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John Coltrane

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John Coltrane – Side Steps

Side Steps is a 5-CD set that captures John Coltrane in a supporting role, as a sideman to leaders like Sonny Rollins, Gene Ammons, Red Garland, Tadd Dameron and others. The collection of 43 tracks represents the entirety of Coltrane’s session work as a Prestige sideman, from mid-1956 to early 1958, excepting his sessions with Miles Davis.

John William Coltrane (also known as “Trane;” September 23, 1926 – July 17, 1967) was an American jazz saxophonist and composer. Working in the bebop andhard bop idioms early in his career, Coltrane helped pioneer the use of modes in jazz and later was at the forefront of free jazz. He organized at least fifty recording sessions as a leader during his recording career, and appeared as a sideman on many other albums, notably with trumpeter Miles Davis and pianist Thelonious Monk.

As his career progressed, Coltrane and his music took on an increasingly spiritual dimension. His second wife was pianist Alice Coltrane, and their son Ravi Coltrane is also a saxophonist. Coltrane influenced innumerable musicians, and remains one of the most significant tenor saxophonists in jazz history. He received many posthumous awards and recognitions, including canonization by the African Orthodox Church as Saint John William Coltrane. In 2007, Coltrane was awarded the Pulitzer Prize Special Citation for his “masterful improvisation, supreme musicianship and iconic centrality to the history of jazz.”

Early life and career (1926–1954)

Coltrane’s first recordings were made when he was a sailor

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, Pennsylvania. 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 GillespieEarl Bostic and Johnny Hodges in the early- to mid-1950s.

John Coltrane – My Favorite Things 1965

John Coltrane – Soprano sax
McCoy Tyner – Piano
Jimmy Garrison – Bass
Elvin Jones – Drums

Death and funeral

Coltrane died from liver cancer at Huntington Hospital on Long Island on July 17, 1967, at the age of 40. His funeral was held on Friday, July 21 at St. Peters Lutheran Church in New York City. The Albert Ayler Quartet and The Ornette Coleman Quartet respectively opened and closed the service. He is buried at Pinelawn Cemetery in Farmingdale, N.Y.

Biographer Lewis Porter has suggested, somewhat controversially, that the cause of Coltrane’s illness was hepatitis, although he also attributed the disease to Coltrane’s heroin use.   In a 1968 interview Albert Ayler claimed that Coltrane was consulting aHindu meditative healer for his illness instead of Western medicine, though Alice Coltrane later denied this.

His death surprised many in the musical community who were not aware of his condition. Miles Davis commented: “Coltrane’s death shocked everyone, took everyone by surprise. I knew he hadn’t looked too good… But I didn’t know he was that sick—or even sick at all.”

The Coltrane family reportedly remains in possession of much more as-yet-unreleased music, mostly mono reference tapes made for the saxophonist and, as with the 1995 release Stellar Regions, master tapes that were checked out of the studio and never returned.    The parent company of Impulse!, from 1965 to 1979 known as ABC Records, purged much of its unreleased material in the 1970s. Lewis Porter has stated that Alice Coltrane, who died in 2007, intended to release this music, but over a long period of time; her son Ravi Coltrane, responsible for reviewing the material, is also pursuing his own career.

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