John William Coltrane, who also went by the name Trane was a great jazz musician. He was born on 23rd of September in 1926 in Hamlet located in North Carolina his parents being John R. Coltrane and Alice Blair Coltrane.  His father, an amateur musician who used to play several musical instruments did tailoring as a means of generating income. Reverend William Blair, who was maternal grandfather to Coltrane had a promotion in Zion Church. As a result he moved his family including Coltrane, who was two months old, North Carolina where he grew up.

John Coltrane studied at William Penn High School currently known as Penn-Griffin Scholl for the arts. However, soon after his graduation in 1939, his father, grandparents and uncle all died within a short period of time. This was a tragic moment to John. He was now left in the hands of the mother and a cousin. It then forced the mother to work as a domestic in order to fend for the family. Not long after he joined a band which was a community sponsored band, whereby he shown unique technique of playing   E flat alto horn in addition to clarinet.

Coltrane unfortunately separated from his remaining family when World War II had kicked off. His remaining relatives including his mother then relocated to New Jersey to look for jobs to undertake. He had to remain behind with family friends and complete his studies. It was until 1943 that he had to reunite with the family in Philadelphia. This is after he had graduated from high school. With the passion in music, Coltrane enrolled in a school of music known as Ornstein and studied at Garn off Studios. He later on hooked up with a number of jazz bands in his area (Porter, 1998).

Inspirations and influences

Coltrane loved music and to his advantage was surrounded by it as his father used to play several musical instruments, a factor that prompted him to study clarinet and E-flat horn. His father being a tailor though, he practiced music as a part time thing albeit he has no record of a recorded music. Coltrane venture into music is undeniably from the influence he got at home. In Philadelphia, it is on record that the mother bought him a saxophone therefore encouraging Coltrane to practice music.

Notably, at the age of 13, Coltrane got his first exposure to jazz through Lester Young and Count Basie records. Their records prompted him to pick up his saxophone and start playing. From his playing it was apparent the boy had a talent that needed to be nurtured. Further, Lester Young and Johnny Hodges while in high school increased his enthusiasm in music.  These jazz artist who were known for jazz music played a role in Coltrane future in music. As a matter of facts, though Coltrane style of music was original, traces of Lester Young and Hodges can be noted in his legato phrasing and portamento (Thomas, 1975).

Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon and Dizzy Gillespie were famous American jazz saxophonists who were also the earliest to adapt the bebop musical language. Coltrane had desire to fully explore his experimental side. This prompted him to join a band led by Dizzy Gillespie. As such, this band was a source of influence to Coltrane. Carlie parker was a better known alto saxophonist musician and upon encountering him Coltrane switched from alto to tenor saxophone. This shift was due to the advice given by Charlie who had exhausted the possibilities on the instrument (Coltrane & Aebersold, 1983).

I consider miles Davis as another source of influence and who led to the breakthrough of Coltrane. It is on record that Davis encouraged Coltrane to push his experimental boundaries. With Davis, Coltrane came to light. His prominence grew. Furthermore, after Davis firing Coltrane because of drug addiction, Coltrane made a decision to finally kick out the usage of Heroin, something he had tried before but failed severally. Heroin had cost Coltrane several deals with other bands before.

Coltrane married Alice McCLoud who was a pianist in 1964. According to Peter Lavezzoli, who is the author to the musician, she brought happiness and stability to Coltrane’s life. He attributes the fact not because of her bearing children to Coltrane but also because they used to share many spiritual beliefs. This is particularly in the Indian philosophy. Alice was also at his side musically because she exhibited deep understanding of what becoming a musician meant. (Porter, 1998).

Coltrane is considered as one of the renowned music talents. Notably, it is difficult to come across any musician that could play the style of music he used to play. This is due to uniqueness in  his style that he had created. He could play different notes at the same time. All the same, he being a musician who devoted most of his time to music and took chances he acts as a source of inspiration.

Works by Coltrane

Coltrane joined and performed many bands but his breakthrough was when he joined Davis Miles who had a band which went by the name The New Miles Davis Quintet. They had titles such as The New Miles Davis Quintet (1955), Round About Midnight (9157) Cookin (1957) Relaxin (1957) working (1958)  Kind Of Blue (1959) and Steamin (1961) (Nisenson, 2009).

However, his breaking ties with miles was the advent of his solo career. He had created for himself a definite own sound with ability to play several notes, which had not been common before, at once. His creation was later to be dubbed as “sheets of sound.”

With his solo band that came to exist in 1960, comprising of McCoy Tyner, (pianist), jimmy Garrison (bassist) and Elvin Jones (drummer) they produced what are known as some of jazz’s most enduring albums. Some of their productions include Giant Step (1960) and My Favorite Things (1961). My Favorite Things pushed Coltrane to stardom.

Other productions then were Impression (1963), Duke Ellington and John Coltrane (1963), and Live at Birdland (1964). The greatest piece that made him a star is A Love Supreme. It is the most acclaimed record which was also sung during his funeral mass. This work reflects his religious commitment. He later worked on Ascension and Meditations both of 1965.  Others albums were New things at Newport, Africa Brass and Impressions which was released two days before his death. Other works of Coltrane which were released posthumously include Transition, Africa/Brass, vol. 2 (1974), Interstellar Space (1974) and First Meditations (1977) just to mention but a few (Nisenson, 2009).

The love for his work has been heard on a number of motion pictures, on radios and televisions. Some movies and television plays which have used Coltrane’s work include The General’s Daughter. Mr. Holland’s Opus, the bold and the Beautiful. White night, Cosby Show, Crime Stories, NYPD Blue, Days of our lives, Four Little girls and ER.


His great work A Love was certified gold by RIAA. This is after it exceeded half a million units in japan alone. in 2001, still Coltrane’s work was on the limelight. This is because My Favorite Thing was certified gold in USA.

John Coltrane got an award posthumously by RIAA. A Grammy Award of Best Jazz Solo performance for the work of Bye Bye Blackbird. This was in 1982. In 1997 he was awarded RIAA highest honor, the Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1993, due to his dedication to his work and exemplary projects, Coltrane’s wife was invited to the Whitehouse by the then President Clinton and his wife. This was an appreciation for Coltrane’s appearance at the Newport Jazz festival which was historical.

Still, in 1995 John got an honor. US postal services made commemorative postage stamp on Coltrane. They are still in circulation to date (Kofsky, 1998).

A street in the Universal Studio was also named after him by the MCA Record, a division of Universal studios. This recognition was due to his influence on cinema.

My Favorite Thing emerged as one of the songs of the century. 360 songs were released by NEA and the RIAA.

Coltrane’s innovative and influential work was also recognized in the year 2007 by Pulitzer Prize Board. He was awarded with a posthumous Special citation. The citation praised him for “Masterful improvisation, supreme musicianship and iconic centrality to the history of jazz.” It went ahead and said that his exalted stature arises from his composition and recording. His commended works by Pulitzer Prize board were A Love Supreme and Africa/Brass Selections (Nisenson, (2009).

John William Coltrane is in no way going to disappear in the history of jazz. He can be considered an inspiration to many jazz musicians.

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