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No. 8, July 2000
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John Coltrane: Impressions, 1961-63 (remastered 2000). Get it from:
- Amazon.com
- Amazon.co.uk
- Amazon.fr
- Amazon.de
 

John Coltrane: A Love Supreme, 1965 (1995). Get it from:
- Amazon.com 
- Amazon.co.uk (a live album re-issue from Castle Pie, 2000)
 

John Coltrane: Ascension, 1965 (remastered 2000). Get it from:
- Amazon.com
- Amazon.co.uk
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- Amazon.de
 

John Coltrane, Archie Shepp: New Thing At Newport, 1965 (remastered 2000). Get it from:
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- Amazon.de
 

John Coltrane: Kulu Se Mama, 1965 (remastered 2000). Get it from:
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John Coltrane: Interstellar Space, 1967 (remastered 2000). Get it from:
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John Coltrane
biography and the Impulse! recordings
For sheet music by
John Coltrane click here
 
John Coltrane is, together with Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker (and I already dare to include Brad Mehldau who brings again together jazz and classical European music), one of the rare musicians who brought fundamental change to jazz.
 
Born in 1926 in North Carolina, John Coltrane's saxophone playing is rooted in the (more urban R&B) blues tradition. "Trane", as he was called in allusion to a fast train, had one of his first jobs with Joe Webb and his R&B band from Indianapolis and with blues-singer Big Maybelle. 1947/48. he was part of Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinsons R&B band. From 1949 to 1951, Coltrane worked with Dizzy Gillespie, 1952/53 with Earl Bostic and 1953/54 with Johnny Hodges. A year later, he became part of the Miles Davis Quintet - and famous with his solo over Round About Midnight. And Sonny Rollins invited him to be a part of his album Tenor Madness, even before the album with Miles Davis was released.
 
In contrast to another leading figure of what became free jazz, Ornette Coleman, Coltrane had been accepted by the other musicians right from the beginning. Coleman, a self-made musician, had from the beginning created his own style whereas Coltrane acquired his harmonic liberties in a painful and one decade taking development, from the first timid experiments with Miles Davis in 1956 to his 1965-album Ascension.
 
Ascension is considered Coltrane's decisive step to liberty, a watershed in the history of jazz. But before that album, Coltrane developed in the late 1950s, playing with Thelonious Monk, what Ira Gitler calls Sheets of Sounds. "Trane" played the notes, which chased one another, in a (with the exception of Coleman) unprecedented rhythmic and melodic liberty. In 1960, after a change of label, these Sheets of Sounds became less important. Coltrane was now a leader of a Quartet and a Quintet. In 1964, he recorded A Love Supreme, considered by many the highlight of his work: a hymn to God; in 1957, he had had a spiritual awakening, a religious conversion - and God had become the center of his life and music.
 
In the winter 1964/65, Coltrane connected on the human as well as the musical level to the New York avant-garde, the surprise and sensation of the season, according to Joachim-Ernst Berendt. In March 1965, Coltrane played in the New York Village Gate, on the musical, social and racial level an avant-garde place of the "New Black Music". He gave a programmatic free jazz concert. For these people, "Trane" was a poet of the black nation.
 
A few days before his famous Newport Jazz Festival concert, Coltrane recorded the album Ascension, his first album completely free on the tonal level. With Pharaoh Sanders, Archie Shepp, Freddie Hubbard, Dewey Johnson, John Tchicai, Marion Brown, Art Davis, Jimmy Garrison, McCoy Tyner and Elvin Johnes, he had united the most important representatives of the New York avant-garde. The result: a forty-minute orgiastic-ecstatic hymn, as Marion Brown called it. Critics called it "anti-jazz", his followers named it "the new thing". - Coleman of course had reached this freedom five years before with his album Free Jazz - the first time the term was used for the music of the 1960s. In 1965, Ascension was voted album of the year by both Down Beat and Jazz. Down Beat readers also named Coltrane jazzman of the year and best tenor saxophonist.
 
In contrast with Coltrane's already in A Love Supreme vibrant and dynamic style, Coleman's album Free Jazz was lyric, melodic (!), calm, even-balanced and static. Later, with his Prime Time band, Ornette's Free Funk was terribly loud, the only way to make people hear certain (higher) tones. Both made intensive music. Coltrane's starting point was improvisation, whereas with Coleman, composition came first (Joachim-Ernst Berendt).
 
Coltrane/Live at the Village Vanguard Again was released immediately after Ascension. On this album, Coltrane could not continue his musical adventure with his quartet and, therefore, had created a new quintet with Pharaoh Sanders, Trane's wife Alice on the piano, Rashied Ali on drums and Jimmy Garrison on bass. Together with Pharoah Sanders, who pushed him to his musical and physical limits, Coltrane discovered new ground. But in the end, he had to pay tribute to his effort and, last but not least, to his liver-problem.
 
New Thing At Newport by John Coltrane and Archie Shepp is one fine example of how Coltrane gave a helping hand to other musicians. With this concert at the Newport Festival, Archie Shepp instantly rose to fame. The album also shows how Coltrane slowly introduced the public to "the new thing", starting with the melodic and fast-paced One Down, One Up. In My Favorite Things, the music becomes less harmonic and, after a spoken introduction, the free jazz really begins to dominate with Gingerbread, Gingerbread Boy.
 
On the musical level, there were a lot of changes in John Coltrane's group from 1965 to 1967. The leader was still in search of something new but died in 1967 without finding an answer to his quest.
 

www.cosmopolis.ch
No. 8, July 2000
current edition & archives
Art  Film  Music  History  Politics  Archives
Links  For Advertisers  Feedback  German edition  Travel

Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.