b. John William Coltrane, 23rd September, 1926, Hamlet, North Carolina, U.S.A.
d. 17th July 1967, New York, New York State, U.S.A.
John Coltrane was the son of a tailor and amateur musician, John R. Coltrane, and Alice (Blair) Coltrane.
Two months after his birth, his grandfather, the Reverend William Blair, was promoted to presiding elder in the A.M.E. Zion Church and moved his family, including his infant grandson, to High Point, North Caroloina, where John grew up.
Shortly after he graduated from grammar school in 1939, his father, his grandparents, and his uncle died, leaving him to be raised in a family consisting of his mother, his aunt, and his cousin.
His mother worked as a domestic worker to support the family.
Also in that year, he joined a community band in which he played clarinet and E-flat alto horn.
He took up the alto saxophone in his high school band.
During World War II, his mother, aunt, and cousin moved North to New Jersey to seek work, leaving him with family friends, in 1943, when he graduated from high school, he to headed north, settling in Philadelphia.
Eventually, the family were reunited there.
John briefly attended the Ornstein School of Music and studied at Granoff Studios.
He also began playing in local clubs.
In 1945, he was drafted into the navy and stationed in Hawaii.
Johnnever came into conflict and continued to play music, making his first recording, with a quartet of other sailors, on 13th July 1946.
The track was a rendidtion of Tadd Dameron's 'Hot House,' which was released in 1993 on the Rhino Records anthology, 'The Last Giant'.
John was discharged in the summer of 1946 and returned to Philadelphia.
That autumn, he began playing in the Joe Webb Band.
In early 1947, he moved on to the King Kolax Band.
He also changed instrument from alto to tenor saxophone.
John then moved on to Jimmy Heath's band in mid-1948, staying with the band, which evolved into the Howard McGhee All Stars until early 1949, when he returned to Philadelphia.
That autumn, he joined a big band led by Dizzy Gillespie, remaining until the spring of 1951, by which time the band had been reduced to a septet.
On 1st March 1951, he took his first solo on record during a performance of 'We Love to Boogie' with Gillespie.
At some point during this period, he became a heroin addict.
He played with various bands, mostly around Philadelphia, during the early 1950's, his next important job coming in the spring of 1954, when Johnny Hodges, temporarily out of the Duke Ellington band, hired him.
However he was fired because of his drug addiction in September 1954.
John returned to Philadelphia, where he was playing, when he was hired by Miles Davis a year later.
Miles Davis, a former drug addict himself, had kicked his habit and gained recognition at the Newport Jazz Festival in July 1955, resulting in a contract with Columbia Records and the opportunity to organize a permanent band, which, in addition to him and Coltrane, consisted of pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer 'Philly' Joe Jones.
This group immediately began to record extensively, not only because of the Columbia contract, but also because Davis had signed with the major label before fulfilling a deal with jazz independent Prestige Records that still had five albums to run.
The trumpeter's Columbia debut, 'Round About Midnight', which he immediately commenced recording, did not appear until March 1957.
The first fruits of his association with Coltrane came in April 1956 with the release of 'The New Miles Davis Quintet' (a.k.a Miles), recorded for Prestige on 16th November, 1955.
During 1956, in addition to his recordings for Columbia, Davis held two marathon sessions for Prestige to fulfill his obligation to the label, which released the material over a period of time under the titles 'Cookin' (1957), 'Relaxin' (1957), 'Workin' (1958), and 'Steamin' (1961).
John's association with Davis inaugurated a period when he began to record as a sideman frequently.
Miles may have been trying to end his association Prestige, but Coltrane began appearing on many of the label's sessions.
Following a surge of interest in the 1960's, Prestige and other labels began to repackage this work under his name, as if he had been the leader, a process that has continued to the present day.
(Prestige was acquired by Fantasy Records in 1972, and many of the recordings in which Coltrane participated have been reissued on Fantasy's Original Jazz Classics [OJC] imprint.)
Coltrane tried and failed to kick heroin in the summer of 1956, and in October Davis fired him, though the trumpeter had relented and taken him back by the end of November.
Early in 1957, Coltrane formally signed with Prestige as a solo artist, though he remained in the Davis band and also continued to record as a sideman for other labels.
In April, Davis fired him again.
On 31st May, 1957, he finally made his recording debut as a leader, putting together a pickup band consisting of trumpeter Johnny Splawn, baritone saxophonist Sahib Shihab, pianists Mal Waldron and Red Garland (on different tracks), bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Al 'Tootie' Heath.
They cut an album Prestige titled simply 'Coltrane' upon release in September 1957. (It has since been reissued under the title 'First Trane'.)
In June 1957, Coltrane joined the Thelonious Monk Quartet, consisting of Monk on piano, Wilbur Ware on bass, and Shadow Wilson on drums.
During this period, he developed a technique of playing several notes at once, and his solos began to go on longer.
In August, he recorded material belatedly released on the Prestige albums 'Lush Life' (1960) and 'The Last Trane' (1965), as well as the material for John Coltrane with the Red Garland Trio, released later in the year. (It was later reissued under the title 'Traneing In'.)
However Coltrane's second album to be recorded and released under his name alone was recorded in September for Blue Note Records.
This was 'Blue Train', featuring trumpeter Lee Morgan, trombonist Curtis Fuller, pianist Kenny Drew, and the Miles Davis rhythm section of Chambers and 'Philly' Joe Jones, it was released in December 1957.
That month, Coltrane rejoined Davis, playing in what was now a sextet that also featured Cannonball Adderley.
In January 1958, he led a recording session for Prestige that produced tracks later released on 'Lush Life', 'The Last Trane', and 'The Believer' (1964).
In February and March, he recorded Davis' album 'Milestones ', released later in 1958.
In between the sessions, he recorded his third album to be released under his name alone, 'Soultrane', issued in September by Prestige.
Also in March 1958, he recorded tracks as a leader that would be released later on the Prestige collection 'Settin' the Pace' (1961).
In May, he again recorded for Prestige as a leader, though the results would not be heard until the release of 'Black Pearls' in 1964.
John appeared as part of the Miles Davis group at the Newport Jazz Festival in July 1958.
The band's set was recorded and released in 1964 on an LP also featuring a performance by Thelonious Monk as 'Miles & Monk at Newport'.
In 1988, Columbia reissued the material on an album called 'Miles & Coltrane'.
Coltrane's next Prestige session as a leader occurred later in July 1958 and resulted in tracks later released on the albums 'Standard Coltrane' (1962), 'Stardust' (1963), and 'Bahia' (1965).
All of these tracks were later compiled on a reissue called 'The Stardust Session'.
He recoded a final session for Prestige in December 1958, recording tracks later released on 'The Believer', 'Stardust', and 'Bahia'.
This completed his commitment to the label, and he signed to Atlantic Records, doing his first recording for his new employers on 15th January, 1959, with a session on which he was co-billed with vibes player Milt Jackson, though it did not appear until 1961 with the LP 'Bags and Trane'.
In March and April 1959, Coltrane participated with the Davis group on the album 'Kind of Blue'.
In between the sessions for the album, Coltrane began recording what would be his Atlantic Records debut, 'Giant Steps', released in early 1960.
His next Atlantic album, 'Coltrane Jazz', was mostly recorded in November and December 1959 and released in February 1961.
In April 1960, he finally left the Davis band and formally launched his solo career, commencing an engagement at the Jazz Gallery in New York, accompanied by pianist Steve Kuhn (soon replaced by McCoy Tyner), bassist Steve Davis, and drummer Pete La Roca (later replaced by Billy Higgins and then Elvin Jones).
During this period, he increasingly played soprano saxophone as well as tenor.
In October 1960, Coltrane recorded a series of sessions for Atlantic that would produce material for several albums, including a final track used on 'Coltrane Jazz' and tunes used on 'My Favorite Things' (March 1961), 'Coltrane Plays the Blues' (July 1962), and 'Coltrane's Sound' (June 1964).
His soprano version of 'My Favorite Things,' from the Richard Rodgers / Oscar Hammerstein II musical 'The Sound of Music', would become a signature song for him.
During the winter of 1960-61, bassist Reggie Workman replaced Steve Davis in his band, and saxophone and flute player Eric Dolphy gradually became a member of the group.
In the wake of the commercial success of 'My Favorite Things', Coltrane's star rose, and he was signed away from Atlantic as a featured artist of the newly formed Impulse! Records label, an imprint of ABC-Paramount, though in May he cut a final album for Atlantic, 'Olé' (February 1962).
The following month, he completed his Impulse! debut, 'Africa / Brass'.
In November 1961, Coltrane recorded one of his most celebrated albums, 'Live at the Village Vanguard', an LP paced by the 16-minute improvisation 'Chasin' the Trane.'
Between April and June 1962, Coltrane cut his next Impulse! studio album, another release called simply 'Coltrane' when it appeared later in the year.
Bob Thiele, who John had begun working alongside, acknowledged that Coltrane's next three Impulse! albums to be released, 'Ballads', 'Duke Ellington and John Coltrane', and 'John Coltrane with Johnny Hartman' (all 1963), were recorded at his behest to quiet the critics of Coltrane's more extreme playing.
'Impressions' (1963), drawn from live and studio recordings made in 1962 and 1963, was a more representative effort, as was 1964's 'Live at Birdland', also a combination of live and studio tracks, despite its title.
However 'Crescent', also released n 1964, seemed to find a middle ground between traditional and free playing, and was welcomed by critics.
This trend was continued with 1965's 'A Love Supreme' which earned him two Grammy nominations, for jazz composition and performance, and became his biggest selling record.
Also during the year, Impulse! released the standards collection 'The John Coltrane Quartet Plays ' and another album of 'free' playing, 'Ascension', as well as 'New Thing at Newport', a live album consisting of one side by Coltrane and the other by Archie Shepp.
1966 saw the release of the albums 'Kulu Se Mama' and 'Meditations', Coltrane's last recordings to appear during his lifetime, though he had finished and approved release for his next album, 'Expression', the Friday before his death in July 1967.
He died suddenly of liver cancer, entering the hospital on a Sunday and expiring in the early morning hours of the next day.
John had left behind a considerable body of unreleased work that came out in subsequent years, including 'Live at the Village Vanguard Again!' (1967), 'Om' (1967), 'Cosmic Music' (1968), 'Selflessness' (1969), 'Transition' (1969), 'Sun Ship' (1971), 'Africa / Brass, Vol. 2' (1974), 'Intersteller Space' (1974), and 'First Meditations' (For Quartet) (1977), all on Impulse!
Compilations and releases of archival live recordings brought him a series of Grammy nominations, including best jazz performance for the Atlantic album 'The Coltrane Legacy' in 1970; best jazz performance, group, and best jazz performance, soloist, for 'Giant Steps' from the Atlantic album 'Alternate Takes' in 1974; and best jazz performance, group, and best jazz performance, soloist, for 'Afro Blue Impressions' in 1977.
He won the 1981 Grammy for best jazz performance, soloist, for 'Bye Bye Blackbird', an album of recordings made live in Europe in 1962, and he was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992, 25 years after his death.
Two Tenors (Prestige Records 1956)
Tenor Conclave (Original Jazz Records 1956)
Mating Call (Prestige Records 1956)
John Coltrane and the Jazz Giants (Fantasy Records 1956)
Interplay for 2 Trumpets and 2 Tenors (Original Jazz Records 1957)
John Coltrane with Kenny Burrell (Prestige Records 1957)
Cattin' with Coltrane and Quinichette (Prestige / OJC Records 1957)
Coltrane [Prestige] (Original Jazz Records 1957)
Lush Life (Prestige Records 1957)
The Last Trane (Prestige / OJC Records 1957)
John Coltrane with the Red Garland Trio (Prestige Records 1957)
John Coltrane (Prestige Records 1957)
Traning In (Prestige / OJC Records 1957)
Blue Train (Blue Note Records 1957)
The John Coltrane/Ray Draper Quintet (Prestige Records 1957)
The Believer (Prestige Records 1958)
Soultrane (Prestige Records 1958)
Trane's Reign (Prestige Records 1958)
Dial Africa (Savoy Records 1958)
Gold Coast (Savoy Records 1958)
Countdown: The Savoy Sessions (Savoy Records 1958)
Africa: The Savoy Sessions (Savoy Records 1958)
Settin' the Pace (Prestige/OJC Records 1958)
Cannonball and Coltrane (Polygram Records 1959)
Giant Steps (Atlantic Records 1959)
The Avant-Garde (Atlantic Records 1960)
Coltrane Plays the Blues (Atlantic Records 1960)
Coltrane's Sound (Atlantic Records 1960)
My Favorite Things [Atlantic] (Atlantic Records 1960)
Coltrane Jazz (Atlantic Records 1960)
Africa / Brass (Impulse! Records 1961)
Olé Coltrane (Atlantic Records 1961)
Live at the Village Vanguard (Impulse! Records 1961)
Newport '63 [live] (Impulse! Records 1961)
Impressions (Impulse! Records 1961)
Ballads (Impulse! Records 1961)
Coltrane [Impulse!] (Impulse! Records 1962)
Bye Bye Blackbird (Original Jazz Records 1962)
John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (Impulse! Records 1963)
To the Beat of a Different Drum (Impulse! Records 1963)
Dear Old Stockholm (Impulse! Records 1963)
Selflessness (Impulse! Records 1963)
Live at Birdland (Impulse! Records 1963)
Crescent (Impulse! Records 1964)
A Love Supreme (Impulse! Records 1964)
The John Coltrane Quartet Plays (Impulse! Records 1965)
Transition (Impulse! Records 1965)
Kulu Se Mama (Impulse! Records 1965)
Infinity (Impulse! Records 1965)
Ascension (151549 Records 1965)
The Major Works of John Coltrane (Impulse! Records 1965)
New Thing at Newport (151549 Records 1965)
Sun Ship (Impulse! Records 1965)
Live in Seattle (Impulse! Records 1965)
Om (Impulse! Records 1965)
Meditations (Impulse! Records 1965)
A Love Supreme Live in Concert (Black Label Records 1965)
Live at the Village Vanguard Again! (Impulse! Records 1966)
Expression (Impulse! Records 1967)
Stellar Regions (Impulse! Records 1967)
Interstellar Space (Impulse! Records 1967)
Immortal Concerts: A Love Supreme [live] (Giants of Jazz Records 1999)
Live (Unique Jazz Records 2000)
Coltrane Live in Paris (Just Jazz Records 2001)