John Coltrane Unisex T-Shirt
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The World According To John Coltrane (part 1)
John William Coltrane (September 23, 1926 – July 17, 1967) was an American jazz saxophonist, clarinettist and composer. Working in the bebop and hard bop idioms early in his career, Coltrane helped pioneer the use of modes and was 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. He remains one of the most influential saxophonists in music history. He received numerous posthumous awards, including canonization by the African Orthodox Church and a Pulitzer Prize in 2007. His second wife was pianist and harpist Alice Coltrane. The couple had three children: John Jr. (1964–1982), a bassist; Ravi (born 1965), a saxophonist; and Oran (born 1967), also a saxophonist.
Interview with John Coltrane June 15, 1958
1926–1954: Early life and career
Coltrane was born in his parents’ apartment at 200 Hamlet Avenue in Hamlet, North Carolina, on September 23, 1926. His father was John R. Coltrane and his mother was Alice Blair. He grew up in High Point, North Carolina and attended William Penn High School. Beginning in December 1938, his father, aunt, and grandparents died within a few months of each other, leaving him to be raised by his mother and a close cousin. In June 1943, he moved to Philadelphia. In September, his mother bought him his first saxophone, an alto. He played clarinet and alto horn in a community band before beginning alto saxophone in high school. From early to mid-1945 he had his first professional work: a “cocktail lounge trio” with piano and guitar.
To avoid being drafted by the Army, Coltrane enlisted in the Navy on August 6, 1945, the day the first U.S. atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. He was trained as an apprentice seaman at Sampson Naval Training Station in upstate New York before he was shipped to Pearl Harbor, where he was stationed at Manana Barracks, the largest posting of African-American servicemen in the world. By the time he got to Hawaii in late 1945, the Navy was downsizing. Coltrane’s musical talent was recognized, and he became one of the few Navy men to serve as a musician without having been granted musician’s rating when he joined the Melody Masters, the base swing band. As the Melody Masters was an all-white band, however, Coltrane was treated merely as a guest performer to avoid alerting superior officers of his participation in the band. He continued to perform other duties when not playing with the band, including kitchen and security details. By the end of his service, he had assumed a leadership role in the band. His first recordings, an informal session in Hawaii with Navy musicians, occurred on July 13, 1946. He played alto saxophone on a selection of jazz standards and bebop tunes.
After being discharged from the Navy as a seaman first class in August 1946, Coltrane returned to Philadelphia, where he “plunged into the heady excitement of the new music and the blossoming bebop scene.” After touring with King Kolax, he joined a band led by Jimmy Heath, who was introduced to Coltrane’s playing by his former Navy buddy, trumpeter William Massey, who had played with Coltrane in the Melody Masters. He studied jazz theory with guitarist and composer Dennis Sandole and continued under Sandole’s tutelage through the early 1950s. Although he started on alto saxophone, he began playing tenor saxophone in 1947 with Eddie Vinson.
Coltrane called this a time when “a wider area of listening opened up for me. There were many things that people like Hawk [Coleman Hawkins], and Ben [Webster] and Tab Smith were doing in the ’40s that I didn’t understand, but that I felt emotionally.” A significant influence, according to tenor saxophonist Odean Pope, was the Philadelphia pianist, composer, and theorist Hasaan Ibn Ali. “Hasaan was the clue to…the system that Trane uses. Hasaan was the great influence on Trane’s melodic concept.” Coltrane became fanatical about practicing and developing his craft, practicing “25 hours a day” according to Jimmy Heath. Heath recalls an incident in a hotel in San Francisco when after a complaint was issued, Coltrane took the horn out of his mouth and practiced fingering for a full hour. Such was his dedication it was common for him to fall asleep with the horn still in his mouth or practice a single note for hours on end.
An important moment in the progression of Coltrane’s musical development occurred on June 5, 1945, when he saw Charlie Parker perform for the first time. In a DownBeat magazine article in 1960 he recalled, “the first time I heard Bird play, it hit me right between the eyes.” Parker became an idol, and they played together occasionally in the late 1940s. He was a member of groups led by Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Bostic, and Johnny Hodges in the early to mid-1950s.
1955–1957: Miles and Monk period
In 1955, Coltrane was freelancing in Philadelphia while studying with guitarist Dennis Sandole when he received a call from trumpeter Miles Davis. Davis had been successful in the 40s, but his reputation and work had been damaged in part by heroin addiction; he 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.
During the later part of 1957 Coltrane worked with Thelonious Monk at New York’s Five Spot Café, and played in Monk’s quartet (July–December 1957), but, owing to contractual conflicts, took part in only one official studio recording session with this group. Coltrane recorded many albums for Prestige under his own name at this time, but Monk refused to record for his old label. A private recording made by Juanita Naima Coltrane of a 1958 reunion of the group was issued by Blue Note Records as Live at the Five Spot—Discovery! in 1993. A high quality tape of a concert given by this quartet in November 1957 was also found later, and was released by Blue Note in 2005. Recorded by Voice of America, the performances confirm the group’s reputation, and the resulting album, Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall, is widely acclaimed.
Blue Train, Coltrane’s sole date as leader for Blue Note, featuring trumpeter Lee Morgan, bassist Paul Chambers, and trombonist Curtis Fuller, is often considered his best album from this period. Four of its five tracks are original Coltrane compositions, and the title track, “Moment’s Notice“, and “Lazy Bird“, have become standards. Both tunes employed the first examples of his chord substitution cycles known as Coltrane changes.
1958: Davis and Coltrane
Coltrane rejoined Davis in January 1958. In October of that year, jazz critic Ira Gitler coined the term “sheets of sound“ to describe the style Coltrane developed with Monk and was perfecting in Davis’s group, now a sextet. His playing was compressed, with rapid runs cascading in hundreds of notes per minute. Coltrane recalled: “I found that there were a certain number of chord progressions to play in a given time, and sometimes what I played didn’t work out in eighth notes, sixteenth notes, or triplets. I had to put the notes in uneven groups like fives and sevens in order to get them all in.”
Coltrane stayed with Davis until April 1960, working with alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley; pianists Red Garland, Bill Evans, and Wynton Kelly; bassist Paul Chambers; and drummers Philly Joe Jones and Jimmy Cobb. During this time he participated in the Davis sessions Milestones and Kind of Blue, and the concert recordings Miles & Monk at Newport (1963) and Jazz at the Plaza (1958).
1959–1961: Period with Atlantic Records
At the end of this period Coltrane recorded Giant Steps (1959), his first album as leader for Atlantic 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. Its altered chord progression cycles came to be known as Coltrane changes. His development of these 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, he kept pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Steve Davis, and drummer Elvin Jones. Tyner, a native of Philadelphia, had been a friend of Coltrane for some years, and the two men had an understanding that Tyner would join the band when he felt ready. My Favorite Things (1961) was the first album recorded by this band. It was Coltrane’s first album on soprano saxophone, which he began practicing while with Miles Davis. It was considered an unconventional move because the instrument was not as popular in jazz as other types of saxophone.
John Coltrane – My Favorite Things (1961) (Full Album)
John Coltrane Blue Train (Music Matters) MONO 2014
John Coltrane – A Love Supreme [Full Album] (1965)
Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane (1961) (Full Album)
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