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John Coltrane

The Revolution in Jazz

Born on September 23, 1926, in North Carolina, John Coltrane could have led a life unrecorded, conforming to the script of his time: military service followed by a normal existence as a family man and laborer minding the socio-economic struggles of the day. As is turned out, Coltrane was not conformist. Armed with a home grown love for music from watching his father play instruments, he was to develop an unassailable passion for jazz that saw him engage the very best, and eventuality produce a revolutionary sub-genre of his own.

By the age of 13, Coltrane was a keen student of the saxophone, inspired by the swing influence of Count Basie and Lester Young, and the bebop style of Charlie Parker. The tragic loss of his family as a teenager dictated a life of adversity worsened by mandatory enlistment to the military for the Second World War in 1943. By now, many jazz greats had been anointed, including Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie all of whom he would engage with.

Ironically, the very military service that had interrupted his life would provide the first opportunity for Coltrane to practise his passion as a jazz saxophonist spawning a debut record with the navy before leaving in 1946. The following years saw Coltrane perform with jazz greats including Davis, and Gillespie. While brilliance as a saxophonist earned Coltrane a place among the nobility of the jazz world, this success was not enough insulation against the distraction and destruction of narcotics, a factor that led his mentors to part ways with him.

Coltrane inevitably went solo with The John Coltrane Quartet, and soon experienced an epiphany, becoming both deeply spiritual and teetotal. In time, he developed his own signature style, ‘sheets of sound’ characterized by an unpredictable parallel play of several notes at once and a fusion with African and Latin American music influences. Coltrane’s music in subsequent years was spiritual, and dedicated to the Praise of God.

Sadly, Coltrane died of liver disease in 1967. In spite of his demise, his sounds live on and his contribution to jazz in the 40s, 50s and 60s continues to feature in contemporary spin offs, notably soundtracks for Hollywood movies and musical bases for modern music of the Rhythm and Blues persuasion.