Wednesday, September 22, 2010

John Coltrane's birthday

John Coltrane (source Wikipedia)

Today (September 23) is John Coltrane's birthday.  Were he alive, he would have been 84 years old.  I have lots of Jazz records, mostly John Coltrane and Miles Davis, and I listen to them often.  For the past 25 years, I have always recognized this day by playing some of Coltrane's music.  These days, I have added Frank Foster's music to the mix as he shares this birthday with John Coltrane.  Frank Foster is a jazz saxophonist who played with the Count Basie band for decades and was the band leader in the 80's.  More about Frank in another post.

Here is a little bio about John Coltrane........

John Coltrane was born in Hamlet, North Carolina on September 23, 1926, and grew up in High Point, NC, attending William Penn High School (now Penn-Griffin School for the Arts). Beginning in December 1938 Coltrane's aunt, grandparents, and father all died within a few months of each other, leaving John to be raised by his mother and a close cousin. In June 1943 he moved to Philadelphia PA. He enlisted in the Navy in 1945, and played in the Navy jazz band once he was stationed in Hawaii. Coltrane returned to civilian life in 1946 and began jazz theory studies with Philadelphia guitarist and composer Dennis Sandole. Coltrane continued under Sandole's tutelage until the early 1950s. Originally an altoist, during this time Coltrane also began playing tenor saxophone with the Eddie Vinson Band. Coltrane later referred to this point in his life as a time when "a wider area of listening opened up for me. There were many things that people like Hawk, and Ben, and Tab Smith were doing in the '40s that I didn't understand, but that I felt emotionally.
An important moment in the progression of Coltrane's musical development occurred on June 5, 1945, when he saw Charlie Parker perform for the first time. In a DownBeat article in 1960 he recalled: "the first time I heard Bird play, it hit me right between the eyes. Parker became an early idol, and they played together on occasion in the late 1940s.
Contemporary correspondence shows that Coltrane was already known as "Trane" by this point, and that the music from some 1946 recording sessions had been played for Miles Davis—possibly impressing the latter.
There are recordings of Coltrane from as early as 1945. He was a member of groups led by Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Bostic and Johnny Hodges in the early- to mid-1950s.

Miles and Monk period (1955–1957)

Davis and Monk (source-
Coltrane was freelancing in Philadelphia in the summer of 1955 while studying with guitarist Dennis Sandole when he received a call from trumpeter Miles Davis. Davis, whose success during the late forties had been followed by several years of decline in activity and reputation, due in part to his struggles with heroin, was again active, and was about to form a quintet. Coltrane was with this edition of the Davis band (known as the "First Great Quintet" to distinguish it from Davis' later group with Wayne Shorter) from October 1955 through April 1957 (with a few absences), a period during which Davis released several influential recordings which revealed the first signs of Coltrane's growing ability. This First Quintet, represented by two marathon recording sessions for Prestige in 1956 that resulted in the albums Cookin', Relaxin', Workin', and Steamin', disbanded in mid April due partly to Coltrane's heroin addiction.

During the later part of 1957 Coltrane worked with Thelonious Monk at New York’s Five Spot, a legendary jazz club, and played in Monk's quartet (July-December 1957), but owing to contractual conflicts took part in only one official studio recording session with this group. A private recording made by Juanita Naima Coltrane of a 1958 reunion of the group was issued by Blue Note Records in 1993 as Live at the Five Spot-Discovery!. More significantly, a high-quality tape of a concert given by this quartet in November 1957 surfaced, and in 2005 Blue Note made it available on CD. Recorded by Voice of America, the performances confirm the group's reputation, and the resulting album, Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall, is widely acclaimed.
Blue Train, Coltrane's sole date as leader for Blue Note, featuring trumpeter Lee Morgan, bassist Paul Chambers, and trombonist Curtis Fuller, is often considered his best album from this period. Four of its five tracks are original Coltrane compositions, and the title track, "Moment's Notice," and "Lazy Bird", have become standards. Both tunes employed the first examples of his chord substitution cycles known as Coltrane changes.

Davis and Coltrane again

Davis and Coltrane (source-
Coltrane rejoined Davis in January 1958. In October of that year, jazz critic Ira Gitler coined the term "sheets of sound" to describe the style Coltrane developed during his stint with Monk and was perfecting in Davis' group, now a sextet. His playing was compressed, with rapid runs cascading in hundreds of notes per minute. He stayed with Davis until April 1960, working with alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley; pianists Red Garland, Bill Evans, and Wynton Kelly; bassist Paul Chambers; and drummers Philly Joe Jones and Jimmy Cobb. During this time he participated in the Davis sessions Milestones and Kind of Blue, and the live recordings Miles & Monk at Newport and Jazz at the Plaza.

At the end of this period Coltrane recorded his first album for Atlantic Records, Giant Steps, comprised exclusively of his own compositions. The album's title track is generally considered to have the most complex and difficult chord progression of any widely-played jazz composition. Giant Steps utilizes Coltrane changes. His development of these altered chord progression cycles led to further experimentation with improvised melody and harmony that he would continue throughout his career.


Read more about John Coltrane at

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