John Coltrane was the greatest jazz saxophonist of his time and to this day. His influence can still be seen not only in jazz music today but in other genres as well.
He was born in 1926 in North Carolina where he grew up until moving to Philadelphia in 1943 as a young man. He joined the Navy in 1945 but soon returned to Philadelphia in 1946, working odd jobs to pay bills but eventually joining Dizzy Gillespie’s band in 1949. He played alto saxophone, eventually switching to tenor saxophone and working with Gillespie until 1951. At this time he returned to Philadelphia to go to school.
In 1952 and 1953 he played in a few small bands featuring Earl Bostic and replacing Johnny Hodges while he was on sabbatical from his position as Duke Ellington’s saxophonist. In 1955 he began working with Miles Davis and throughout the next two years was able to produce some of the most influential work of his career. He continued to work with Davis for a few years through 1960 helping to shape some of Davis’ most prolific works, including “Milestones”. During this time, in 1957, Coltrane worked with Thelonius Monk at the Five Spot in New York and producing one of the most legendary gigs in jazz history.
It wasn’t until mid-1960 that Coltrane actually was able to get his own working Quartet together. The line up featured pianist McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones and Reggie Workman. They recorded on Atlantic and produced Coltrane’s first hit recording “My Favorite Things”. In 1961 the group signed to a new label, Impulse, and were joined by a new member, Eric Dolphy, and they recorded at the Village Vanguard in New York City. Also during this time Coltrane produced some of his most significant work including a recording with Duke Ellington entitled “Ballads”.
His most significant time period was by far between 1964 and 1965, when Coltrane recorded “A Love Supreme” and “Meditations” as well as quite a few significant group sessions.
Coltrane’s Quartet had broken up by early 1966 with Coltrane’s drive for creating new sounds and the band’s interests coming into conflict. He put together another group consisting of his wife Alice on piano, Rashied Ali on drums and Jimmy Garrison on bass. They recorded a few concerts and group sessions in 1967.
Coltrane’s career spans a mere 12 years between 1955 and 1967 where he was able to help to reshape jazz and influence many other musicians. His influence can be seen today, spanning genres and influence many new musicians in the industry.