John Coltrane was born on September 23, 1926, in Hamlet, North Carolina. During the 1940s and 1950s, he continued to develop his profession as a saxophonist and composer, working with renowned musicians/group leaders Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, and Miles Davis. Coltrane turned the jazz world upside down with a technically excellent and innovative interpretation that was exciting and fluid in his understanding of the genre. His virtuosity and vision could be heard among other acclaimed albums Giant Steps, My Favorite Things and A Love Supreme, among others. He died of liver cancer at the age of 40 on July 17, 1967, in Huntington, Long Island, New York.
Background and Early years
John William Coltrane, a revolutionary and groundbreaking jazz saxophonist, was born on September 23, 1926, in Hamlet, North Carolina, and raised at nearby High Point. As a child, Coltrane was surrounded by music. His father, John R. Coltrane, worked as a tailor, but had a passion for music, playing several instruments. Young Coltrane’s early influences included jazz legends like Count Basie and Lester Young. Coltrane picked up an alto saxophone as a teenager and showed immediate talent. Family life took a tragic turn in 1939 with the death of Coltrane’s father, as well as several other relatives. Financial hardship defined this period for Coltrane, and eventually, his mother Alice and other family members moved to New Jersey in the hope of a better life. Coltrane stayed in North Carolina until he graduated from high school.
In 1943 he also moved north, specifically to Philadelphia, to try as a musician. For a short time, Coltrane studied at the Ornstein School of Music. But with the state at war, he was called to service and enlisted in the Navy. During his service, Coltrane was stationed in Hawaii and made regular appearances and recorded his first recording with four other sailors.
Joining Gillespie and Ellington
Upon his return to civilian life in the summer of 1946, Coltrane landed in Philadelphia, where he studied at the Granoff School of Music and joined several jazz groups. One of the first was a group led by Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, for whom Coltrane switched to tenor sax. He then joined Jimmy Heath’s group, where Coltrane began to explore his experimental side fully. He then signed with the brilliant group in the fall of 1949, led by the famous trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, who stayed with the group for a year and a half. Coltrane began to earn his name. But in the 1950s, as was the case with other jazz artists, he started to use drugs, mainly heroin. His talent earned him concerts, but his addictions ended too soon. In 1954 Duke Ellington brought Coltrane to replace Johnny Hodges temporarily, but he was quickly fired due to his drug addiction.
Famous work with Miles Davis
Coltrane recovered in the mid-1950s when Miles Davis asked him to join his Miles Davis Quintet group. Davis encouraged Coltrane to expand his creative limits while holding him accountable for his healing habits. While the group worked on a new recording contract with Columbia Records, the following years proved to be fruitful and artistically enriching, such as The New Miles Davis Quintet (1956) and ‘Round About Midnight (1957). Coltrane also appeared in the Davis Seminary masterpiece, Kind of Blue (1959).
Last years, Final albums
John Coltrane has written and recorded a considerable amount of material in the previous two years of his life, in which his work has been described as avant-garde, some imbued with touching spirituality, while others have rejected it. In 1966, he recorded the last two albums he released during his lifetime: Kulu Se Mama and Meditations. The Expression album was completed a few days before his death. He died at the age of 40 of liver cancer on July 17, 1967, in Huntington, Long Island, New York, and is survived by his second wife and four children.
“The two directions at the same time: lost album.”
In June 2018, Impulse Records announced plans to release both directions at once: The Lost Album, a collection of time-lost material recently discovered by his first wife’s family.
It was Recorded one day in March 1963 with his “classic quartet” by Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones, and McCoy Tyner. The album included a studio version of “Impressions,” a favorite concert, as well as two untitled original songs that would have been recorded exclusively for this collection.
An avid reader known for his kindness, Coltrane has had an immense influence on the world of music. He replaced jazz with his innovative and demanding techniques while showing deep respect for the sounds of other places like Africa, Latin America, the Far East, and South Asia. After receiving the Grammy posthumously in 1981 for the live recording of Bye Bye Blackbird, in 1992, Coltrane received the Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement, with a series of in-depth recordings and re-releases published in the years following his death. In 2007, the Pulitzer Prize committee awarded the musician a special posthumous meeting. Coltrane’s works remain an integral part of the soundscape and are an excellent inspiration for new generations of artists.