John Coltrane Biography
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
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
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
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."