full version John Coltrane Essay

John Coltrane

Category: Music and Movies

Autor: jessica85 11 February 2010

Words: 1602 | Pages: 7

Intro to Music Masterworks
Final Paper


Jazz music was originally developed by African Americans during the start of the twentieth century. Throughout the semester we have studied the timeline of musical periods including the Romantic and Classical eras of music. Becoming internationally popular in the 1920’s, jazz music has been typically described as “America’s Classical Music.” The musical periods we have discussed in this course have influenced and show a strong relation to jazz music and also jazz musicians. Among these musicians, is John Coltrane, considered one of the greatest jazz saxophonists and composers of all time. He was also one of the most important and influential musicians of the twentieth century.
John William Coltrane was born in Hamlet, North Carolina on September 23, 1926. Moving from Hamlet as an infant, Coltrane grew up in High Point, North Carolina, where most of his family lived. John had a very rough life as a kid due to the fact that he grew up in a racially segregated area most of his childhood. However, racism was the least of his problems. In his early life, John lost his close aunt, grandfather, and most importantly his father. Also, he was traditionally influenced by a Southern background which meant religion always came first no matter what. The large emphasis on religion affected his music later in his career. Through these hard times, the only thing that kept John motivated was music; he had a love for it.
Coltrane’s musical interest was triggered by his early clarinet lessons. However, he did not play clarinet for long as he became more interested in jazz music resulting in a change of instrument to an alto saxophone. By this time, John was seventeen years old and was already a very skilled musician that had great potential to lead a successful career. In June of 1943, he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Coltrane was drafted into the Navy when he was nineteen years old and was released returning to civilian life approximately one year later. After the Navy, he began his musical career in California contacting a friend and another phenomenal jazz artist, Charlie Parker. John was highly influenced by Parker, arguably the greatest jazz musician of all time. John began to take various job offers in the late 1940’s which lead him to his first band. In 1949, he joined Dizzy Gillespie’s big band playing as the lead alto saxophonist and played with them until the band’s breakup in May of 1950. He then returned to Philadelphia where he found that tenor saxophone was the right instrument for him rather than alto sax. Between 1951 and 1954, John Coltrane’s career started to blossom. Throughout these years, he played with Earl Bostic, Eddie Vinson, and Johnny Hodges. Coltrane received most of his recognition by 1955 when he received an unexpected call from legend jazz artist, Miles Davis. The proposition included Coltrane in on Davis’s first quintet, performing as a replacement for vanished saxophonist Sonny Rollins. Coltrane was very fortunate to be chosen in his place and took the spotlight from there on out. The quintet was a success and Coltrane remained a member of the first edition until 1957. On the down side of the quintet, Coltrane developed an evident heroin addiction, which once again brought him home to Philadelphia to get necessary help. Coltrane got rid of the addiction cold turkey and was convinced he was back on track, physically and musically. Yet, his critics had a different view on that matter, claiming after his addiction his music turned into a rambling style and became angry and harsh. Harry Frost described Coltrane’s work at this point in time as:
“Extended double-time flurries notable for their lack of direction.”
Despite the criticism, Coltrane kept at his devotion to music and teamed up with Thelonious Monk at New York’s Five Spot. This performance was perhaps the most memorable of his career. During this stage of his career he released an individual album “Blue Train” recorded by Alfred Lion and Blue Note productions, which was considered the powerhouse of this era in jazz. “Blue Train” was one of the most important and best-selling albums that Blue Note has ever released.
In the late 50’s through the early 60’s, Coltrane was welcomed back by Miles Davis and company since at this point he was drug-free. Jazz critic Ira Gitler invented the term “sheets of sound” expressing the one of a kind style of Coltrane’s music during this era with Davis. During this time they wrote sessions like Milestones and Kind Of Blue and also recorded the hit single, “So What” which was recorded in 1959 with Coltrane soloing. Miles Davis and John Coltrane put together amazing jazz that we appreciate today, but the audience at that present time were very critical. For instance, their last show which was held in France resulted in them being booed off the stage. Soon after the duo went their separate ways, John began playing soprano saxophone, an unusual transition that was questioned by many people at the time. Rumor has it that he made the switch because the mouthpiece of the tenor saxophone was causing severe pain to his gums.
Throughout the 1960’s, John Coltrane’s music was more popular around the world than ever. He formed a quartet of his own in 1960 with an array of great musicians including pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Steve Davis, and drummer Elvin Jones. The foursome only lasted one year due to the replacement of Coltrane for upcoming star Reggie Workman. Coltrane’s quartet commonly known as “The Classic Quartet” would go on to generate many famous albums as John Coltrane the composer. The albums displayed his flexibility and capability to deal with different forms of jazz such as modal and free jazz. These types of jazz were founded by Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman and were extremely influential for Coltrane’s music in the 60’s. Coltrane became increasingly interested in “free jazz” and decided to lour many younger musicians toward his new direction and record label which was called Impulse! “My Favorite Things” was recorded in 1960 and possibly Coltrane’s most popular song. It was a 14-minute jazz spin-off of the classic single by Rogers and Hammerstein. Several years went by as Coltrane released many hit singles including Dear Old Stockholm, Transition, and Sun Ship, which were all recorded between 1960 and 1965. John Coltrane’s drug use became an issue again in 1965 as he started to use LSD. The drugs spoke for themselves in the late period of his music causing the work to sound depressing and effortless. Many listeners and critics had the gut feeling that his career was coming to end.
John Coltrane was brought up as a Christian and religion was a very important aspect of his life. In 1957, he married a Muslim woman named Naima at the age of 30. She was a raised to worship the Islamic religion which led John away from Christianity. This was considered a “spiritual awakening” for John as some people believe this helped him escape from his heroin and alcohol addiction to return to the Jazz picture where he would record his greatest work. Hinduism, Jiddu Krishnamurti, and the Kabbala were other religions John praised during his spiritual life. He was also motivated to study math, science, yoga, astrology, and African history. Discussing his spiritual practice with religion Coltrane states,
“During the year of 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music.”
John Coltrane passed away when he was 40 years old at Huntington Hospital in Long Island, New York on July 17, 1967. He died from liver cancer which was mainly caused by his excessive drug and alcohol abuse during the 40’s and 50’s. With the alcoholism and drug use aside, the illness he was suffering from was not cured correctly due to the fact that he hired a Hindu meditative healer rather than medical treatment.
John William Coltrane is mostly remembered for being one of the most influential musicians of all time. In every biography that I read for researching this paper expressed how Coltrane thanks composers such as Beethoven and Mozart for his musical success. With that said, musicians today have been inspired by his music such as Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, and Mike Watt. Throughout this course we have discussed all periods of the musical timeline. I chose John Coltrane for this paper because I feel that he was a significant part of his era of music and the types of music and the composers we have studied have a large effect on him and Jazz music. I believe music is an on-going chain in which composition from the previous decade benefits and influences the music of the future and that is exactly what John Coltrane was looking to do. Before taking this course and writing this paper, I had little knowledge about Classical and Jazz music but now I have realized that if it wasn’t for them, music wouldn’t be what it is today.