its way into Coltrane's final recording, Expression , which is considered by many to be his legacy.

life and work

High point today

1926–1945 - High Point and Philadelphia

John Coltrane's mother, Alice Gertrude Blair (1898–1977), came from a well-known and respected family in Hamlet , North Carolina ; her father was Reverend William Wilson Blair, who headed the Methodist Episcopal Zion Church at High Point . Upon graduation, Alice Blair moved to Hamlet and met the family of preacher William H. Coltrane. His son was John Robert Coltrane (1901-1939); The two married in early 1925. Coltrane was the name of white families of Scottish descent who had passed the surname on to their former slaves. A first child died soon after birth; on September 23, 1926 John William was born, whose middle name was chosen after the two grandfathers. Just a few months after John's birth, the family moved to High Point to live with their mother's siblings. John's aunt Bettie and his cousin Mary (* 1927) now became important caregivers; later he was to dedicate his composition "Cousin Mary" to Mary.

John grew up in an orderly environment that was largely determined by the Blair kinship and religious background of the Methodist community, while the Coltrane family played a less significant role. Through his grandfather, Coltrane came into contact with sacred music as a small child . His family was musical, his father played several instruments. At the age of twelve he received his first clarinet from his parents and took classical music lessons. Up to the age of twelve, his childhood is said to have been very happy; a series of deaths eventually overshadowed 1939; his aunt died in quick succession, and his father died of stomach cancer in January; in April his grandmother. During this time, music became an important part of the young Coltrane. From September 1939 he attended high school.

After the death of the father, who had worked in a laundry, the family got into a difficult financial situation; while John was spending his senior year of high school, Alice moved to Philadelphia in 1942, where she found work as a maid; the mother was just able to raise the money for the music school.

John Coltrane's home on North Thirty-Third Street in Philadelphia .

Her son, described as a calm and rather quiet student, soon played in the school orchestra and was active as a footballer. In high school he learned alto saxophone and made his first steps in jazz, influenced by black swing bands that were broadcast on the radio, but above all by Lester Young , who was one of the first to avoid common swing clichés.

After graduating in May 1943, John moved to Philadelphia with two friends. Until he was called up for military service, he found work in a sugar refinery; he also took lessons at the Ornstein School of Music with Mike Guerra, who was originally a clarinetist. John Coltrane rarely returned to his home state in the years that followed; he also preferred the north because of the less severe racial discrimination . Still, the bond with North Carolina continued to have an impact; his first wife, Naima, was from there and Coltrane went on to work with a number of musicians with family ties in North Carolina, such as Dizzy Gillespie , Thelonious Monk , Jimmy Heath and McCoy Tyner . In 1958 Coltrane wrote the title "Goldsboro Express", named after a city in North Carolina; his late composition “Welcome” also refers to a small town near his hometown High Point.

1945–1950 - start of career

John Coltrane in the US Navy (1945)

In 1945 he got his first job in a dance band before he was drafted into the Navy . There he played in a jazz band when he was stationed in Hawaii. In 1946 he was dismissed from the service and studied jazz theory with the guitarist and composer Dennis Sandole , which he continued until the 1950s. First he began to play the alto saxophone , was a member of the Joe Webb blues band, which accompanied the singer Big Maybelle , and then switched to the tenor saxophone with Eddie Vinson , as he would not tolerate another alto saxophonist next to him. Coltrane later commented on this point: “A wider area of ​​listening opened up for me. There were many things that people like Hawk, and Ben, and Tab Smith were doing in the '40s that I didn't understand, but that I felt emotionally. "

Another important point in his musical development was the first experience of a Charlie Parker concert on June 5, 1945. In a Down Beat article in 1960 he wrote: "The first time I heard Bird play, it hit me right between the eyes." Parker then became his early role model; the two also played occasionally together in the late 1940s. This was the first session in 1947 in New York's Audubon Ballroom with Miles Davis , who was to become immensely important for the further course of his career. It was during this time that his nickname "Trane" came about, as one can see from contemporary correspondence. Coltrane's trips to New York remained the exception; his main field of activity remained the local Philadelphia scene. At the beginning of 1945 the first recordings were made there, in which Coltrane participated; he played in the Jimmy Johnson Big Band , which a now forgotten drummer led, but also played in Benny Golson , Ray Bryant and Tommy Bryant .

In the music scene, he came into contact with heroin , which was then a fashion drug, and eventually became addicted. Nevertheless, even during this time, he maintained a daily exercise volume of several hours. After he had founded a short-lived formation in Philadelphia with Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson and Cal Massey , he played in New York with Howard McGhee at the Apollo Theater ; In early 1949 he performed in the Audubon Ballroom with Bud Powell , Art Blakey and Sonny Rollins . Then he became a member of the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band through the mediation of Jimmy Heath in 1949 , but was quickly dismissed because Dizzy Gillespie did not accept Coltrane's drug addiction. Previously, in November 1949, recordings were made for Capitol . He was nicknamed Country Boy in the music scene because he often walked barefoot around the area.

After he was kicked out, he found work in Earl Bostic's rhythm and blues band , with whom he also made several recordings. After a guest appearance in a show band, he returned to Philadelphia and had brief engagements in local R&B bands. In 1954 he met Naima (Juanita) Grubbs, his first wife, and found work in the orchestra of his former idol, the alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges , whose lyrical style and timbre are among Coltrane's most important influences. He stayed in the Hodges Band until 1955, followed by brief engagements with Shirley Scott and Jimmy Smith , before Miles Davis asked him at the suggestion of Philly Joe Jones . The first rehearsals took place in Baltimore ; Coltrane and Naima were married there on October 3, 1955.

1955–1960 - Miles Davis Quintet

Entering the legendary (first) Miles Davis quintet meant Coltrane's breakthrough; Davis was already a star at this point. Coltrane played the tenor saxophone, but kept the intonation of the alto and developed its characteristic sound. The first recordings ("Budo" and "Little Melonae") were made for Columbia at the end of October , although Davis was still under contract with Prestige as Miles Davis All-Stars . But in the fall of the following year Davis Coltrane threw again from the band because of his drug addiction. Coltrane withdrew and with the help of his wife was able to get off heroin. In addition, in 1956 prestige sessions with Elmo Hope , Sonny Rollins (“ Tenor Madness ”), Tadd Dameron ( Mating Call ), Idrees Sulieman and Paul Chambers were created .

A year after his drug withdrawal, he returned to the stage and plunged into work with renewed energy. He worked with Thelonious Monk ( Live at the Five Spot: Discovery! ), With whom he recorded the album Monk's Music in October 1957 . From the interplay with Monk, he brought in the scales based on the church modes . This “ modal ” way of playing overcomes the conventional improvisation that is bound to harmony sequences . As a result, Coltrane's solos became longer and more ecstatic. In 1957 and 1958, a large series of hastily recorded Coltrane albums for Prestige in the style of blowing sessions were created . Of these, only Blue Train - recorded in September 1957 with a brass section from Curtis Fuller and Lee Morgan for Blue Note Records - is noteworthy.

In those years from around 1957 to 1960 he perfected a new way of playing which the jazz critic Ira Gitler called "sheets of sound". Coltrane condensed unusually accentuated arpeggios into intertwined sound patterns of high virtuosity. The game went so fast that in addition to the current note, the previous notes were still in the air. The horizontal lines were weighted more and the traditional, schema-like chord patterns and connections deliberately neglected, the beat was dissolved. In moments of the highest intensity his playing took on the quality of original sounds. The special attraction of this technique is that the music becomes meaningful because it is often not clear in which key Coltrane is playing. It is important that the pianist has been instructed. For example, Monk only played the C instead of a C major triad, which meant that he did not clearly specify the key. During this time Coltrane emerged - more or less by necessity, because he needed material for his new way of playing - as a composer. In early 1958 he had a joint quintet with the flugelhornist Wilbur Harden ( Mainstream 1958 ). From 1958 to 1960 he played again in the Davis Quintet . The two outstanding albums Milestones and Kind of Blue were created.

The 1960s

For his album Giant Steps John Coltrane was in Amsterdam in 1961 with an Edison Award

In 1959 the first recordings were made for the Atlantic Records label , initially with Milt Jackson ( Bags & Trane ). In 1960 his album Giant Steps was released - a title that should be taken literally. My Favorite Things was released in 1961 . The title track of this album (in three-quarter time) comes from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music . Coltrane played the soprano saxophone and thus helped this instrument, which had been played relatively rarely in jazz for a long time, to a renaissance.

This success made the John Coltrane Quartet, alongside Miles Davis' quintet, one of the most influential jazz groups of the 1960s. In addition to Coltrane, the classical line-up consisted of McCoy Tyner (piano) and Elvin Jones (drums). Jimmy Garrison replaced his predecessors on bass, Steve Davis and Reggie Workman , in the fall of 1961 and completed the quartet. This line-up shouldn't change for the next few years.

Avant-garde saxophonist Eric Dolphy , who had previously played with Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus , also took part in some live recordings at Village Vanguard . The recordings from the Village Vanguard disturbed numerous jazz critics, led to a controversy in the down beat and Dolphy's departure in March 1962. After that, two more conservative albums, Coltrane and Ballads, were created . His appearances at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1963 (with Roy Haynes ) and 1965 are documented on the 2007 edition of My Favorite Things: Coltrane at Newport .

Musically, Coltrane broke the shackles of conventional jazz and, for example, incorporated African and oriental influences into his playing . One of the most important records with the classical quartet is the suite A Love Supreme from 1964 ( Impulse! ), In which Coltrane's spiritual orientation becomes clear, which was indicated in the previous melancholy album Crescent . Coltrane, who also wrote and sang the psalm-like text, created the work after reading The Greatest Thing in the World by Henry Drummond , a 19th century evangelical writer.

In the second half of the 1960s, John Coltrane oriented himself more and more towards the open game of free jazz . Elvin Jones was first supplemented by the drummer Rashied Ali , then later replaced, who also played unbound meters; for McCoy Tyner came Coltrane's second wife Alice Coltrane (she played the piano and harp , an instrument seldom found in jazz). The saxophonist Pharoah Sanders usually increased the intensity of the saxophone sounds, as in his last recorded concert in April 1967 ( The Olatunji Concert ).

Musically, Coltrane was looking for new sounds. He explained his artistic existence to the effect that he wanted to uplift people spiritually with all his strength. He saw himself as a suggestion that everyone should completely free their energy sources in order to be able to shape a meaningful life. His style always remained independent and incomparable in its speed and complexity. He released about 50 recordings with his own band and a dozen with other bands within twelve years.

John Coltrane died of liver cancer in 1967 . John and Alice Coltrane had three children together, the drummer John Coltrane Jr. (* 1964; died in a car accident in 1982) and the saxophonists Ravi (* 1965) and Oran (* 1967).


His recording Lush Life with Johnny Hartman , from the album John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (1963) and the albums Blue Train (1957), Giant Steps (1960), A Love Supreme (1964), My Favorite Things (1961) and Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane (1961) were inducted into the "Grammy Hall of Fame" The Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church , founded in San Francisco in 1971, honors the musician as a saint.

The asteroid Coltrane was named after him.

Scottish actor Anthony Robert McMillan called himself " Robbie Coltrane " in honor of John Coltrane.

Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary is a 2016 American film directed by John Scheinfeld. Denzel Washington tells the life of Coltrane; the film includes interviews with admirers such as Wynton Marsalis , Sonny Rollins , Bill Clinton and Cornel West .

Voices of the critics

“What still fascinates John Coltrane's solos today is his great melodic creative power, the way in which he confidently moves alternately inside and outside the usual chord sequence. Unlike other musicians of his time, he was not interested in presenting himself as someone who deconstructs something for the sake of pure play. He had so much creativity and ingenuity to waste that he was able to charge everything - every note, every chord progression, every foreign composition - with new meaning. "

- Harry Lachner

Development of the John Coltrane Quartet

For the history of the band see the John Coltrane Quartet .

Recordings (selection)

1957–1958 - The Prestige Years
  • 1957: Traneing In (Prestige)
  • 1957: Blue Train ( Blue Note Records , US / UK: goldgold)
  • 1958: Soultrane (Prestige)
  • 1958: Mainstream 1958 (Savoy)
1959–1961 - The Atlantic Years

1961–1964 - The impulses! -Years

1965–1967 - The late work

Compositions (selection)

  • Moment's Notice , 1957
  • 26-2 , 1964
  • After the Rain , 1963
  • Alabama , 1963 (Commemorating the attack on 16th Street Baptist Church , and Prince named the piece one of 55 songs that inspired him musically)
  • Brazilia , 1965
  • Central Park West , 1960
  • Cousin Mary , 1959
  • Giant Steps , 1960
  • Like Sonny , 1959
  • Naima , 1959
  • Syeeda's Song Flute , 1959
  • Impressions , 1961
  • India , 1961
  • Tunji , 1962
  • Welcome , 1966


  • John Coltrane: Coltrane on Coltrane. The John Coltrane Interviews. Chicago Review Press, Chicago 2010, ISBN 978-1-56976-287-5 (Ed. Chris DeVito).
  • Yasuhiro Fujioka: John Coltrane: A Discography and Musical Biography. The Scarecrow Press, Metuchen NJ 1995, ISBN 0-8108-2986-X (with contributions from Hamada, Porter).
  • Lewis Porter : John Coltrane: his life and music. The University of Michigan Press, 1998 ISBN 0-472-10161-7 (English original edition).
  • Ashley Kahn : A Love Supreme. John Coltrane's legendary album. Rogner & Bernhard bei Zweiausendeins, Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-8077-0030-7 (English original Viking Penguin, New York 2002, ISBN 0-670-03136-4 ).
  • JC Thomas: Chasin 'the trane. Music and Mysticism by John Coltrane. Hannibal, Vienna 1986, ISBN 3-85445-024-9 (German translation, English original 1975).
  • Ralf Dombrowski : John Coltrane. His life, his music, his records. Oreos, Waakirchen 2002, ISBN 3-923657-63-3 (German, completely revised new edition).
  • Carl Woideck: The John Coltrane Companion. Schirmer Books, 1998, ISBN 0-7119-6994-9 .
  • Gerd Filtgen, Michael Ausserbauer: John Coltrane. Oreos Verlag, 1989.
  • David A. Wild: liner notes for The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings (1997)
  • Ben Ratliff : Coltrane. The Story of A Sound. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York 2007, ISBN 978-0-312-42778-8 .
  • Karl Lippegaus : John Coltrane. Biography. Edel, Hamburg 2011, ISBN 978-3-8419-0069-2 .
  • Peter Kemper : John Coltrane. Biography . Reclam, Stuttgart 2017, ISBN 978-3-15-961200-3 .

Web links

Commons : John Coltrane  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Notes and references

  1. John Coltrane Biography - The John Coltrane Foundation
  1. ^ A b John Coltrane: Down Beat Interview 1960.
  1. Harry Lachner: Recordings of the Century of Jazz John Coltrane A Love Supreme
  • Lewis Porter: John Coltrane . University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 2006
  1. portrait
  2. Lewis Porter, pp. 1 ff.
  3. Lewis Porter, p. 6 f.
  4. Lewis Porter, p. 17.
  5. See Filtgen and Auserbauer, p. 15.
  6. Filtgen and Auserbauer, p. 22 ff.
  7. ^ A b Barry Graves, Siegfried Schmidt-Joos, Bernward Halbscheffel: Rock Lexicon . Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 2003, ISBN 978-3-499-61588-7 , Volume 1, p. 210 f.
  8. cf. David A. Wild, 1997
  9. ^ Grammy Awards Site, Grammy Hall of Fame
  10. John Coltrane Documentary 'Chasing Trane' Gets Release Date
  11. Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary
  12. Music Sales Awards: US UK
  13. Moment's Notice in the English language Wikipedia