Who was John Coltrane

John Coltr

ane: search for the soul
on the saxophone

As a saxophonist he was already unmistakable among 100 other saxophonists at the first note. With his legendary quartet, he established fertile restlessness as a characteristic of modern jazz.


Lay preachers and substitute fund philosophers

It was a legend, is a myth, and it is obvious that such a man called not only serious experts and analysts, but also a great number of lay preachers and substitute fund philosophers on the scene, and continues to do so. And so on the long march through the archives you come across a lot of nonsense in addition to sober, factual information: The English jazz journalist John Fordham, for example, who in his colorful picture book "Jazz" still attests: "When Parker is a bird in flight was, Coltrane is a current that overflows its banks ", but at the same point it goes up to the assertion:" When Miles Davis triumphantly returned to the scene in 1955, Coltrane became the volcanic antithesis of his much-vaunted restraint ". The 1972 faded Berlin "Telegraf" spoke persistently in 1962 in a concert review of "John Colterane", the "Welt" whispered in its obituary of 19 July 1967 of "harmonic impoverishment through modal chord progressions" as well as and of "moving passages by seething insistence ", the" Berliner Morgenpost "spoke on the same occasion of" rabid, hammering, cold explosions "and in 1992 named" A Love Supreme "an" emotional classic in the eternal hit parade of jazz ", and finally Berlin's largest tabloid newspaper even pulling him into complicity in something in which it can be proven that he was really not involved, even if the juvenile criminal law were applied: "The musician developed the together with the stars Lester Young, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane Bebop ", it said in the obituary of the" BZ "for Dexter Gordon on April 27, 1990. So let's try to separate the wheat from the chaff, as far as that is still possible - especially with the time lag.

numbers, data, facts

The bare facts: Born on September 23, 1926 in Hamlet, North Carolina, the son of a medium-sized tailor, John Coltrane first learned alto horn, clarinet and saxophone in high school after the family moved to Philadelphia, before continuing his musical skills among others at the Ornstein School of Music. A professional musician from 1945, after a two-year interlude in an Army band in Hawaii, he got his first engagement in the group of blues star Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, where he was discovered by Dizzy Gillespie. After stops at Earl Bostic and Johnny Hodges, he not only caused a stir in the mid-50s as a tenor in the Miles Davis Quintet with his solo on "round Midnight", but also developed the so-called "modal" improvisation together with the trumpeter , which dissolves and replaces the conventional chord schemes and writes it down for eternity with Davis' legend LP "Kind Of Blue". Healed of alcohol and drugs by turning to a religious spirituality, the interaction with Thelonious Monk and a much-noticed engagement with his group in the New York jazz club "Five Spot" in 1957 put another formative stamp on Coltrane, before joining again in 1959 Miles Davis meets. Meanwhile, from insider tip to a permanent fixture, "Trane", as he is called in beautiful ambiguity, records his only, but all the more convincing "Blue Note" album with "Blue Train" and finally becomes a member, initially in the quintet of the pianist Red Garland, but then also under his own name to one of the figureheads of Bob Weinstock's "Prestige" label.

The change from "Atlantic" to "Impulse" two years later, like the one before from "Prestige" to "Atlantic", brings a bit more artistic freedom and with records like "Crescent", "Africa / Brass" and the live Recording of a performance in New York's "Village Vanguard" a further approach to the limits of conventional jazz and continues to include what is known to us today under the term "world music". Terrified by the looming dissolution of all tonal and rhythmic ties, Tyner and Jones flee the group after the commercial success of the milestone LP "A Love Supreme" from 1965. Coltrane himself works with the group, driven by the search for more and more intensity angry young saxophonists Archie Shepp and Pharao Sanders and with the - according to Joachim Ernst Berendt - "40-minute orgasm" "Ascension" violently kicked the door to free jazz, which Ornette Coleman had already opened in 1961 with his LP, which gave the whole style its name would have. In October 1966, however, Coltrane had to cancel an appearance at the Berlin Jazz Festival for health reasons, and when he died of liver disease on July 17, 1967 in New York at the age of only 41, colleagues and critics alike realized that this was just the physical expression for the mental exhaustion of the man who had raised more questions than he was able to give answers and who knew better than anyone about his deepest tragedy when he once said: "I hear so much and yet I don't know how to put it ".

On the hymn-like power of the pilgrim

It was and is incidentally, as the discussion arises, with "Ascension" still the compressed chaos in which the spirits part and the camps - while the group of disciples enthusiastically takes the free orgy for the ascension that the Title implies, the no less enraged anti-front waves after three minutes at the latest with a rather disparaging "and always so on" rather indignantly. And just as Coltrane's reception history is condensed to the point in "Ascension", in general a myth has rarely been exploited as much in jazz as the self-mangle by God's grace - Coltrane's vita, work and impact history has been in the more than three decades since his Death so much has been written that literature could almost fill a small library of its own and one is tempted now and then to think of a term from the language of rock: "Hype" is used to describe high-powered hysteria, the real one The occasion is hardly appropriate and has sometimes even lost sight of it. So let's limit ourselves to the serious analyzes based on expertise and assessments inspired by understanding:

"It was actually not easy to imagine that this calm and reserved, humble and friendly man had the superhuman energy in him that he demonstrated by inventing music that apparently wanted to shake the universe," admits the Italian Jazz publicist Arrigo Polillo in his book "Jazz - History and Personalities of Afro-American Music", "It seemed as if Coltrane always wanted to say everything, everything he felt and thought. The incredible energy, his passion and the technical mastery his instrument had a shocking effect on the audience. They were drawn into a vortex of dense, deafening and often captivating music, "continues Polillo. And so it also makes sense when Joachim Ernst Berendt treats Coltrane and Ornette Coleman together in one chapter in his standard work "Das Jazzbuch", which is constantly updated, just as he did with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, which he did in Double-column break even directly opposed to each other. "Coltrane's improvisations are stimulatingly exciting with their unsettling contrasts between frenzied melodies and wide-spread individual tones," Germany's jazz pope wrote in the early 1960s, only to later apostrophize the restless seeker in retrospect as a "reluctant revolutionary" and establish: "Coltrane was the 'Sisyphus' who had to roll up the hard, angular rock of knowledge again and again. The music he played from the top of the mountain was carried by the hymnic power of the pilgrim, who was on a further stage had brought the long, thorny path of knowledge behind him and who suspected that there would have to be many more stations. It was the melodist Coltrane ", continues Berendt," who with 'My Favorite Things' at the e rst time achieved a definite hit success with a wide audience. From the constant, only slightly modified repetition of the sequence of notes on the theme, he gained an intensity-creating monotony that was previously unknown in jazz. "

Memories of an "angel on earth"

"My Favorite Things" from 1960 was not only one of the milestones in John Coltrane's discography, which was not exactly poor in terms of climaxes, but also - may I say a personal remark - McCoy Tyner's piano solo, which should never have stopped and which should have left us Lifts mortals out of space and time for a few minutes and lets us glimpse into eternity. And those who were most closely connected to Coltrane as he continually crossed boundaries shaped the encounter with him and left an indelible mark on them: "Working with John was the greatest musical experience of my entire life," McCoy Tyner later admitted , "This group was like the four pistons in a machine. And the funny thing is: We didn't need to be convinced of him, because everything almost seemed to happen by itself." And Elvin Jones, about whose guest appearance in the Berlin club "Quasimodo" in 1993 the "Berliner Morgenpost" began its criticism with the words: "Coltrane is alive, and how even", known at the end of the 60s with perhaps pathetic-sounding, but all the more honest words: "To me he was like an angel on earth. If there is such a thing as a perfect human being, then I think Coltrane was one. And I think that kind of perfection had to come from a greater force than it is here there on earth. "

Between tradition and terrifying quality

It was not least Coltrane's roots in tradition that later prevented him from becoming an outcast, despite all the often difficult to understand outbreaks and outbreaks. "You have to see clearly," emphasizes Berendt, "he became known and successful within the type of jazz that was accepted and successful at the time." "As a charlatan, people would have thrown stones at any other experimenter if he had played like that, because that was the only way he could have played," said the Times in its obituary of July 18, 1967 in front of the ecstatic ponder asked, "Nobody could have said that about Coltrane after his more conventional playing in the 50s showed he was an outstanding musician in every idiom. So it was himself who disagreed with everything he did in the 60s , realizing that his music was of an awe-inspiring, majestic, and almost terrifying quality. " And the "Herald Tribune" finally summed up Coltrane's deepest motivation when it quoted an unnamed Coltrane colleague in its obituary as saying: "He breaks the fine line between noise and music, he screams complacency and mediocrity around him around downright opposite. "

"Education sentimentale" in stages

Ira Gitler called this with a widespread expression 'sheets of sound', "says Polillo, further describing the theoretical background, and Coltrane himself recalled in 1960 in the US jazz journal" Down Beat ":" Sometimes he played (Monk) a separate scheme of altered chords that was quite different from the one I played. We got to a point, and if we really got there together, we could be happy. Monk always came at the right time and saved us. He's a real musical thinker and I'm happy that I was able to play with him. "

The slap in the face that set the tone

If you read Miles Davis's musical biography, two legendary quintets form the cornerstones of everything that would later happen with and in his name in jazz, and Coltrane also played a not insignificant role in the success of the first: in 1955 the two met so radically different Characters together for the first time, and the fruitful tension emerged with albums such as "Workin '" and "Steamin'", "Cookin '" and "Relaxin'", whose title also illuminates the whole range of human mental states from what was supposed to replace the conventional chord scheme as "modal" improvisation.

"A critic of 'Down Beat' heard Coltrane's 'Oriental' as early as 1955," reports Berendt in his essay volume "Ein Fenster aus Jazz". "This date is also interesting because it provides an indication of how to resolve the old issue offers whether Miles Davis or Coltrane gave the first impetus to the modality of modern jazz. Coltrane, I would think, was the initiator, "concludes Berendt and specifies:" Also the abrupt, never fully clarified way in which Davis and Coltrane's separation for the first time in November 1956 points in this direction: Miles had punched Coltrane in the face, and Coltrane, who was already studying everything he could learn about Asian religiosity, had let it happen without defending himself had understood what Coltrane was giving him had opened up; now he wanted to go on alone. "Which of course does not mean that both of them did not intuitively know what they had in each other, and so they fought again from 1959 to 1961 before they finally parted ways, and when they finally went their separate ways in 1959 for" Kind Of Blue "went back into the studio together, the modal concept was interlinked so homogeneously that it became one of the great moments of jazz of all times, which is still not only one of the all-time bestsellers on the record market, but in the age of the CD is republished in digital versions that have been revised again and again.

The prayer cast in vinyl

"1965 was the year of John Coltrane", was the headline "Down Beat" in the December issue of that year, and rightly so: With the election into the "Hall Of Fame", as Musician of the Year, Saxophonist of the Year and " A Love Supreme "as record of the year, it took first place four times in the favor of both critics and readers. But 1965 was also the year in which his search for meaning had carried him to hitherto unreached inner heights. Because although he had long been concerned with a religiously tinged mysticism, he had come into contact with the pantheism of the black continent, at least from a distance, through the preparation of his "Africa / Brass" records from 1961, and in unconscious ambiguity he had already at the beginning of the 60s called one of his titles "Spiritual", which could also mean the style term of the spiritual song as well as "spiritual" in general.

But with the great and great "A Love Supreme" - for Berendt "a single great prayer of hymnic urgency" - this search for meaning had irrevocably crossed the boundary between the inner and outer world, manifested itself as and in art and a broad one Audience abandoned, not to say: at the mercy.

Trane & Jazz & Rock 'n' Roll

"His religiosity has been called 'cosmic', and he has declared several times that he believes in all religions", reports Arrigo Polillo and at the same time adjusts the dimensions: "What is certain, however, is that his love for Indian music will soon turn him into Brought close to the Indian religion, which fascinated him especially in the last years of his life. " And that a few years later, when God and the world began to go on the trip, the first gurus were booming and the first wave of the new culture of well-being swept over us, which we now call, for the sake of simplicity, under the collective term "esotericism "or the" New Age "- that the inwardness apostle of all stripes had to attract as the moths the light, is almost inevitable. And yet it was a real surprise when Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin of all people, who had been responsible for down-to-earth Latino and jazz rock respectively, converted the CBS studio into an ashram in 1973 and with their version of "A Love Supreme" on the in jumped on the rushing ying, yang and karma train at full speed. "I tore the record off the turntable and pressed it to my heart," wrote the late music critic Barry Graves in a 1973 review, and we hope it didn't melt there.

But Coltrane shone far beyond the boundaries of actual jazz: "The entire musical scene - jazz and rock and jazz-rock - is inconceivable today without John Coltrane," states Berendt in "A Window from Jazz", and Polillo adds : "In fact, in addition to Coltrane's style as a saxophonist, his modal conceptions have made school in both jazz and rock". And so it was especially the avant-garde groups of the early days of rock who passed on its legacy, albeit modified and in part already sucked, to an audience that had little interest in jazz in general and free jazz had: "East Of Eden", for example, owed him just as much as their other role models Bartok and Ravel, the Dutch classic rockers of "Focus" explicitly named him as a formative influence, and alto saxophonist Edgar Winter, brother of the blues guitarist Johnny Winter, had himself For years he was kept afloat with mixed blues and coltrane programs on bar-tingel tours before he was recognized as a star in his own right.

Clear words in the fog of formulations

If it was stated above that a lot of nonsense had also been written about John Coltrane, this applies not only to jazz literature in the narrower sense and publications in the broader sense, but also to an additional field of activity of charlatans, whackers and pigeonholes - Sorters: If you take the trouble and read the so-called "liner notes", the accompanying texts on record covers, you will usually come across at least as much faded fluff and fluffy platitudes as really relevant information, because background and context illuminate, Renowned star critics and ambitious nobodies are in no way inferior. Coltrane, too, was often the victim of many verbose and meaningless literary outpourings, and so it is all the more gratifying that at least the French vinyl re-release of the 1960 album "John Coltrane Plays The Blues" from the end of the 70s has met with all the tirades and everyone Chatter refuses and instead gets to the point briefly, succinctly and precisely: "You can't help but indulge yourself in the perfect ease with which Coltrane takes his blues exam. Playing blues is the touchstone of every jazz musician. On this album Coltrane interprets six blues tracks in six different ways, sometimes tender, sometimes gripping, sometimes lyrical. In love with contrasts, he turns a simple, moving phrase into an improvisation of unique kind of complexity ", the anonymous writer noted and recommended:" An album that should be played to fans of folk, rhythm & blues and pop alike, with pop lovers in particular, already sensitized to the blues, in this way can particularly benefit from an approach to jazz in a field that they are already familiar with ".

A myth between a curse and a blessing

John Coltrane, the soul-seeker on the saxophone, the mystic, who with his hypnotic music was a blessing and a curse at the same time and who with each further of his "Giant Steps" one giant step further on the way to - as we say today - "expansion of consciousness" has gone in the direction of the archaic-demonic core that seethes in the deepest interior of every human being, an Icarus who had already come precariously close to the sun. "You still have to have chaos in you to be able to give birth to a dancing star", the ecstatic rapturous Nietzsche had put the most dangerous of all temptations into his alter ego Zarathustra, before he later fell victim to it himself, and is only superficially macabre hence the question that is still in the room more than three decades after Coltrane's death: Wasn't it perhaps for the best that he died physically before he was psychologically broken?

At least the conclusion that "Down Beat" had already drawn as a quintessence from the poll ratings of 1965 has not lost its validity to this day: "Whether heard personally or from a record - Coltrane's powerful music rarely leaves listeners indifferent; some are repelled by their violence, but much more attracted by their strength and beauty, and still others by their mystical charisma. But above all else, Coltrane's music is art of awe-inspiring seriousness. "


as a leader:

  • Traning In (Prestige / OJC, 1957)

  • The Last Trane (Prestige / OJC, 1957)

  • Lush Life (Prestige / OJC, 1958)

  • The Complete Prestige Recordings (Zyx, 1956-1958, 16-CD box)

  • Blue Train (Blue Note, 1957)

  • Giant Steps (Atlantic, 1959)

  • Plays The Blues (Atlantic, 1960)

  • My Favorite Things (Atlantic, 1960)

  • The Avant-Garde (Atlantic, 1960, m. Don Cherry)

  • Olé (Atlantic, 1961)

  • The Heavyweight Champion: The Complete Atlantic Recordings (1959-1961, 7-CD box)

  • Live At The Village Vanguard (Impulse, 1961)

  • Africa / Brass (Impulse, 1960/1)

  • A Love Supreme (Impulse, 1964)

  • Ascension (Impulse, 1965)

as a sideman:

  • Red Garland: All Morning Long / Soul Junction / Dig It (Prestige / OJC, 1957)

  • Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane (Riverside / OJC, 1957)

  • Miles Davis: Workin ‘/ Steamin‘ / Relaxin ‘/ Cookin‘ (Prestige / OJC, 1956)

  • Miles Davis: ’round About Midnight / Kind Of Blue / Someday My Prince Will Come (CBS / Sun-

  • ny, 1956-1961)

  • Gene Ammons: Groove Blues (Prestige / OJC, 1958)