Antoine-Joseph "Adolphe" Sax (6 November 1814 – c. 4 February 1894) was a Belgian musical instrument designer and musician who played the flute and clarinet, and is best known for having invented the saxophone.
Adolphe Sax was born in Dinant in Wallonia, Belgium. His father, Charles-Joseph Sax, was an instrument designer himself, who made several changes to the design of the horn. Adolphe began to make his own instruments at an early age, entering two of his flutes and a clarinet into a competition at the age of fifteen. He subsequently studied those two instruments at the Royal School of Singing in Brussels.
Having left the school, Sax began to experiment with new instrument designs, while his father continued to produce conventional instruments to bring money into the household. Adolphe's first important invention was an improvement of the bass clarinet design, which he patented at the age of twenty-four.
In 1841, Sax relocated permanently to Paris, and began work on a new set of instruments that were exhibited there in 1844. These were valved bugles, and although he had not invented the instrument itself, his examples were so much more successful than those of his rivals that they became known as saxhorns. They range in approximately seven different sizes, and paved the path to the creation of the flugelhorn. Today, they are widely used in concert bands and sometimes in orchestras. The saxhorn also laid the groundwork for the modern euphonium.
Sax also developed the saxotromba family, valved brass instruments with narrower bore than the saxhorns, in 1845, though they survived only briefly.
Saxhorn instruments spread rapidly throughout the world. The saxhorn valves were accepted as state of the art and are still largely unchanged today. The advances made by Adolphe Sax were soon followed by the British brass band movement, which exclusively adopted the saxhorn range. The Jedforest Instrumental Band formed in 1854 and The Hawick Saxhorn Band formed in 1855, within the Scottish Borders, a decade after saxhorn models became available.
The period around 1840 saw Sax inventing the clarinette-bourdon, an early (and unsuccessful) design of contrabass clarinet. Most significantly, at this time he developed the instrument for which he is now best known, the saxophone, patented in 1846. The saxophone was invented for use in both orchestras and concert bands. Composer Hector Berlioz wrote approvingly of the new instrument in 1842. By 1846 Sax had designed, on paper, a full range of saxophones (from sopranino to subcontrabass). Although they never became standard orchestral instruments, the saxophones made his reputation, and secured him a job teaching at the Paris Conservatoire from 1867.
Sax continued to make instruments later in life, as well as presiding over a new saxophone class at the Paris Conservatoire. However, rival instrument makers attacked the legitimacy of his patents and mounted a long campaign of litigation against Sax and his company, driving him into bankruptcy twice (in 1856 and 1873).
Sax suffered from lip cancer between 1853 and 1858 but made a full recovery. He died in 1894 in Paris and was interred in section 5 (Avenue de Montebello) at the Cimetière de Montmartre in Paris.
Charles "Charlie" Parker, Jr. (August 29, 1920 – March 12, 1955), also known as "Yardbird" and "Bird", was an American jazz saxophonist and composer.
Parker acquired the nickname "Yardbird" early in his career and the shortened form, "Bird", which continued to be used for the rest of his life, inspired the titles of a number of Parker compositions, such as "Yardbird Suite", "Ornithology", "Bird Gets the Worm", and "Bird of Paradise."
Parker was a highly influential jazz soloist and a leading figure in the development of bebop, a form of jazz characterized by fast tempos, virtuosic technique, and improvisation. Parker introduced revolutionary harmonic ideas, including rapid passing chords, new variants of altered chords, and chord substitutions. His tone ranged from clean and penetrating to sweet and somber. Many Parker recordings demonstrate virtuosic technique and complex melodic lines, sometimes combining jazz with other musical genres, including blues, Latin, and classical.
Parker was an icon for the hipster subculture and later the Beat Generation, personifying the jazz musician as an uncompromising artist and intellectual, rather than an entertainer.
Charlie Parker was born in Kansas City, Kansas, and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, the only child of Charles and Addie Parker. Parker attended Lincoln High School. He enrolled in September 1934 and withdrew in December 1935, just before joining the local Musicians Union.
In the late 1930s Parker began to practice diligently. During this period he mastered improvisation and developed some of the ideas that led to bebop. In an interview with Paul Desmond, he said that he spent 3–4 years practicing up to 15 hours a day.
Bands led by Count Basie and Bennie Moten undoubtedly influenced Parker. He played with local bands in jazz clubs around Kansas City, Missouri, where he perfected his technique, with the assistance of Buster Smith, whose dynamic transitions to double and triple time influenced Parker's developing style.
In 1938, Parker joined pianist Jay McShann's territory band. The band toured nightclubs and other venues of the southwest, as well as Chicago and New York City. Parker made his professional recording debut with McShann's band.
As a teenager, Parker developed a morphine addiction while in the hospital, after an automobile accident, and subsequently became addicted to heroin. He continued using heroin throughout his life, which ultimately contributed to his death.
New York City
In 1942 Parker left McShann's band and played with Earl Hines for one year, whose band included Dizzy Gillespie, who later played with Parker as a duo. Unfortunately, this period is virtually undocumented, due to the strike of 1942–1943 by the American Federation of Musicians, during which time few recordings were made. Parker joined a group of young musicians, and played in after-hours clubs in Harlem, such as Clark Monroe's Uptown House and Minton's Playhouse. These young iconoclasts included Gillespie, pianist Thelonious Monk, guitarist Charlie Christian, and drummer Kenny Clarke. The beboppers' attitude was summed up in a famous quotation attributed to Monk by Mary Lou Williams: "We wanted a music that they couldn't play" – "they" being the white bandleaders who had usurped and profited from swing music. The group played in venues on 52nd Street, including Three Deuces and The Onyx. While in New York City, Parker studied with his music teacher, Maury Deutsch.
According to an interview Parker gave in the 1950s, one night in 1939, he was playing "Cherokee" in a jam session with guitarist William "Biddy" Fleet when he hit upon a method for developing his solos that enabled one of his main musical innovations. He realized that the twelve tones of the chromatic scale can lead melodically to any key, breaking some of the confines of simpler jazz soloing.
Early in its development, this new type of jazz was rejected by many of the established, traditional jazz musicians who disdained their younger counterparts. The beboppers responded by calling these traditionalists "moldy figs". However, some musicians, such as Coleman Hawkins and Benny Goodman, were more positive about its development, and participated in jam sessions and recording dates in the new approach with its adherents.
Because of the two-year Musicians' Union ban of all commercial recordings from 1942 to 1944, much of bebop's early development was not captured for posterity. As a result, it gained limited radio exposure. Bebop musicians had a difficult time gaining widespread recognition. It was not until 1945, when the recording ban was lifted, that Parker's collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Bud Powell and others had a substantial effect on the jazz world. One of their first (and greatest) small-group performances together was rediscovered and issued in 2005: a concert in New York's Town Hall on June 22, 1945. Bebop soon gained wider appeal among musicians and fans alike.
On November 26, 1945, Parker led a record date for the Savoy label, marketed as the "greatest Jazz session ever." The tracks recorded during this session include "Ko-Ko" and "Now's the Time".
Shortly afterwards, the Parker/Gillespie band traveled to an unsuccessful engagement at Billy Berg's club in Los Angeles. Most of the group returned to New York, but Parker remained in California, cashing in his return ticket to buy heroin. He experienced great hardship in California, eventually being committed to Camarillo State Mental Hospital for a six-month period.
Parker's chronic addiction to heroin caused him to miss gigs and lose work. He frequently resorted to busking on the streets, receiving loans from fellow musicians and admirers, and pawning his saxophones for drug money. Heroin use was rampant in the jazz scene and the drug could be acquired easily.
Although he produced many brilliant recordings during this period, Parker's behavior became increasingly erratic. Heroin was difficult to obtain when he moved to California, where the drug was less abundant, and Parker began to drink heavily to compensate for it. A recording for the Dial label from July 29, 1946, provides evidence of his condition. Prior to this session, Parker drank a quart of whiskey. According to the liner notes of Charlie Parker on Dial Volume 1, Parker missed most of the first two bars of his first chorus on the track, "Max Making Wax." When he finally did come in, he swayed wildly and once spun all the way around, away from his microphone. On the next tune, "Lover Man", producer Ross Russell physically supported Parker. On "Bebop" (the final track Parker recorded that evening) he begins a solo with a solid first eight bars. On his second eight bars, however, Parker begins to struggle, and a desperate Howard McGhee, the trumpeter on this session, shouts, "Blow!" at Parker. Charles Mingus considered this version of "Lover Man" to be among Parker's greatest recordings, despite its flaws. Nevertheless, Parker hated the recording and never forgave Ross Russell for releasing it. He re-recorded the tune in 1951 for Verve.
When Parker was released from the hospital, he was clean and healthy, and proceeded to do some of the best playing and recording of his career. He converted to Islam in the manner of the Ahmadiyya movement in the US. Before leaving California, he recorded "Relaxin' at Camarillo", in reference to his hospital stay. He returned to New York, resumed his addiction to heroin and recorded dozens of sides for the Savoy and Dial labels, which remain some of the high points of his recorded output. Many of these were with his so-called "classic quintet" including trumpeter Miles Davis and drummer Max Roach.
Charlie Parker with Strings
A longstanding desire of Parker's was to perform with a string section. He was a keen student of classical music, and contemporaries reported he was most interested in the music and formal innovations of Igor Stravinsky and longed to engage in a project akin to what later became known as Third Stream, a new kind of music, incorporating both jazz and classical elements as opposed to merely incorporating a string section into performance of jazz standards.
On November 30, 1949, Norman Granz arranged for Parker to record an album of ballads with a mixed group of jazz and chamber orchestra musicians. Six master takes from this session comprised the album Charlie Parker with Strings: "Just Friends", "Everything Happens to Me", "April in Paris", "Summertime", "I Didn't Know What Time It Was", and "If I Should Lose You". The sound of these recordings is rare in Parker's catalog. Parker's improvisations are, in comparison to his usual work, more distilled and economical. His tone is darker and softer than on his small-group recordings, and the majority of his lines are beautiful embellishments on the original melodies rather than harmonically based improvisations. These are among the few recordings Parker made during a brief period when he was able to control his heroin habit, and his sobriety and clarity of mind are evident in his playing. Parker stated that, of his own records, Bird With Strings was his favorite. Although using classical music instrumentation with jazz musicians was not entirely original, this was the first major work where a composer of bebop was matched with a string orchestra.
Jazz at Massey Hall
Parker is known to have played several saxophones, including the Conn 6M, The Martin Handicraft and Selmer Model 22. Parker is also known to have performed with a King "Super 20" saxophone. Parker's King Super 20 saxophone was made specially for him in 1947.
Parker's grave at Lincoln Cemetery.
Parker died in the suite of his friend and patron Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter at the Stanhope Hotel in New York City while watching The Dorsey Brothers' Stage Show on television. The official causes of death were lobar pneumonia and a bleeding ulcer but Parker also had an advanced case of cirrhosis and had suffered a heart attack. The coroner who performed his autopsy mistakenly estimated Parker's 34-year-old body to be between 50 and 60 years of age.
Parker had been living since 1950 with Chan Richardson, the mother of his son Baird and his daughter Pree (who died as an infant of cystic fibrosis). He considered Chan his wife; however he never formally married her, nor did he divorce his previous wife, Doris (whom he had married in 1948). This complicated the settling of Parker's inheritance and would ultimately serve to frustrate his wish to be quietly interred in New York City.
Parker had told Chan that he did not want to be buried in the city of his birth; that New York was his home. Dizzy Gillespie paid for the funeral arrangements and organized a lying-in-state, a Harlem procession officiated by Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., as well as a memorial concert, before Parker's body was flown back to Missouri, in accordance with his mother's wishes. Parker's widow criticized Parker’s family for giving him a Christian funeral even though they knew he was a confirmed atheist. Parker was buried at Lincoln Cemetery in Missouri, in a hamlet known as Blue Summit.
Parker's estate is managed by CMG Worldwide.
Coleman Randolph Hawkins, nicknamed Hawk and sometimes "Bean" (November 21, 1904 – May 19, 1969), was an American jazz tenor saxophonist. He was one of the first prominent jazz musicians on his instrument. As Joachim E. Berendt explained, "there were some tenor players before him, but the instrument was not an acknowledged jazz horn". While Hawkins is most strongly associated with the swing music and big band era, he had a role in the development of bebop in the 1940s.
Fellow saxophonist Lester Young, who was called "Pres", in a 1959 interview with The Jazz Review, said: "As far as I'm concerned, I think Coleman Hawkins was the President first, right? As far as myself, I think I'm the second one." Miles Davis once said: "When I heard Hawk, I learned to play ballads."
Early life and the swing era
Hawkins was born in Saint Joseph, Missouri, in 1904. Some out-of-date sources say 1901, but there is no evidence to prove an earlier date; instead, there is record of Hawkins's parents' first female child being born on 8 March 1901 and dying in 1903 at the age of two, possibly basis for the mistaken belief. He was named Coleman after his mother Cordelia's maiden name.
He attended high school in Chicago, then in Topeka, Kansas at Topeka High School. He later stated that he studied harmony and composition for two years at Washburn College in Topeka while still attending THS. In his youth he played piano and cello, and started playing saxophone at the age of nine; by the age of fourteen he was playing around eastern Kansas.
Hawkins's first major gig was with Mamie Smith's Jazz Hounds in 1921, whom he joined permanently in April 1922 and toured with through 1923, when he settled in New York City. Hawkins joined Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra, where he remained until 1934, sometimes doubling on clarinet and bass saxophone. Hawkins's playing changed significantly during Louis Armstrong's tenure with the Henderson Orchestra during 1924-25. In the late 20's, Hawkins also participated in some of the earliest interracial recording sessions with the Mound City Blue Blowers. During the time with Henderson, he became a star soloist with an increasing amount of star solos on record. While with the band, he and Henry "Red" Allen recorded a series of small group sides for ARC (on their Perfect, Melotone, Romeo, and Oriole labels). Hawkins also recorded a number of solo recordings, with either piano or with a pick-up band of Henderson's musicians in 1933-34, just prior to his European trip. He was also featured on a landmark Benny Goodman February 2, 1934 session for Columbia, which also featured Mildred Bailey as guest vocalist.
In late 1934, Hawkins accepted an invitation to play with Jack Hylton's band in London, and toured Europe as a soloist until 1939, memorably working with Django Reinhardt and Benny Carter in Paris in 1937. Having returned to the United States, on October 11, 1939, he recorded a two-chorus performance of the pop standard "Body and Soul", which he had been performing at Kelly's Stables. A landmark recording of the swing era, recorded as an afterthought at the session, it is notable in that Hawkins ignores almost all of the melody, only the first four bars are stated in a recognizable fashion. In its exploration of harmonic structure it is considered by many to be the next evolutionary step in jazz recording from where Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues" in 1928 left off.
The bebop era
Hawkins with Miles Davis at Three Deuces on 52nd Street in NYC, ca. July 1947. Photo: William P. Gottlieb.
After an unsuccessful attempt to establish a big band, he led a combo at Kelly's Stables on Manhattan's 52nd Street with Thelonious Monk, Oscar Pettiford, Miles Davis, and Max Roach as sidemen. Hawkins always had a keen ear for new talent and styles, and he was leader on what is generally considered the first ever bebop recording session with Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach in 1944. Later he toured with Howard McGhee and recorded with J. J. Johnson and Fats Navarro. He also toured with Jazz at the Philharmonic.
In 1948 Hawkins recorded Picasso, an early piece for unaccompanied saxophone.
After 1948 Hawkins divided his time between New York and Europe, making numerous freelance recordings. In the 1960s, he appeared regularly at the Village Vanguard in Manhattan.
Hawkins directly influenced many bebop performers, and later in his career, recorded or performed with such adventurous musicians as Sonny Rollins, who considered him as his main influence, and John Coltrane. He appears on the Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane (Riverside) record. In 1960 he recorded on Max Roach's We Insist! suite.
The grave of Coleman Hawkins
In the 1950s, Hawkins performed with more traditional musicians such as Henry "Red" Allen and Roy Eldridge with whom he appeared at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival and recorded Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster with fellow tenor saxophonist Ben Webster along with Oscar Peterson (piano), Herb Ellis (guitar), Ray Brown (bass), and Alvin Stoller (drums).
In the 1960s, Hawkins began to drink heavily and his recording output began to wane. However, he did manage to record some notable albums with musicians such as Duke Ellington, among others. His last recording was in 1967.
With failing health, Hawkins succumbed to pneumonia in 1969 and is interred in the Yew Plot at the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.
The Song of the Hawk, a 1990 biography written by British jazz historian John Chilton, chronicles Hawkins's career as one of the influential jazz performers of the 20th century.
Dexter Gordon (February 27, 1923 – April 25, 1990) was an American jazz tenor saxophonist and an Academy Award-nominated actor (Round Midnight, Warner Bros, 1986). He is regarded as one of the first and most important musicians to adapt the bebop musical language of people like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bud Powell to the tenor saxophone. His studio and live performance career were both extensive and multifaceted, spanning over 50 years in recorded jazz history.
Gordon's height was 6 feet 6 inches (198 cm), so he was also known as "Long Tall Dexter" and "Sophisticated Giant". He played a Conn 10M 'Ladyface' tenor until it was stolen in a Paris airport in 1961. He then switched over to a Selmer Mark VI. His saxophone was fitted with an Otto Link metal mouthpiece, which can be seen in various photos.
In 1985, Dexter Gordon was named a member and Officer of the French Order of Arts and Letters by the Ministry of Culture in France, and was nominated for an Academy Award in 1986. He died on April 25, 1990, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Gordon was born and grew up in Los Angeles, where his father was a doctor who counted Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton among his patients. He played clarinet from the age of 13, before switching to saxophone (initially alto, then tenor) at 15. While still at school, he was playing in bands with such contemporaries as Chico Hamilton and Buddy Collette.
Between 1940 and 1943, Gordon was a member of Lionel Hampton's band, playing in a saxophone section alongside Illinois Jacquet and Marshall Royal. In 1943 he made his first recordings under his own name, alongside Nat Cole and Harry Edison. During 1943-44 he featured in the Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson bands, before joining Billy Eckstine.
By 1945, Gordon had left the Eckstine band and was resident in New York, where he was performing and recording with Charlie Parker, as well as recording under his own name. Gordon was a virtuoso particularly famous for his titanic saxophone duels with fellow tenorman Wardell Gray that were a popular live attraction and that were documented in several albums between 1947 and 1952.
Many would characterize Gordon's sound as being 'large' and spacious and his tendency to play behind the beat is discernible. One of his major influences was Lester Young. Gordon, in turn, was an early influence on John Coltrane during the 1940s and 1950s. Coltrane's playing, however, during his early period from the mid to late '50s or early '60s influenced Gordon's playing from then onward. Similarities in their styles include their clear, strong, metallic tones, their tendencies to bend up to high notes, and their abilities to single-tongue and still swing. One of Gordon's idiosyncrasies was to recite the lyrics of each ballad before playing it.
Blue Note recordings
Gordon was a saxophonist for the L.A. production of the Jack Gelber play The Connection in 1960, replacing Jackie McLean who performed and recorded the Freddie Redd score in New York City. By this time he had begun recording for Blue Note Records a collaboration that was to produce some of his most highly-regarded work on the albums Doin' Alright, Dexter Calling..., Go, and A Swingin' Affair. The first two, his Blue Note debuts, were recorded over three days in May 1961 with Freddie Hubbard, Horace Parlan and others. The last two were recorded in August 1962 just before Gordon left for his extended stay in Europe. On these albums the rhythm section was Blue Note staples Sonny Clark, Butch Warren and Billy Higgins.
Years in Europe
After that, he spent 15 years in Europe, mostly in Paris and Copenhagen, where he played regularly with fellow expatriate jazzmen such as Bud Powell, Ben Webster, Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, Kenny Drew, Horace Parlan and Billy Higgins. Gordon also visited the States occasionally for further recording dates with Blue Note Records. From this period Our Man in Paris, One Flight Up, and Gettin' Around are regarded as among his finest sessions. Our Man in Paris was a Blue Note session recorded in Paris, France in 1963 with a quartet including pianist Bud Powell, drummer Kenny Clarke, and French bassist Pierre Michelot. One Flight Up features an extended solo by Gordon on the track "Tanya" recorded in Paris in 1964 with trumpeter Donald Byrd, while Gettin' Around was recorded during a visit back to the US in May 1965, as was the unreleased album Clubhouse.
Less well-known, but of similar quality, are the albums he recorded during the same period for the Danish label SteepleChase (Something Different99, Bouncin' With Dex, and a few dozen others). They feature American sidemen but also such Europeans as Spanish pianist Tete Montoliu and Danish bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen.
Gordon found Europe in the 1960s a much easier place to live, saying that he experienced less racism and greater respect for jazz musicians. Furthermore in America he had experienced drug addiction and imprisonment twice, and must have found the change of location helpful. While in Copenhagen, Dexter Gordon and Kenny Drew's trio appeared onscreen in Ole Ege's theatrically released hardcore pornographic film Pornografi (1971), for which they composed and performed the score.
From 1965-1973 he switched from Blue Note to Prestige Records but stayed very much on the hard-bop track; while the rest of the jazz world was getting funky, Gordon was making classic bop albums like 1972's Tangerine with Thad Jones, Freddie Hubbard, and Hank Jones. Some of the Prestige albums were recorded during visits back to North America while he was still living in Europe. Others were made in Europe, including live sets from the Montreux Jazz Festival. The American recordings included The Chase, a tenor battle with Gene Ammons cut in Chicago in 1970.
Gordon finally returned to the United States for good in 1976. He appeared at the Village Vanguard, NY, for a gig that was dubbed as his 'homecoming;' and was recorded and released under that title. He noted "There was so much love and elation; sometimes it was a little eerie at the Vanguard. After the last set they'd turn on the lights and nobody would move".
After this appearance, Gordon recorded several more albums that proved he was as good if not better than before his years in Europe, and he finally gained appreciation as one of the great jazz tenors. The increased attention that he received because of Columbia Records promotions has been seen as a turning point in jazz because they focused on acoustic jazz rather than the commercial cross-over styles which had been heavily promoted during the first part of the 1970s.
Gordon made several notable film appearances. The first occurred, oddly enough, while he was in prison for possession of heroin. He portrayed an inmate playing in the prison band in Unchained, though the soundtrack was later overdubbed. In 1986, Gordon starred in the movie Round Midnight as 'Dale Turner', an expatriate jazz musician much like himself; the role might even be a thinly veiled biography of him, though Lester Young and Bud Powell were its main inspirations. Gordon received a nomination for Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal. In addition, he had a non-speaking role in the film Awakenings, which was released after his death. Between these two roles, Gordon made a guest appearance on the Michael Mann series Crime Story.
Gordon died of kidney failure in Philadelphia, PA on April 25, 1990, at age 67. He was voted musician of the year by Down Beat magazine in 1978 and 1980, and in the latter year was inducted into Down Beat's Jazz Hall of Fame.
Gordon's maternal grandfather was Captain Edward L. Baker, one of the five Medal of Honor winners (9th Cav.) in the Spanish-American War who served in the 9th and 10th Cavalries in the group known as the Buffalo Soldiers.
Gordon's father, Dr. Frank Gordon, M.D., was one of the first prominent African-American physicians and a graduate of Howard University.
Dexter Gordon had a total of six children, from the oldest to the youngest: Robin Gordon (Los Angeles, CA), James Canales Gordon (Oakland, CA), Deidre (Dee Dee) Gordon (Los Angeles, CA), Mikael Gordon-Solfors (Stockholm, Sweden), Morten Gordon (Copenhagen, Denmark) and Benjamin Dexter Gordon (Copenhagen, Denmark), and five grandchildren, Raina Moore (Brooklyn, NY), Jared Johnson (Los Angeles, CA), and Matthew Johnson (Los Angeles, CA) Maya Canales (Oakland, CA), Jared Canales (Oakland, CA)
When he lived in Denmark, he became friends with the family of the future Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, and subsequently became Lars's godfather.
Gordon is also survived by his widow and former manager-producer Maxine Gordon.
John William Coltrane (also known as "Trane"; September 23, 1926 – July 17, 1967) was an American jazz saxophonist and composer. Working in the bebop and hard bop idioms early in his career, Coltrane helped pioneer the use of modes in jazz and later was at the forefront of free jazz. He organized at least fifty recording sessions as a leader during his recording career, and appeared as a sideman on many other albums, notably with trumpeter Miles Davis and pianist Thelonious Monk.
As his career progressed, Coltrane and his music took on an increasingly spiritual dimension. His second wife was pianist Alice Coltrane, and their son Ravi Coltrane is also a saxophonist. Coltrane influenced innumerable musicians, and remains one of the most significant tenor saxophonists in jazz history. He received many posthumous awards and recognitions, including canonization by the African Orthodox Church as Saint John William Coltrane. In 2007, Coltrane was awarded the Pulitzer Prize Special Citation for his "masterful improvisation, supreme musicianship and iconic centrality to the history of jazz."
Early life and career (1926–1954)
John Coltrane was born in Hamlet, North Carolina on September 23, 1926, and grew up in High Point, NC, attending William Penn High School (now Penn-Griffin School for the Arts). Beginning in December 1938 Coltrane's aunt, grandparents, and father all died within a few months of each other, leaving John to be raised by his mother and a close cousin. In June 1943 he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the Navy in 1945, and played in the Navy jazz band once he was stationed in Hawaii. Coltrane returned to civilian life in 1946 and began jazz theory studies with Philadelphia guitarist and composer Dennis Sandole. Coltrane continued under Sandole's tutelage until the early 1950s. Originally an altoist, during this time Coltrane also began playing tenor saxophone with the Eddie Vinson Band. Coltrane later referred to this point in his life as a time when "a wider area of listening opened up for me. There were many things that people like Hawk, and Ben, and Tab Smith were doing in the '40s that I didn't understand, but that I felt emotionally."
An important moment in the progression of Coltrane's musical development occurred on June 5, 1945, when he saw Charlie Parker perform for the first time. In a DownBeat article in 1960 he recalled: "the first time I heard Bird play, it hit me right between the eyes." Parker became an early idol, and they played together on occasion in the late 1940s.
Contemporary correspondence shows that Coltrane was already known as "Trane" by this point, and that the music from some 1946 recording sessions had been played for Miles Davis—possibly impressing the latter.
There are recordings of Coltrane from as early as 1945. He was a member of groups led by Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Bostic and Johnny Hodges in the early- to mid-1950s.
Miles and Monk period (1955–1957)
Coltrane was freelancing in Philadelphia in the summer of 1955 while studying with guitarist Dennis Sandole when he received a call from trumpeter Miles Davis. Davis, whose success during the late forties had been followed by several years of decline in activity and reputation, due in part to his struggles with heroin, was again active, and was about to form a quintet. Coltrane was with this edition of the Davis band (known as the "First Great Quintet" - along with Paul Chambers on bass, Philly Joe Jones on drums, and Red Garland on piano - to distinguish it from Davis's later group with Wayne Shorter) from October 1955 through April 1957 (with a few absences), a period during which Davis released several influential recordings which revealed the first signs of Coltrane's growing ability. This First Quintet, represented by two marathon recording sessions for Prestige in 1956 that resulted in the albums Cookin', Relaxin', Workin', and Steamin', disbanded in mid April due partly to Coltrane's heroin addiction.
During the later part of 1957 Coltrane worked with Thelonious Monk at New York’s Five Spot, a legendary jazz club, and played in Monk's quartet (July–December 1957), but owing to contractual conflicts took part in only one official studio recording session with this group. A private recording made by Juanita Naima Coltrane of a 1958 reunion of the group was issued by Blue Note Records in 1993 as Live at the Five Spot-Discovery!. More significantly, a high-quality tape of a concert given by this quartet in November 1957 surfaced, and in 2005 Blue Note made it available on CD. Recorded by Voice of America, the performances confirm the group's reputation, and the resulting album, Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall, is widely acclaimed.
Blue Train, Coltrane's sole date as leader for Blue Note, featuring trumpeter Lee Morgan, bassist Paul Chambers, and trombonist Curtis Fuller, is often considered his best album from this period. Four of its five tracks are original Coltrane compositions, and the title track, "Moment's Notice," and "Lazy Bird", have become standards. Both tunes employed the first examples of his chord substitution cycles known as Coltrane changes.
Davis and Coltrane again
Coltrane rejoined Davis in January 1958. In October of that year, jazz critic Ira Gitler coined the term "sheets of sound" to describe the style Coltrane developed during his stint with Monk and was perfecting in Davis' group, now a sextet. His playing was compressed, with rapid runs cascading in hundreds of notes per minute. He stayed with Davis until April 1960, working with alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley; pianists Red Garland, Bill Evans, and Wynton Kelly; bassist Paul Chambers; and drummers Philly Joe Jones and Jimmy Cobb. During this time he participated in the Davis sessions Milestones and Kind of Blue, and the live recordings Miles & Monk at Newport and Jazz at the Plaza.
At the end of this period Coltrane recorded his first album for Atlantic Records, Giant Steps, made up exclusively of his own compositions. The album's title track is generally considered to have the most complex and difficult chord progression of any widely-played jazz composition. Giant Steps utilizes Coltrane changes. His development of these altered chord progression cycles led to further experimentation with improvised melody and harmony that he would continue throughout his career.
First albums as leader
Coltrane formed his first group, a quartet, in 1960 for an appearance at the Jazz Gallery in New York City. After moving through different personnel including Steve Kuhn, Pete La Roca, and Billy Higgins, the lineup stabilized in the fall with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Steve Davis, and drummer Elvin Jones. Tyner, from Philadelphia, had been a friend of Coltrane's for some years and the two men long had an understanding that the pianist would join Coltrane when Tyner felt ready for the exposure of regularly working with him. Also recorded in the same sessions were the later released albums Coltrane's Sound and Coltrane Plays the Blues.
Still with Atlantic Records, for whom he had recorded Giant Steps, his first record with his new group was also his debut playing the soprano saxophone, the hugely successful My Favorite Things. Around the end of his tenure with Davis, Coltrane had begun playing soprano, an unconventional move considering the instrument's near obsolescence in jazz at the time. His interest in the straight saxophone most likely arose from his admiration for Sidney Bechet and the work of his contemporary, Steve Lacy, even though Miles Davis claimed to have given Coltrane his first soprano saxophone. The new soprano sound was coupled with further exploration. For example, on the Gershwin tune "But Not for Me", Coltrane employs the kinds of restless harmonic movement (Coltrane changes) used on Giant Steps (movement in major thirds rather than conventional perfect fourths) over the A sections instead of a conventional turnaround progression. Several other tracks recorded in the session utilized this harmonic device, including "26–2," "Satellite," "Body and Soul", and "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes".
First years with Impulse Records (1960–1962)
In May 1961, Coltrane's contract with Atlantic was bought out by the newly formed Impulse! Records label. An advantage to Coltrane recording with Impulse! was that it would enable him to work again with engineer Rudy Van Gelder, who had taped both his and Davis's Prestige sessions, as well as Blue Train. It was at Van Gelder's new studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey that Coltrane would record most of his records for the label.
By early 1961, bassist Davis had been replaced by Reggie Workman while Eric Dolphy joined the group as a second horn around the same time. The quintet had a celebrated (and extensively recorded) residency in November 1961 at the Village Vanguard, which demonstrated Coltrane's new direction. It featured the most experimental music he'd played up to this point, influenced by Indian ragas, the recent developments in modal jazz, and the burgeoning free jazz movement. John Gilmore, a longtime saxophonist with musician Sun Ra, was particularly influential; after hearing a Gilmore performance, Coltrane is reported to have said "He's got it! Gilmore's got the concept!" The most celebrated of the Vanguard tunes, the 15-minute blues, "Chasin' the 'Trane", was strongly inspired by Gilmore's music.
During this period, critics were fiercely divided in their estimation of Coltrane, who had radically altered his style. Audiences, too, were perplexed; in France he was famously booed during his final tour with Davis. In 1961, Down Beat magazine indicted Coltrane, along with Eric Dolphy, as players of "Anti-Jazz" in an article that bewildered and upset the musicians. Coltrane admitted some of his early solos were based mostly on technical ideas. Furthermore, Dolphy's angular, voice-like playing earned him a reputation as a figurehead of the "New Thing" (also known as "Free Jazz" and "Avant-Garde") movement led by Ornette Coleman, which was also denigrated by some jazz musicians (including Miles Davis) and critics. But as Coltrane's style further developed, he was determined to make each performance "a whole expression of one's being".
Classic Quartet period (1962–1965)
In 1962, Dolphy departed and Jimmy Garrison replaced Workman as bassist. From then on, the "Classic Quartet", as it came to be known, with Tyner, Garrison, and Jones, produced searching, spiritually driven work. Coltrane was moving toward a more harmonically static style that allowed him to expand his improvisations rhythmically, melodically, and motivically. Harmonically complex music was still present, but on stage Coltrane heavily favored continually reworking his "standards": "Impressions", "My Favorite Things", and "I Want to Talk about You."
The criticism of the quintet with Dolphy may have had an impact on Coltrane. In contrast to the radicalism of Trane's 1961 recordings at the Village Vanguard, his studio albums in 1962 and 1963 (with the exception of Coltrane, which featured a blistering version of Harold Arlen's "Out of This World") were much more conservative and accessible. He recorded an album of ballads and participated in collaborations with Duke Ellington on the album Duke Ellington and John Coltrane and with deep-voiced ballad singer Johnny Hartman on an eponymous co-credited album. The Impulse compilation Coltrane for Lovers is largely drawn from these three albums. The album Ballads is emblematic of Coltrane's versatility, as the quartet shed new light on old-fashioned standards such as "It's Easy to Remember". Despite a more polished approach in the studio, in concert the quartet continued to balance "standard" and its own more exploratory and challenging music, as can be seen on the Impressions album (two extended jams including the title track along with "Dear Old Stockholm", "After the Rain" and a blues), Coltrane at Newport (where he plays "My Favorite Things") and Live at Birdland both from 1963. Coltrane later said he enjoyed having a "balanced catalogue."
The Classic Quartet produced their most famous record, A Love Supreme, in December 1964. It is reported that Coltrane, who struggled with repeated drug addiction, derived inspiration for A Love Supreme through a near overdose in 1957 which galvanized him to spirituality. A culmination of much of Coltrane's work up to this point, this four-part suite is an ode to his faith in and love for God. These spiritual concerns would characterize much of Coltrane's composing and playing from this point onwards, as can be seen from album titles such as Ascension, Om and Meditations. The fourth movement of A Love Supreme, "Psalm", is, in fact, a musical setting for an original poem to God written by Coltrane, and printed in the album's liner notes. Coltrane plays almost exactly one note for each syllable of the poem, and bases his phrasing on the words. Despite its challenging musical content, the album was a commercial success by jazz standards, encapsulating both the internal and external energy of the quartet of Coltrane, Tyner, Jones and Garrison. The album was composed at Coltrane's home in Dix Hills on Long Island.
The quartet only played A Love Supreme live once—in July 1965 at a concert in Antibes, France. By then, Coltrane's music had grown even more adventurous, and the performance provides an interesting contrast to the original.
Avant-garde jazz and the second quartet (1965–1967)
In his late period, Coltrane showed an increasing interest in avant-garde jazz, purveyed by Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Sun Ra and others. In developing his late style, Coltrane was especially influenced by the dissonance of Ayler's trio with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Sunny Murray, a rhythm section honed with Cecil Taylor as leader. Coltrane championed many younger free jazz musicians, (notably Archie Shepp), and under his influence Impulse! became a leading free jazz record label.
After A Love Supreme was recorded, Ayler's apocalyptic style became more prominent in Coltrane's music. A series of recordings with the Classic Quartet in the first half of 1965 show Coltrane's playing becoming increasingly abstract, with greater incorporation of devices like multiphonics, utilization of overtones, and playing in the altissimo register, as well as a mutated return to Coltrane's sheets of sound. In the studio, he all but abandoned his soprano to concentrate on the tenor saxophone. In addition, the quartet responded to the leader by playing with increasing freedom. The group's evolution can be traced through the recordings The John Coltrane Quartet Plays, Living Space, Transition (both June 1965), New Thing at Newport (July 1965), Sun Ship (August 1965), and First Meditations (September 1965).
In June 1965, he went into Van Gelder's studio with ten other musicians (including Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, Freddie Hubbard, Marion Brown, and John Tchicai) to record Ascension, a 40-minute long piece that included adventurous solos by the young avant-garde musicians (as well as Coltrane), and was controversial primarily for the collective improvisation sections that separated the solos. After recording with the quartet over the next few months, Coltrane invited Pharoah Sanders to join the band in September 1965.
While Coltrane used over-blowing frequently as an emotional exclamation-point, Sanders would opt to overblow his entire solo, resulting in a constant screaming and screeching in the altissimo range of the instrument. The more Coltrane played with Sanders, the more he gravitated to Sanders' unique sound.
Adding to the quartet
By late 1965, Coltrane was regularly augmenting his group with Sanders and other free jazz musicians. Rashied Ali joined the group as a second drummer. This was the end of the quartet; claiming he was unable to hear himself over the two drummers, Tyner left the band shortly after the recording of Meditations. Jones left in early 1966, dissatisfied by sharing drumming duties with Ali. Both Tyner and Jones subsequently expressed displeasure in interviews, after Coltrane's death, with the music's new direction, while incorporating some of the free-jazz form's intensity into their own solo projects.
There are speculations that in 1965 Coltrane may have begun using LSD—informing the sublime, "cosmic" transcendence of his late period. After Jones's and Tyner's departures, Coltrane led a quintet with Pharoah Sanders on tenor saxophone, his second wife Alice Coltrane on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Rashied Ali on drums. Coltrane and Sanders were described by Nat Hentoff as "speaking in tongues". When touring, the group was known for playing very lengthy versions of their repertoire, many stretching beyond 30 minutes and sometimes even being an hour long. Concert solos for band members regularly extended beyond fifteen minutes in duration.
The group can be heard on several live recordings from 1966, including Live at the Village Vanguard Again! and Live in Japan. In 1967, Coltrane entered the studio several times; though pieces with Sanders have surfaced (the unusual "To Be", which features both men on flutes), most of the recordings were either with the quartet minus Sanders (Expression and Stellar Regions) or as a duo with Ali. The latter duo produced six performances which appear on the album Interstellar Space.
Death and funeral
Coltrane died from liver cancer at Huntington Hospital on Long Island on July 17, 1967, at the age of 40. His funeral was held on Friday, July 21 at St. Peters Lutheran Church in New York City. The Albert Ayler Quartet and The Ornette Coleman Quartet respectively opened and closed the service. He is buried at Pinelawn Cemetery in Farmingdale, N.Y.
Biographer Lewis Porter has suggested, somewhat controversially, that the cause of Coltrane's illness was hepatitis, although he also attributed the disease to Coltrane's heroin use. In a 1968 interview Albert Ayler claimed that Coltrane was consulting a Hindu meditative healer for his illness instead of Western medicine, though Alice Coltrane later denied this.
His death surprised many in the musical community who were not aware of his condition. Miles Davis commented: "Coltrane's death shocked everyone, took everyone by surprise. I knew he hadn't looked too good... But I didn't know he was that sick—or even sick at all."
The parent company of Impulse!, from 1965 to 1979 known as ABC Records, purged much of its unreleased material in the 1970s. Lewis Porter has stated that Alice Coltrane, who died in 2007, intended to release this music, but over a long period of time; her son Ravi Coltrane, responsible for reviewing the material, is also pursuing his own career.