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john coltrane . american jazz musician . 1926 .1967

John William "Trane" Coltrane, considered by many to be the greatest jazz tenor saxophonist of the 20th century, was one of the most radical and innovative jazz composers and musicians of his time. He was born in Hamlet, North Carolina and died in New York City. Of all the jazz musicians who have emerged since 1960, only his old mentor, Miles Davis, for many, had greater impact and influence. But there are those who think that even Miles had less impact than Coltrane on the course of modern jazz music. In any event, the influence of John Coltrane has been considerable, especially in the way the tenor, alto, and soprano saxophone have been approached by contemporary musicians. Trane's playing style was intense and spiritual, with improvised, free-form solos often exceeding thirty minutes. His technical skill was awesome, and the force of his playing confronted a listener like the force of no other player. He called his playing style "sheets of sound," and it was. His work with the soprano saxophone raised the level of acceptance of the instrument in modern music.

          John Coltrane was the only child of John and Alice Coltrane, both of whom loved music. Coltrane's father, a tailor, played violin and ukulele, and his mother played piano and was active in the church choir. Young John grew up in a very religious home -- both of his grandfathers were ministers. Interested in music from a very early age, Coltrane's first instrument was a clarinet, which he received at the age of twelve and played for hours on end. His mother soon soon bought him an alto saxophone --- she thought a tenor would be too large for her young son to handle. Strongly influenced by Johnny Hodges, Coltrane stuck with the alto throughout high school, playing in the band. After graduating from high school, Coltrane moved to Philadelphia to study music at the Ornstein School and the Granoff Studios. There he studied theory and scale-based improvisation. After being drafted into the navy and playing in its band for two years, in 1947 Coltrane returned to Philadelphia and switched to tenor to play in Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson's band. When he left Vinson's band, Trane played in the bands of Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Bostic and his first mentor, Johnny Hodges. But it would be with Miles Davis' group that Coltrane would make his first groundbreaking musical impressions, followed later by his work with Thelonious Monk.

          With Miles Davis, Coltrane's big tone and "sheets of sound" voice would help make that group one of the greatest small jazz ensembles ever assembled. With Monk, Coltrane found the pianist's unorthodox harmony stimulating, inspiring him to expand his own experiments with sound, tone and voice. He tried to create what he called "continuous music," and many critics didn't like it. In 1959, Coltrane released "Giant Steps," a groundbreaking album that firmly established him as a tenor master.

          In 1960, Coltrane formed his own group, working with McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison. This group would be acknowledged as one of the greatest and most celebrated groups in the history of jazz, recording and releasing a series of great albums including "My Favorite Things," "A Love Supreme," "Coltrane Live at Birdland," "Transition," and others. These seminal recordings were embraced by music lovers,  impacting the essence of the genre, and setting the course for the future of jazz. Coltrane later formed yet another innovative group, working with his pianist wife, Alice. Together they forged ahead with an even more free, continuously improvised style. When he died at the age of 41 of liver disease, John Coltrane was almost a god to many musicians. His great influence continues to this day.
                                                                                                                     Quincy Troupe

Biography copyright Mason Editions 2000 and Quincy Troupe. Biography may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of Mason Editions.

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