Biography of John Coltrane (1926-1967)

American musician born on November 23, 1926 in Hamlet (North Carolina) and died on July 17, 1966 in Huntington (New York). Saxofonista tenor and soprano, his full name was William John Coltrane, and was known by the nickname "Trane".

Son of a tailor, fond of music, took his first steps with the alto sax in a gang of children led by the Reverend Steele. Between 1945 and 1946 he played in Hawaii, in the Orchestra of the army. Later he would touch on several groups of rhythm and blues, accompanying musicians like Joe Webb, Bis Maybelle, King Kolax, and Eddie Vinson. In 1948 he played in Philadelphia, Philly Joe Jones and Howard McGhee; then he met the brothers Heath (Percy, to the and Jimmy), which formed the Orchestra of the Apollo in Harlem. However, the great step forward gave it when he met Dizzy Gillespie, in 1949, who offered him to play tenor sax in his Orchestra. However, that year belonged, at the same time, groups of Gay Crosse and Lonnie Slappery, Johnny Hodges , Earl Bostic.

The fame to Coltrane, in all ways, came in 1955, when he recorded with the quintet of Miles Davis, along with Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (double bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums). This was a historic Quintet, a tour de force of the genius of Davis, surrounded always of the best musicians of the time. This collaborative Lp of Davis Ah Leu Cha, recorded on October 27, 1955 be salvaged. The most surprising pieces that are valued in the thousands-Coltrane meeting are "Round midnight" and "Stella by starlight". On vinyl, as well as Miles and Coltrane, were Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (double bass) and Philly Jo Jones (drums, old acquaintance of Coltrane). Without a doubt, we have the final ascension of the young Coltrane, who, to 1957, he recorded his first album Solo (Dakar). The path of Carolina musician was already joined in the nascent "hard bop", which led him to join the Group of one of the greats of the time, Thelonius Monk and his Five Spots, with which he recorded some other Lp, to, finally, to be part of the new Miles Davis Sextet, together musicians such as Bill Evans and Canonballl Adderley. The Lp result of this formation was Dr. Jekill, another milestone in the late 1950s. The cooperation of the young Coltrane (was thirty years old) with Davis would have to sign who served as a spur to make Hamlet musician put clear his musical ideas. It was not yet, but contact with a genius like Davis was necessary for Coltrane agreed to another level of musical perception. It was then when he explored the sounds of the saxophone (both tenor and soprano) and flanged sound, rhythmic and melodic space provided by the detailed study of their instruments. A last album recorded Coltrane with Davis before leaving the training was one of the masterpieces of the 20th century, Kind of blue, recorded in 1959.

Also in 1959, far already from Davis, Coltrane recorded an album that surpassed the "hard bop", whose title was Giant steps, which contains some of his large pieces ("Giant Steps", "Mr. P.C." or "Naima"). Precisely this last piece, "Naima", is dedicated to his wife at the time, of whom he had no children and which was separated at the end of his life, after nine years of marriage, for joining the pianist Alice McLeod. In 1960 he created a Quartet and started a series of concerts which took him on tour of the United States and Europe, in addition to acting on the large premises of the moment: Jazz Galery, Half Note or Village Gate. In this Quartet played at first Steve Khun, Steve Davis and Peter LaRoca, replaced shortly after by linked names, definitely, "Coltrane"sound: McCoy Tiner (piano), Reggie Workman (bass) and Jimmy Garrison (bass), Elvin Jones(drums). It is the time in which John Coltrane recorded two of the most important record of jazz: Atlantic and Impulse! His problems with drugs, however, accounted for some of the impediments that hinder the career of the young Coltrane; problem that managed to overcome in the early sixties to root, precisely, on their tour in Japan. In addition, aside from (so characteristic of their sound since its inception) tenor sax, Coltrane spent playing the soprano instrument that strengthened him sound, rapidly approaching "free" music.

In 1961, Coltrane signed with the record label Impulse!, which offered an Lp which soon became his masterpiece and musical event: Africa Brass, where Coltrane carries out one of his few forays into orchestral music. In this album we find some important names like Booker Little, Britt Woodman and Pat Patrick. Following this album, the fame of the musician and his clear link with avant-garde music not give up in its evolution. It is the year, in addition, from his marriage with one of the innovators of these years, Eric Dolphy, who collaborated with Coltrane on the aforementioned album. Dolphy was close friend of Coltrane (as also Sonny Rollins), and together they faced the difficult aesthetic path chosen within the same project. Criticism, not in vain, attacked these musicians, whose common front was exemplary. From this period is his album Africa Brass, a Lp linked to orchestral music and with young musicians like Britt Woodman and Pat Patrick, among others. However, at this time he started to publish certain albums that came to Coltrane to the path of the "free". His collaborations (aside from Eric Dolphy) were with Rashied Ali, Pharoah Sanders or Alice McLeod (pianist with whom he will marry, including it in the formation of his group in its last period). In 1960, and in 1961, Coltrane is engaged on a tour of Europe that gives out. Among the contributors of these years we have very different personalities, like Archie Shipp, or Wes Montgomery, which failed to materialize in their formations.

From 1962, Coltrane completed what would be his great Quartet: McCoy Tyner (piano), Elvin Jones (drums) and Jimmy Garrison (bass, which in turn came from the Ornette ColemanQuartet). Finally, Coltrane had sought: a powerful machine that would revolutionize jazz. Power bump of Elvin, McCoy atonal harmony, the basis of harmonic of Garrison (full of heights dissonant, while that of a marked swing), over the leadership of Coltrane, flying over the terrain like a scavenger bird that feeds on offal that is, make this Quartet one of the most important 20th century Jazz bibliographical jewels. Do not forget "rare" collaboration with one of the geniuses of jazz, Duke Ellington, which was born an album for general enjoyment of the fan of this type of music.

1964 is one of his works masterpieces, A love supreme, a suite that revolutionized the jazz music, recorded with his Quartet of luxury, Garrison, Tyner and Jones, disk which, on the other hand, became in 1965 on the best-selling jazz album. The last two years of his life employed them Coltrane perform strenuous tours of Japan and Europe, and record important disks (Infinity, Cosmic Music or expression) and any masterpiece, as it was its Interstellar space (1967). Coltrane had decided to travel to Africa; However, a liver cancer, already persecuted him for a time, ended with a July 17, 1967. It seems that excesses of yesteryear (drugs, alcohol, etc.) at the end took on great saxophone, although he carried in his later years a life focused on the mystique and vegetarian food. I had just turned 40.

John Coltrane died young; However, thirty five years already was considered one of the highest figures of the "hard-bop". Little understood at the time (think its difficult Duet with Eric Dolphy), time has magnified him and has become a basic reference of this style of music. Tonal opening that got this saxophonist, extending the limits of jazz harmony, was due both to his original wit and musicians that surrounded him in life. Above all, his Quartet was decisive for Coltrane to express as I wanted to and let your message unequivocally. Improvisation modal, as it attends to the revolutionary concept that this musician drove from their recordings, bringing new ideas (merging them and soaking them in a delirious concept rupture) aspects of melody, harmony and rhythm. The relentless pursuit of this musician was generated by his idea of universe, infinity, which both tempted him. Beautiful poem written on the inside of the folder of A love supreme, Coltrane said: "The universe has many wonders" ("the universe has many wonders"), and those wonders produced them the vibrations of his sax. The search for the meaning of the universe (where, to Coltrane, Dios was always) should start by own understanding that arose between the machine that produces the sound and his body, which balances them.

Their search for their own language led him by roads difficult to assess. Technically, he explored in three octaves of the saxo, running dissonant harmonics and notes fast scales that created an atmosphere typically "coltraniana". Practically we can say, without exaggeration, was the great hero of the 'free style', not just installed on it. After Coltrane, or somewhat later, the 'free' expanded specifically and came the turn of other geniuses such as Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman, Archie Shipp. However, not only taxed a tribute musicians closer to atonality, but that any modern saxophonist must pay tribute in one or another way. Coltrane took the music to just the limit of its own disintegration without breaking it. Let's say that it triggered such disintegration lever without pressing it at all. His sudden death robbed us see what had been done ten Coltrane or such time, twenty years after dying. We will never know. And perhaps better.

Still the revolutionary concept"coltrane" is seen in the legion of supporters who have continued in its wake. David Sanborn and Gato Barbieri, Jan Garbarek, Michael Brecker are just some of them. "Coltrane" mine is endless, even if it still remains are us in the skin of Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner. The important thing is that the wake of Coltrane is not over yet. Their mark, absolutely brilliant and personal, prevails in the language of the majority of new musicians coming onstage and, above all, in the majority of musicians who play a saxophone.


ARNAULD, g. and CHESNEL, J. The great creators of jazz (ed. Spanish in charge of J. C. Cifuentes). Madrid, Ediciones del Prado, 1993.

CERULLI, D.; CORALL, NASATIR, B. and M. L. The Jazz World. New York, Da Capo, 1977.

GARCIA, J.; HERRAIZ, F.; Gonzalez, f. & SAMPAYO, C. The 100 best albums of jazz. The mask, 1993.

GERVER, TO. Le cas Coltrane. Roquevaire, Parentheses, 1985.

GIDDINS, I. Jazz Masters of the 40' s. New York, Oxford University Press, 1985.

GOLDBERG, J. Jazz Masters of the 50's. New York, Da Capo, 1983.

Jazz poetry. Coast Magazine. Malaga, nº of January 2001.

MALSON, l. Des Musiques de jazz. Roquevaire, Parentheses, 1983.

ORMOND, C. John Coltrane. Madrid, Júcar, 1985.

RALPH, j. jazz Heroes. Madrid, Júcar, 1980.

THOMAS, J.C. Chasin' The Trane: John Coltrane. Paris, Denoël, 1984.

WALTON, O. Music: Black, White, and Blue: A sociological Survey Or The Use And Misuse Of Afro-American Music. New York, William Morrow, 1972.

VV.. masters of jazz. (Coordinated by C. Sampayo), 6 volumes. Planeta Agostini, 1988-89.

-Great jazz encyclopedia. (Coordinated by A. Mazzoletti), 4 volumes. Sarpe, 1980.

Basic discography

With the Miles Davis Quintet:

1956 = Trane's blues 1956 = Round Midnight 1956 = It Couls Happen to you1958 = Dr. Jekyll (1958) 1959 = Flamenco Sketches (1959) 1959 = Kind of blue (1959)

With Thelonius Monk:

1957 = Thelonious Himself

With Duke Ellington:

1962 = The Feeling Of Jazz

With his own band:

1957 = Dakar 1958 = Russian Lubally 1959 = Giant steps 1959 = Coltrane Jazz 1960 = My Favorite Things 1960 = Plays the Blues 1961 = Ole 1964 = 1964 Impressions = A Love Supreme 1964 = Transition 1964 = First Meditations 1963 = Live in Stockholm 1963 = Paris-Concert 1964 = Crescent 1965 = Live in Paris 1965 = Ascension 1965 = Live in Seattle 1966 = Meditations 1966 = Cosmic music 1967 = Expression 1967 = Interstellar space 1996 = The heavy-weiht champion

R. P. Virtanen