John Coltrane was the leader of the 1960s avant-garde and is now considered one of the most revolutionary and influential saxophonists in the history of jazz. He explored new timbres, harmonies and sounds; Coltrane broadened the received understanding of the musical capacity of the saxophone. His intimate and dynamic style of improvisation made him one of the major figures of jazz.
His musician father introduced him to music at a young age; John Coltrane first studied horn and clarinet. In college he discovered the music of Lester Young and Johnny Hodges and was so inspired by these musicians that he took up the saxophone. He graduated from Granoff Studios in Philadelphia and Ornstein School of Music. During his military service in the Navy, he joined the "Melody Masters" military swing band in order to continue his musical training. After his military service, he joined the Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson band. This was an eye-opening experience for Coltrane, which broadened his musical understanding. He also studied jazz theory alongside guitarist and composer Dennis Sandole.
On June 5, 1945, Coltrane attended a Charlie "Bird" Parker concert. This was to be a pivotal moment in his career, as he later confessed: "The first time I heard Bird play, it hit me". John Coltrane then explored music experimentation with Jimmy Heath before joining the Dizzie Gillespie Band; he also worked with the great saxophonist Earl Bostic and the pianist Thelonious Monk. In 1958, Coltrane collaborated with the Miles Davis Quintet. Miles Davis’ music offered Coltrane a new lease of musical freedom, allowing him to experiment with his style and technique. Throughout his collaborations with Davis and Monk, he developed an individual style which critics termed "sheets of sound", an improvisation technique, which uses dense, fast arpeggios to create the illusion of several "sheets" of music. In 1960, he recorded his first album for the Atlantic Records label "Giant Steps", and he formed his own quartet, the John Coltrane Quartet, with pianist McCoy Tyner, drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Jimmy Garrison, who were then joined by Eric Dolphy and Pharoah Sanders.
In 1957, Coltrane had a religious experience, which helped him to overcome a decade long dependence on heroin and alcohol. Coltrane felt that it was very important to create positive change in the world. He attempted to use his music as a tool to make people think and feel positively. In the wake of his religious experience, Coltrane’s work became spiritual; he attempted to extol the power of "God" (in the universalist sense). His spirituality became progressively entrenched in his musical exploration and led to changes in his style. He made a foray into World Music, including Indian music and "ragas". He also incorporated modal experiments and developed an interest in free jazz. This stylistic evolution divided critics and audiences; he was booed at a Paris show in 1960 and labelled "Anti-Jazz" by the jazz magazine Downbeat in 1961. Despite this, Coltrane continued to develop a deeply rhythmic style of melodic improvisation with a static harmony. His 1964 album "A Love Supreme" was an ode to the love and greatness of God. Even after the untimely death of Coltrane in 1967, the influence of his music continued to have an important impact on jazz history: he has even been canonised by the African Orthodox Church and named Saint John William Coltrane.
Six Landmark Dates in the Life of John Coltrane
1945 Coltrane helped at a Charlie Parker concert
1947 Coltrane started learning the saxophone
1960 Coltrane formed his own quartet, the John Coltrane Quartet
1972 "A Love Supreme" went platinum
1982 The RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America] posthumously awards John Coltrane a Grammy for "Best Solo Jazz Performance" on his album "Bye Bye Blackbird"
1997 The RIAA awarded Coltrane the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award
Six Key Works by John Coltrane
1957 Blue Train
1960 Giant Steps
1961 My Favorite Things
1961 Africa Brass
1965 A Love Supreme