Follow TV Tropes


Music / John Coltrane

Go To
The Father, Trane
John William Coltrane (September 23, 1926 – July 17, 1967) was a legendary American saxophonist. His bold, aggressive saxophone style was hugely influential in the avant-garde jazz scene of the early '60s and late in the free jazz scene of the mid-to-late 1960s. Unfortunately, he died at a very young age in 1967, after a series of extremely experimental albums. His legacy includes being worshiped as a saint, and even by some as a deity, but more prosaically, he's still one of the most influential musicians of his generation in that it took at least two generations before sax players didn't automatically try to emulate him. His influence isn't limited to just sax players, either: a large number of rock guitarists such as Duane Allman, Frank Zappa, and Jimi Hendrix have cited his profound influence over their work, and his influence extends even beyond that, to metal bands such as Deathspell Omega, electronic musicians such as Flying Lotus (perhaps not coincidentally, Coltrane's grand-nephew), and hip-hop artists such as Kendrick Lamar. His widow, pianist and harpist Alice Coltrane (née McLeod, later known as Turiyasangitananda or Turiya Alice Coltrane), later became a respected bandleader in her own right, and many of her albums such as Journey in Satchidananda and World Galaxy are regarded as Spiritual Successors to her late husband's work.

Albums by Coltrane with their own page:

Coltrane provides examples of:

  • All Hail the Great God Mickey!: Venerated as a saint by the St. John William Church, founded in 1971. Since 1982, they are actually part of the African Orthodox Church.
  • Cover Album: My Favorite Things is a collection of standards. This is common for jazz artists, but less so for the less conventional Coltrane.
  • Crossover: His album with Duke Ellington was conceived by his label as an attempt to reassure his listeners that he wasn't going completely avant-garde, but both he and Ellington were such good musicians that the result is one of the best things that either of them ever did.
  • Darker and Edgier: In a few cases.
    • Giant Steps can be contrasted with Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, which Coltrane also played on. The two albums were recorded within a few weeks of each other, but Kind of Blue is light, pretty and quiet enough that you can play it as background music, whereas Giant Steps is much faster, louder, busier and more intense.
    • Ascension will inevitably be compared to Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz in that they are both roughly 40-minute free jazz improvisations. However, while Free Jazz was a radical departure from anything that came before it, it still actually kept quite a few elements of traditional jazz harmony and structure. Ascension dispenses with even most of those, and thus it's a lot more chaotic and inaccessible.
    • Coltrane also did this to himself, most notably with The Olatunji Concert, which probably remains one of the darkest and edgiest jazz records ever made.
  • Epic Rocking: While he always had tendencies of this, it really became his specialty towards the end of his life. This really took off in earnest with Ascension, which (in most of its LP releases, anyway) consisted of a single track approaching 41 minutes in length, and didn't look back. (CD re-releases have added a second version, which lasts for some 38½ minutes, making the album last 79 minutes with only two songs. This version was used on the earliest pressings of the LP, but was replaced a few months after the original release with the longer version, which Coltrane seems to have regarded as the definitive performance.) The peak of his use of this trope is probably with the album Live in Japan, where the shortest song is twenty-five minutes long and three of them are longer than Ascension, with two of them nearing an hour. The album is on four discs despite containing only six tracks.
  • God-Is-Love Songs: Coltrane was a deeply religious man who had interests in several religions, among them Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. He incorporated musical sounds from these cultures in his own music and recorded an entire album, A Love Supreme devoted to his love for God.
  • Impractical Musical Instrument Skills: Towards the end of his career, Coltrane began to exhibit a vocal version, pounding his chest to affect his voice during his occasional vocal spot.
  • In Harmony with Nature: As he explained himself:
    All a musician can do is get closer to the sources of nature, and so feel that he is in communion with the natural laws.
  • Lead Bassist: Jimmy Garrison, the lone classic quartet member to stay with Coltrane when he went to free jazz territory, frequently went on impressionistic bass solos.
  • Lead Drummer: Worked with quite a few.
    • The most famous of his drummers is Elvin Jones, a classic quartet member whose polyrhythmic wailing on the drums proved almost as influential among rock drummers as Coltrane's own improv style.
    • Another example is Rashied Ali, whose own out-there style was a major component of Coltrane's free jazz era.
  • One-Woman Song: "Naima" and "Cousin Mary," both from the Giant Steps album. The first is named after Coltrane's wife at the time, the second after his cousin.
  • Patron Saint: See above. The Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco celebrates a three-hour mass every Sunday, incorporating Orthodox liturgy with improvised music in the Coltrane tradition.
  • The Perfectionist: Had incredibly high standards for his music. He practiced for hours at a time, a habit that bewildered his bandleader Miles Davis, who could be arduously demanding himself. Coltrane would develop his technique in excruciating detail, sometimes searching for weeks just to find a mouthpiece that suited his taste. Some psychologists have hypothesized that this was a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder, while devotees have pointed out that such extremes may have been quite reasonable for a musician of Coltrane's caliber.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Coltrane composed for the 1964 Quebecois film Le chat dans le sac (The Cat in the Bag), directed by Gilles Groulx. Coltrane's soundtrack was finally issued on its own in 2019 as Blue World.
  • Rearrange the Song: Because he was a jazz musician, his songs could vary significantly each time he performed them live. But even by jazz standards, he took this quite far.
  • Scary Musician, Harmless Music: Famously inverted. Coltrane was mild-mannered, soft-spoken and so non-confrontational that he meekly put up with Miles Davis hitting him (admittedly, because Coltrane was a junkie at the time and kept falling asleep on the bandstand.) His music is absolutely volcanic, with torrents of notes blasting out of his sax for minutes on end. Once he got off drugs, he conformed even more to this trope, becoming better-dressed and even more modest and self-effacing, except when he was playing music.
    • When most jazz musicians get abused in reviews, they tend either to get annoyed or to shrug it off. Coltrane would write polite letters to critics who gave him bad reviews and offer to explain anything they found hard to understand.
  • Serial Escalation: The length of his solos and songs in general, the intensity of his work, the complexity of his compositions: by all appearances, Coltrane believed in pushing himself to the limit at every level possible.
  • Start My Own: After his death, in particular, a number of his former band members went onto notable careers as bandleaders in their own rights. Some examples include Pharoah Sandersnote , Archie Shepp, and Coltrane's widow Alice, as mentioned above. Even during Coltrane's life, his erstwhile flautist Eric Dolphy was well on his way to establishing a notable solo career before he died suddenly, tragically, and senselessly from insulin shock.
  • Train Song: "Blue Train".
  • World Music: Later in his career, Coltrane's work became more inspired by Arabian and Indian music. He even named his son Ravi after Ravi Shankar.