Merely mention the name John Coltrane and you’re likely to evoke a deeply emotional, often spiritual response from even the most casual jazz fan.
Born September 23, 1926 in Hamlet, North Carolina, John Coltrane was always surrounded by music. His father played several instruments sparking Coltrane’s study of E-flat horn and clarinet. While in high school, Coltrane’s musical influences shifted to the likes of Lester Young and Johnny Hodges prompting him to switch to alto saxophone. He continued his musical training in Philadelphia at Granoff Studios and the Ornstein School of Music. He was called to military service during WWII, where he performed in the U.S. Navy Band in Hawaii.
After the war, Coltrane began playing tenor saxophone with the Eddie “CleanHead” Vinson Band, and was later quoted as saying, “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 ‘40’s that I didn’t understand, but that I felt emotionally.” Prior to joining the Dizzy Gillespie band, Coltrane performed with Jimmy Heath where his passion for experimentation began to take shape. However, it was his work with the Miles Davis Quintet in 1958 that would lead to his own musical evolution. ” Miles music gave me plenty of freedom,” he once said. During that period, he became known for using the three-on-one chord approach, and what has been called the ‘sheets of sound,’ a method of playing multiple notes at one time.
By 1960 Coltrane had formed his own quartet which included pianist McCoy Tyner, drummer Elvin Jones, and bassist Jimmy Garrison. Eventually adding players like Eric Dolphy, and Pharoah Sanders. The John Coltrane Quartet created some of the most innovative and expressive music in Jazz history including the hit albums: “My Favorite Things,” “Africa Brass,” ” Impressions,” ” Giant Steps,” and his monumental work “A Love Supreme” which attests to the power, glory, love, and greatness of God. Coltrane felt we must all make a conscious effort to effect positive change in the world, and that his music was an instrument to create positive thought patterns in the minds of people.
In 1967, liver disease took Coltrane’s life leaving many to wonder what might have been. Yet decades after his departure his music can be heard in motion pictures, on television and radio. Recent film projects that have made references to Coltrane’s artistry in dialogue or musical compositions include, “Mr. Holland’s Opus”, “The General’s Daughter”, “Malcolm X”, “Mo Better Blues”, “Jerry McGuire”, “White Night”, “The Last Graduation”, “Come Unto Thee”, “Eyes On The Prize II” and “Four Little Girls”. Also, popular television series such as “NYPD Blue”, “The Cosby Show”, “Day’s Of Our Lives”, “Crime Stories” and “ER”, have also relied on the beautiful melodies of this distinguished saxophonist.
In 1972, “A Love Supreme” was certified gold by the RIAA for exceeding 500,000 units in Japan. This jazz classic and the classic album “My Favorite Things” were certified gold in the United States in 2001.
In 1982, the RIAA posthumously awarded John Coltrane a Grammy Award of ” Best Jazz Solo Performance” for the work on his album, “Bye Bye Blackbird”. In 1997 he received the organizations highest honor, the Lifetime Achievement Award.
On June 18, 1993 Mrs. Alice Coltrane received an invitation to The White House from former President and Mrs. Clinton, in appreciation of John Coltrane’s historical appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival.
In 1995, John Coltrane was honored by the United States Postal Service with a commemorative postage stamp. Issued as part of the musicians and composers series, this collectors item remains in circulation.
In 1999, Universal Studios and its recording division MCA Records recognized John Coltrane’s influence on cinema by naming a street on the Universal Studios lot in his honor.
In 2001, The NEA and the RIAA released 360 songs of the Century . Among them was John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things.”
In 2007, the Pulitzer Prize Board awarded a posthumous Special Citation to legendary jazz composer John Coltrane for his lifetime of innovated and influential work. The citation lauds Coltrane for “his masterful improvisation, supreme musicianship and iconic centrality to the history of jazz.” The committee said of Coltrane: “His exalted stature arises from his composition and recordings. In ‘A Love Supreme,’ he produced an imposing composition expressing faith. In ‘Africa/Brass Selections,’ he achieved astonishing orchestral feats. His work has weight, an artistic quest and searching nature. Coltrane infused the existing tradition with innovation and radical approaches. The surface of his music is dynamic and palpable, the underlying structure is suffused with spirituality and provocative political content.”