Born in Carolina, but moved to Philadelphia after High School. Having
learnt the clarinet at school, Coltrane plays in the navy band (1945-46)
during military service.
Gillespie's big band for his bebop
apprenticeship and stays on when Dizzy reverts to a sextet in 1950,
switching from alto to tenor. Later tours with Earl Bostic, Johnny
Hodges and others before joining the Miles
Coltrane breaks his narcotic and alcoholic
addictions and experiences a "spiritual awakening", later
retold in A Love Supreme. He leaves Davis and records under
his own name, and tours with Thelonious Monk,
a crucial period of development, although contractual complications
limit their studio recordings together to only three tracks.
Coltrane changes personnel and works with, among others, Pharoah Sanders,
Archie Shepp (both tenor sax), Rashied Ali (drums), African-influenced
percussionists, and his wife to be, Alice, on piano. Coltrane selflessly
supports younger unheralded musicians, as in the 1950s he befriended
the young Wayne Shorter. He
develops the use of soprano sax, which he first played
seriously in 1959. Ascension (1965) is the most important recording
after the break up of the 1961 quartet.
Coltrane became the leading exponent of "modal" improvisation and
was the prophet of the jazz avant-garde. The keyword, we are often
told, is intensity: a desire to
go beyond melody, harmony and rhythm to emotion. Yet at times he appears
to be overtaken by the sheer physical enjoyment of playing. Long tortuous
hours of practice developed a commanding technique and it could be
that this, rather than emotion, is the keystone of what Ira Gitler
called Coltrane's "sheets of sound": voluminous rapid notes, minutely
examining one chord or scale with little melodic or rhythmic development.
Coltrane throughout his career exchanged one musical language, device
and sonority for another, yet the heart of his
playing is always rooted in the gospel sound of the blues and an attempt
to emulate the human voice. Thus, despite the technical
mastery, simplicity is Coltrane's emotional crux; and it was this
paradox that endeared him most to the American youth of the 1960s,
who otherwise chased the new visions of rock music.