John Coltrane: The Top 25 icons in Jazz history

John Coltrane: The Top 25 pearls in Jazz history

23 Sept. 1926 – 17 July 1967

John Coltrane. Courtesy of the John Coltrane Media Library.John William Coltrane, modern jazz saxophonist and composer, was born in Hamlet, the son of Alice Blair and John W. Coltrane, Sr. By the time of his death, he had achieved international eminence as one of the most talented, creative, and controversial figures in the history of jazz. His training in music began in high school, where he studied the E-flat alto horn, clarinet, and saxophone.

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He continued his musical training at the Granoff Studios and Ornstein School of Music in Philadelphia, making his professional debut in 1945 as a member of a cocktail party combo. He served in Hawaii with the U.S. Navy Band in 1945–46 and, upon returning to civilian life, toured as a sideman with Eddie Vinson’s rhythm and blues band in 1947–48. He played in Dizzie Gillespie’s big band from 1949 to 1951 and then with Earl Bostic in 1952–53 and Johnny Hodges in 1953–54.

In 1955, Coltrane joined the Miles Davis Quintet, which was to become the outstanding jazz group of its day. With Davis’s group, Coltrane first attracted public and critical attention for his distinctive style of saxophone jazz. In the summer and fall of 1957 he worked with Theolonious Monk at the Five Spot in New York City. In January 1958 he rejoined Davis’s quintet, remaining with the band until April 1960, when he organized his own quartet.

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The Coltrane band was one of the most original and influential groups in jazz during the period 1961 to 1965. Coltrane reached the peak of his public acclaim in 1965, winning the Down Beat award John Coltrane. Courtesy of the John Coltrane Media America’s best tenor saxophonist, Hall of Fame selection, and Jazzman of the Year, while his composition and recording of A Love Supreme was voted Record of the Year. From 1965 to 1967, he experimented broadly in the instrumentation of his group and developed a growing predilection for modality and multihorn group improvisation.

Coltrane’s music, although influenced by Indian, Oriental, and African forms, was unique in its development and exploration of sixteenth notes as a rhythmic base for jazz. His superb technical skill on the saxophone enabled him to experiment freely with the broadest improvisation in avant-garde jazz, thus making him a central and controversial figure in the field.

Coltrane recorded for numerous companies, including Columbia, Riverside, Blue Note, Prestige, Atlantic, and Impulse. Among his important recordings are Straight, No Chaser, Blue Train, Kind of Blue, Giant Steps, My Favorite Things, Impressions, Chasin’ the Trane, Crescent, A Love Supreme, Ascension, Naima, Locomotion, In a Sentimental Mood, Expressions, Soultrane, and Kulu Se Mama.

He was married to Alice McLeod, a jazz pianist who performed with his group on many occasions. He died in Huntington, N.Y., with memorial services at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in New York City.

The legendary saxophone virtuoso John Coltrane continues to influence modern jazz even from the grave. Coltrane’s death more than two decades ago only enhanced his reputation as an artist who brought whole new dimensions to a constantly innovative musical form. The “sheets of sound” and other bizarre stylistic elements that characterize Coltrane’s jazz sparked heated debate at the time of their composition.

Today his work is still either hailed as the very pinnacle of genius or dismissed as flights of monotonous self-indulgence. In an Atlantic retrospective, Edward Strickland calls Coltrane “the lone voice crying not in the wilderness but from some primordial chaos” whose music “evokes not only the jungle but all that existed before the jungle.” The critic adds: “Coltrane was attempting to raise jazz from the saloons to the heavens. No jazz man had attempted so overtly to offer his work as a form of religious expression…. In his use of jazz as prayer and meditation, Coltrane was beyond all doubt the principal spiritual force in music.”

Andrew White, himself a musician and transcriber of many of Coltrane’s extended solos, told downbeat magazine that the jazz industry “has been faltering artistically and financially ever since the death of John Coltrane…. Besides being one of our greatest saxophonists, improvisors, innovative and creative contributors, Coltrane was our last great leader. As a matter of fact, he was the only leader we’ve had in jazz who successfully maintained an evolutionary creative output as well as building a ‘jazz star’ image. He merged the art and the money.”

What Coltrane called “exploring all the avenues” was essentially the quest to exhaust every possibility for his horn in the course of a song. He devoted himself to rapid runs in which individual notes were virtually indistinguishable, a style quickly labeled “sheets of sound.” As Martin Williams puts it in Saturday Review, Coltrane “seemed prepared to gush out every conceivable note, run his way a step at a time through every complex chord, every extension, and every substitution, and go beyond that by reaching for sounds that no tenor saxophone had ever uttered before him.”

Needless to say, this music was not easily understood–critics were quick to find fault with its length and monotony—but it represented an evolution that was welcomed not only by jazz performers, but by composers and even rock musicians as well.

Selected discography

(With Miles Davis and others) Kind of Blue, Columbia.

(With Davis) ‘Round Midnight, Columbia.

(With Davis) Straight, No Chaser, Columbia.

(With Thelonious Monk) Trinkle Tinkle, Riverside.

(With Monk) Ruby My Dear, Riverside.

Blue Train, Blue Note, 1957.

Bahia, Prestige, 1958.

Coltrane Jazz, Atlantic, 1959.

Giant Steps, Atlantic, 1959.

Ballads, Impulse, 1962.

My Favorite Things, Atlantic.

Impressions, Impulse, 1963, reissued, 1987.

A Love Supreme, Impulse, 1964, reissued, 1986.

Crescent, Impulse, 1964.

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The Best of John Coltrane


Part I – Acknowledgement 0:00​ Part II – Resolution 7:42​ Part III – Pursuance 15:02​ Part IV – Psalm 25:44


John Coltrane — bandleader, liner notes, vocals, soprano and tenor saxophone

Jimmy Garrison — double bass

Elvin Jones — drums

McCoy Tyner — piano

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