John Coltrane (Sept. 23, 1926 — July 17, 1967) was an American post-bop/jazz saxophonist and composer from Hamlet, NC, who rose to prominence in the Miles Davis Quintet during the mid-1950s. As a headliner, Coltrane released more than 50 studio and live albums in solo and collaborative form on Prestige, Atlantic, and Impluse! between 1957 and his death in 1967 at age 40. His widow, pianist Alice Coltrane, subsequently emerged as a recording artist in her own right.
John William Coltrane was born on September 23, 1926, in Hamlet, North Carolina. At age 12, he lost his father and grandparents in the span of a season. In high school, he played clarinet and alto horn in a community band. In June 1943, he moved to Philadelphia. For his seventeenth birthday, his mother bought him an alto saxophone. During the first half of 1945, he played his first professional gigs in a cocktail lounge trio.
Coltrane enlisted in the US Navy toward the end of WWII and was stationed in Hawaii, where he joined the Melody Masters, the base swing band. He became bandleader and made his first recording with fellow Navy musicians on July 13, 1946. He was discharged the following month and awarded the Asiatic–Pacific Campaign Medal, American Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.
Back in Philadelphia, Coltrane immersed himself in be-bop and toured with jazz trumpeter King Kolax. Through a contact in the Melody Masters, he won a spot in the big band of saxophonist Jimmy Heath. In 1947, while playing with alto saxist Eddie Vinson, Coltrane took up tenor sax. Over the next few years, he studied jazz theory with guitarist and composer Dennis Sandole.
Coltrane would often practice throughout the day and sometimes fall asleep with the instrument still in his mouth. During quiet hours in his apartment building, he’d remove the sax from his mouth and practice fingering for at least an hour. As he rose in the jazz world, his biggest influences included the big band saxophonists Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, and Tab Smith. He was also inspired by the melodic concepts of local pianist Hasaan Ibn Ali, noted for his mix of theme and sponteneity. During the late ’40s, Coltrane played on several occasions with his idol Charlie Parker.
Coltrane notched his earliest recorded credit on the 1950 10″ shellac “Tally-Ho” (b/w “I Can’t Remember”) by Dizzy Gillespie and His Orchestra, released on Capitol. Over the next five years, he appeared on further Gillespie recordings (later compiled on the Savory Records release The Champ), as well as titles by bandleaders Earl Bostic and Johnny Hodges. In 1956, Coltrane played on the Jazz: West title Chambers’ Music: A Jazz Delegation From the East by contrabassist Paul Chamber.
- Blue Train (1958)
- Soultrane (1958)
- Giant Steps (1960)
- Lush Life (1961)
- My Favorite Things (1961)
- Africa / Brass (1961 • The John Coltrane Quartet)
- Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane (1961 • Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane)
- Olé Coltrane (1961)
- Coltrane (1962 • The John Coltrane Quartette)
- Coltrane “Live” at the Village Vanguard (1962)
- Impressions (live, 1963)
- Ballads (1963 • John Coltrane Quartet)
- Duke Ellington & John Coltrane (1963 • Duke Ellington & John Coltrane)
- John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (1963 • John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman)
- Coltrane’s Sound (1964)
- Crescent (1964 • John Coltrane Quartet)
- Live at Birdland (1964 • Coltrane)
- A Love Supreme (1965)
- Ascension (1966)
- Meditations (1966)
- Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard Again! (1966)
- Kulu Sé Mama (1967)
- Sun Ship (1971, recorded Aug. 26, 1965)
- Interstellar Space (1974, recorded Feb. 22, 1967)
- The Olatunji Concert: The Last Live Recording [archival] (2001)
- Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album [archival] (2018)
- Blue World [archival, film score] (2019)
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