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John Coltrane

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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

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