John William “Trane” Coletrane was one of the most prolific and inspiring pioneers of the free jazz movement, a movement which sought to explore and redefine the standards of classical jazz music.
His influence on music is too widespread to define, but lingers in today’s jazz musicians and saxophonists universally.
It was Sept. 23, 1926, when Coltrane came into to the world in the small village of Hamlet, North Carolina.
After moving to Philadelphia and enlisting in the Navy in the early mid ‘40s, he moved back to Philadelphia, where he started studying jazz theory.
Just like future quintet leader Miles Davis, his plans to become a successful jazz musician were heavily influenced by witnessing Charles “Bird” Parker, Jr.’s craft.
It just so happened that Davis and Coltrane found each other in 1955 and subsequently released a number of records in the following two years.
At New York City’s legendary Five Spot on Cooper Square and St. Mark’s he complimented Thelonious Monk’s piano skills with his supreme tenor sax sounds.
In 1958, Coltrane joined Davis again and contributed his part to one of Trane’s most legendary jazz recordings: “Kind of Blue.”
After having played with a number of the most influential and renowned jazz musicians of the time and switching from tenor to soprano saxophone, Coltrane started his own quartet in 1960.
The group consisted of pianist McCoy Tyner, drummer Elvin Jones, bassist Jimmy Garrison and Trane himself.
Over time, other influential musicians such as Pharaoh Sanders and Eric Dolphy would join the formation.
The group soon released their first record, “My Favorite Things,” consisting of just four tracks: “My Favorite Things,” “Everytime We Say Goodbye,” “Summertime” and “But Not for Me,” a list that was certified gold over forty years later in 2001.
The same year, Atlantic released the previously recorded “Giant Steps,” an album that serves as a wonderful example of Coltrane’s style of melodic phrasing, known as “sheets of sound.”
This expression characterizes Coltrane’s very own improvisational and fast paced style of playing saxophone and explains why his recordings can still be clearly distinguished from most other musicians.
In 1962, Coltrane and Duke Ellington, already a legend of his own time, met up to record a collaboration simply named “Duke Ellington & John Coltrane.”
He released two more recordings, “Coltrane at Newport” and “Live at Birdland,” the next year, followed by the 1964 recording and 1965 release of his own milestone, “A Love Supreme”.
Once again, one of Coltrane’s recordings was ahead of its time, taking until 1972 to receive gold certification by the Recording Industry Association of America.
From 1965 on, he departed from his earlier bebop and hard-bop roots and turned his focus on avant-garde jazz (or avant-jazz), which led to the release of the highly improvisational 40-minute recording “Ascension.”
Coltrane had a drinking habit and used heroin in the ‘40s and ‘50s and, in 1967, died from liver cancer.
He was only 40 years old. Up to this day, he remains one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time.