Cultural Percussionist

John Coltrane Day

John William Coltrane (September 23, 1926 – July 17, 1967 Hamlet, NC) was an American jazz saxophonist and composer, also known as “Trane“. Working in the bebop and hard bop idioms early in his career, Coltrane helped pioneer the use of modes and was later at the forefront of free jazz. He led at least fifty recording sessions, and appeared on many albums by other musicians, including trumpeter Miles Davis and pianist Thelonious Monk.

Over the course of his career, Coltrane’s music took on an increasingly spiritual dimension. Coltrane remains one of the most influential saxophonists in music history. He received many posthumous awards and recognitions, including canonization by the African Orthodox Church and a special Pulitzer Prize in 2007. His second wife was pianist Alice Coltrane and their son, Ravi Coltrane, is also a saxophonist.

In the summer of 1955, Coltrane was freelancing in Philadelphia while studying with guitarist Dennis Sandole when he received a call from Davis. The trumpeter, whose success during the late forties had been followed by several years of decline in activity and reputation, due in part to his struggles with heroin, was again active and about to form a quintet. Coltrane was with this edition of the Davis band (known as the “First Great Quintet”—along with Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums) from October 1955 to April 1957 (with a few absences). During this period Davis released several influential recordings that revealed the first signs of Coltrane’s growing ability. This quintet, represented by two marathon recording sessions for Prestige in 1956, resulted in the albums Cookin,’ Relaxin’, Workin’, and Steamin’. The “First Great Quintet” disbanded due in part to Coltrane’s heroin addiction.

At the end of this period Coltrane recorded his first album as leader for Atlantic Records, Giant Steps (1959), which contained only his compositions. The album’s title track is generally considered to have one of the most difficult chord progressions of any widely played jazz composition. Giant Steps utilizes Coltrane changes. His development of these altered chord progression cycles led to further experimentation with improvised melody and harmony that he continued throughout his career.

Coltrane formed his first quartet for live performances in 1960 for an appearance at the Jazz Gallery in New York City. After moving through different personnel including Steve Kuhn, Pete La Roca, and Billy Higgins, the lineup stabilized in the fall with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Steve Davis, and drummer Elvin Jones. Tyner, from Philadelphia, had been a friend of Coltrane’s for some years and the two men had an understanding that the pianist would join Coltrane when Tyner felt ready for the exposure of regularly working with him. Also recorded in the same sessions[clarification needed] were the later released albums Coltrane’s Sound (1964) and Coltrane Plays the Blues (1962).

with Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner

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