John Coltrane

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Coltrane, John

Coltrane, John (kōltrānˈ, kōlˈtrān), 1926–67, American jazz musician, b. Hamlet, N.C. He began playing tenor saxophone as an adolescent. Coltrane worked with numerous big bands before emerging in the mid-1950s as a major stylist while playing as a sideman with Miles Davis. Originally influenced by Lester Young, Coltrane displayed in his playing a dazzling technical brilliance combined with ardent emotion and eventually a kind of mysticism. His style, which was at once sonorous and spare, was influenced by the rhythms and tonal structure of African and Asian music. Coltrane made a number of influential recordings, among them the modal-jazz classics My Favorite Things (1961) and A Love Supreme (1964), and the later exemplars of free jazz, Ascension and Interstellar Space, his final album. From the late 1950s until his death he was considered the outstanding tenor and soprano saxophonist of the jazz avant-garde, and his music continues to be a strong source of inspiration to jazz and pop musicians.


See biographies by E. Nisenson (1994) and L. Porter (1998); A. Kahn, A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album (2003), B. Ratliff, Coltrane: The Story of a Sound (2007); , C. Devito, Y. Fujioka, et al., The John Coltrane Reference (2007), L. Brown, John Coltrane and Black America's Quest for Freedom (2010), C. Devito, Coltrane on Coltrane (2012); discography by Y. Fujioka et al. (1995).

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Coltrane, John (William)

(1926–67) jazz musician; born in Hamlet, N.C. Originally an alto saxophonist, he moved to Philadelphia after graduating from high school, where he had received his first formal training. He played with a local group in 1945, then spent part of his military service from 1945 to 1946 in a U.S. Navy band stationed in Hawaii. He studied woodwinds at the Granoff Studios and the Ornstein School of Music in Philadelphia during the late 1940s. Initially a disciple of Charlie Parker, he played alto and tenor saxophones in a succession of bands led by King Kolax, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Bostic, and Johnny Hodges between 1947 and 1954. By 1955, when he joined Miles Davis's celebrated quintet, he was playing tenor saxophone exclusively and gaining recognition for his distinctive "sheets of sound" style. He left Davis in 1957, began a series of free-lance recordings under his own leadership, and played a formative engagement with Thelonious Monk at the Five Spot in New York for six months. After a period of permanent rehabilitation from drug and alcohol addiction, he rejoined Davis from 1958 to 1960 and was profoundly influenced by the trumpeter's experiments in modal improvisation. In May 1960, following the critical acclaim of his recording Giant Steps, he began leading his own quartet. Later that year, his recording My Favorite Things, featuring his first use of the soprano saxophone, was a major jazz hit. For the next five years, while his quartet maintained a continual touring schedule in the U.S.A. and Europe, his quest for musical self-renewal made him one of the most revered and controversial figures in jazz. He embraced the new generation of free jazz exponents, and his music gradually reflected his interest in Eastern music and philosophy on such recordings as Om, Ascension, and A Love Supreme. He also emerged as the most influential and widely imitated saxophonist in jazz, his intensely emotional attack and dense flow of notes becoming hallmarks of the next generation of saxophone players. He led a variety of ensembles during the last two years of his life, working only sporadically while suffering from the liver cancer that claimed him at age 41.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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