John Coltrane

John William Coltrane was born in Hamlet, North Carolina on September 23, 1926 and died in Huntington, New York on July 17, 1967. He was an American jazz composer and saxophonist. American jazz legend John Coltrane was born in the 1950s. He played tenor and soprano with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. He was the leader of “hard beat” in the 1960s and revolutionized jazz with his experimentation and improvisation. His later recordings reflect his belief that music is a form spiritual expression. His recordings include Giant Steps (1959), My Favorite Things (60), Ole (1961), and A Love Supreme (1964). His later recordings were made with Alice Coltrane, his wife (b. Alice McLeod) who was a successful musician in her own right. McCoy Tyner (piano), Elvin James (drums), and Jimmy Garrison were part of what Coltrane called his “classic quartet” in the 1960s. Although he had a short career, Coltrane, who was first noticed as a sideman in 1955 at the age of 29, launched a solo career in 1960 at the age of 33 and died in 1967 at 40, was one of jazz’s most prominent and controversial figures. It is amazing that his time of greatest activity was so brief. This is not just because he recorded prolifically but also because the record companies that had him recorded in the 1950s often reissued the recordings under his name. There has also been a lot of posthumously released material. Coltrane, a protean player who changed his style frequently throughout his career, has caused confusion in both his discography as well as in the appreciations of his playing. It is still difficult to discern between his earlier, more traditional (but still very imaginative) work and his more experimental later work. However, no one questions Coltrane‚Äôs almost religious devotion to jazz or doubts the importance of his contribution in the history and development of the music. Coltrane was born to John R. Coltrane (a tailor and amateur musician) and Alice (Blair) Coltrane. His maternal grandfather, Reverend William Blair was elevated to the position of presiding elder at the A.M.E. Zion Church. He moved his family, which included his infant grandson to High Point, NC where Coltrane grew. His father, his grandparents and uncle, who had died shortly after he graduated from grammar in 1939, left him to be raised by his aunt, his cousin, and his aunt. His mother was a domestic worker to support her family. He joined a band that featured clarinet and E-flat alto horn. In high school, he also took up the altosaxophone. His aunt, cousin, and mother moved to New Jersey during World War II to find work. He was left with his family, friends, and in 1943 he also headed north, eventually settling in Philadelphia. The family was eventually reunited. Coltrane was busy with other jobs, but he briefly attended Granoff Studios and the Ornstein School of Music. Coltrane also started playing in local clubs. He was drafted to the navy in 1945 and stationed at Hawaii. Although he never saw combat, he continued to play the piano and recorded his first album with a group of sailors on July 13, 1946. Tadd Dameron’s rendition of “Hot House” was released on 1993’s Rhino Records anthology The Last Giant. Coltrane was released in 1946, and he returned to Philadelphia. He began playing in Joe Webb Band that fall. He switched to the King Kolax Band in 1947. He switched from the alto to the tenor saxophone that year. According to one account, Coltrane switched from alto to tenor saxophone because he met Charlie Parker, an alto saxophonist, and felt that Parker had exhausted all possibilities. Another accounts claims that Coltrane was forced to switch because Earl Bostic was an alto player and Coltrane was forced into tenor. In mid-1948, he joined Jimmy Heath’s band and stayed with them until the Howard McGhee All Stars, when he was back in Philadelphia. He joined Dizzy Gillespie’s big band that fall. They lasted until 1951 when the band was reduced to a septet. He recorded his first solo in a recording of “We Love to Boogie”, which he performed with Gillespie on March 1, 1951. Coltrane was a heroin addict at one point, making it more difficult for him to find work. Coltrane was a member of several bands in Philadelphia during the 1950s. His next significant job came in 1954 when Johnny Hodges hired him to temporarily replace the Duke Ellington band. He was fired in September 1954 due to his addiction. A year later, he returned to Philadelphia where he was still playing when Miles Davis hired him. He was a major jazz musician when he became associated with Davis. Davis was a recovering drug addict who had gotten recognition at the Newport Jazz Festival, July 1955. This led to a Columbia Records contract and the opportunity to form a permanent jazz band that included Coltrane, pianist Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Jones. The Columbia contract was a catalyst for this unit to begin recording extensively. However, Davis had already signed with the major label, and he had also signed with jazz independent Prestige Records, which still had five albums. His Columbia debut, “Round About Midnight”, which he began recording immediately, didn’t appear until March 1957. His first collaboration with Coltrane was in April 1956 when he released The New Miles Davis Quintet (aka Miles), which was recorded for Prestige on November 16, 55. To fulfill his obligations to Prestige, Davis recorded two marathon sessions in 1956 for Columbia. Coltrane’s association to Davis ushered in a time when he started to record frequently as a sideman. Although Davis might have tried to end his Prestige association, Coltrane started appearing on many sessions. Prestige and other labels started to repackage his work as if it were his own. This process has continued until today. Fantasy Records acquired Prestige in 1972 and many of the recordings Coltrane was part of have been reissued under his name on Fantasy’s Original Jazz Classics (OJC) imprint. In 1956, Coltrane attempted to quit heroin but failed. Davis fired Coltrane in October. However, Davis had already fired Coltrane and had taken him back by November’s end. Coltrane signed as a solo artist with Prestige in early 1957. However, he continued to perform in the Davis band as well as recording for other labels. Davis fired Coltrane again in April. He may have been able to quit his drug habit and was able to record more often, freed from the obligation of performing gigs with Davis. He finally recorded his debut as a leader on May 31, 1957 when he formed a pickup band that included Johnny Splawn, Sahib Shihab (on different tracks), Mal Waldron, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Al “Tootie,” Heath. After their September 1957 release, Prestige was titled Coltrane. It was reissued in September 1957 under the title First Trane. Coltrane joined Thelonious Monk Quartet in June 1957. It consisted of Monk on piano, Wilbur Warse on bass and Shadow Wilson on drums. He developed the ability to play multiple notes simultaneously, which allowed him to extend his solos for longer periods of time. He recorded August material that was later released on Prestige’s Lush Life (1960), and The Last Trane (1965) albums. Later in the year, he also released material for John Coltrane with the Red Garland Trio. It was later reissued as Traneing in. Blue Note Records released Coltrane’s second album in September. It was recorded under his own name. Blue Train was the album that featured Lee Morgan, Curtis Fuller as trombonist, Kenny Drew as pianist, and Miles Davis’ rhythm section of Chambers, “Philly” Joe Jones as trumpeter. It was released in December 1957. Coltrane joined Davis that month and played in a sextet with Cannonball Adderley. He led a session for Prestige in January 1958 that resulted in tracks later being released on Lush Life (1958), The Last Trane (1964) and The Believer (1964). He recorded Davis’ album Milestones …, in February and March 1958. Between sessions, he recorded Soultrane, his third album under his own name, which was released by Prestige in September. He also recorded tracks in March 1958 as a leader, which would later be released on Settin’ The Pace (1961). He recorded again for Prestige in May as a leader. However, the results wouldn’t be heard until 1964’s Black Pearls. Coltrane was part of the Miles Davis band at the Newport Jazz Festival, July 1958. The set was recorded and issued in 1964 on an album that also featured a performance from Thelonious Monk.

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