John Coltrane

.. se musical textures . The Davis band did very well for a time, and made several recordings; however, in late 1956, Coltrane was fired from the band because of his debilitating heroin addiction. At this point, Coltrane almost gave up music. He actually went to the New York Post Office, and filled out an application to be a postman. He and Naima moved from New York to Philadelphia in November of that year and lived in his mothers house there.

Again, his life reached a low. Drugs and alcohol controlled him. Coltrane realized at this point that he needed to choose between drugs or music. He chose music. For two-weeks, he locked himself in his room and went through a very painful withdrawal.

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When he left that room, he was a cured man, and never touched heroin or alcohol again. During those two weeks, Coltrane had undergone a spiritual rebirth that would send him on his quest to find “the mysterious sound” . This transformation was documented on his album A Love Supreme (1964), considered by many to be the best recording of his solo career. On the album cover, Coltrane wrote- “During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which has guided me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music.

I feel this has been granted through His grace. ALL PRAISE TO GOD.” The album is divided into four parts: Acknowledgment, Resolution, Pursuance, and Psalm. Each part details a different element of his spiritual journey. Coltranes God was not Christian, Muslim, or Jewish; his God was simply a force that provided unity and harmony. “He believed that his humanity, his music, the material world, and God were all one, and that feeling of unity governed his life.” In 1957, Coltrane embarked on the most important learning experience of his life – an apprenticeship with the “High Priest of Bebop”, Thelonius Monk. Coltranes style had been developed with Miles Davis, but it was still somewhat reserved. With Monk, he was transformed into a legend.

“Monk would provide Coltrane with the key to unlock all sorts of musical doors and free the dark and the beautiful visions Coltrane had seen throughout his life.” With the Thelonius Monk quartet, Coltrane learned many techniques that he incorporated into his distinctive style. Instead of concentrating on the melodies, the group focused on the harmonic structure of a song. At this time, Coltrane was stronger than ever. With his mature style, and new sobriety, he was ready to set out on his own. At the end of 1958, Thelonius Monk disbanded the group; Coltrane was about to set out on one of the most highly regarded solo careers in the history of jazz.

In the same year, he recorded over twenty different albums with various artists, and though not famous yet, was widely respected by his fellow musicians. His most important work from this period was Blue Trane (1957), one of the first of his albums that would be widely acclaimed. Critics began to laud him, and regularly gave him good reviews. In 1957, Dom Ceruli wrote in Down Beat magazine “His playing is constantly tense and searching; always a thrilling experience.” After the dissolution of Monks group, Coltrane returned to work with Miles Davis, but in 1960, he left to form his own band. The jazz world of the sixties belonged to Coltrane.

He pushed the limits of music, while attracting ever-bigger audiences. It was during this time that Coltrane searched for the mysterious sound. He once said that the sound for which he was searching was like holding a seashell to his ear. “However one describes the strange sound, it contained some essential truth for him, existing as an omnipresent background hum behind the faade of everyday life.” With the John Coltrane quartet (pianist McCoy Tyner, drummer Elvin Jones, and Reggie Workman on bass), he incorporated tribal music from Africa, India, and the Middle East with that of the new avant-garde movement, free jazz. Free jazz or the New Thing, like the counter-culture of the sixties, was a nonconformist movement.

It purposely avoided the structured sounds of the cool jazz and bebop movements. Instead, it was devoid of any structure, direction, or tonality, and was characterized by random improvisation. As the sixties progressed, Coltrane experimented more and more with different combinations of sounds and instruments. He became obsessed with trying to communicate his musical vision. In 1968, Alice Coltrane (his wife at the time) stated “I think what he was trying to do in music was the same thing he was trying to do in his life.

That was to universalize his music, his life, his religion. It was all based on a universal concept, all-sectarian or non-sectarian.” In the mid-sixties, Coltrane began to take LSD fairly regularly, in an effort to help him explore in greater depth both himself and his music. “For Coltrane and his quest, LSD was a remarkable tool to dig deeper into his own being so he could discover the essential and absolute truth at the center of his being.” Long time fans, however, viewed his music in this period as being too radical, and too far-out. Coltrane felt he was losing control over his music; his experimentation was so far-ranging on that he did not know in what direction he wanted to go. Through it all, he never abandoned the search for the mysterious sound.

In late 1966, Coltrane knew that there was something wrong with him. He didnt feel right, and by early 1967, he stopped performing in public. He knew that his death was imminent. In May of 1967, Coltrane was taken to the hospital, suffering from extreme stomach pain. He was ordered to stay at the hospital, but left anyway.

On Monday, July 17, he passed away. The cause was liver cancer. John Coltranes music both led the way and reflected the enormous varieties of experimentation and development of American Jazz of the 1950s and 60s. Today, his influence is heard in the recordings of almost every young jazz musician. A man of mysticism, whose life was dedicated to sharing his vision of music with others, Coltrane was clearly a creative genius.