Friday, April 8, 2011


© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

One bar of music and you know it’s him.


Anguish, angularity, an abundance of joy as in – “Look what I found!” – abound in John Coltrane’s playing.

The sound he gets on the tenor saxophone is as scintillating as it is searing. It goes directly into one’s soul.

His tone is pleasing and definitive to some, harsh and a plague on the instrument to others.

40-years of age and he was gone.

He was really only a force on the Jazz scene for a little more than a decade.

But in that relatively short period of time, he transformed Jazz while becoming one of the more divisive musicians in its history – this from a guy about whom the photographer Chuck Stewart once said: “I adored John. He was a sweet gentle person, a thoughtful, family-oriented man.”

We have no answer to this dichotomy. Mention John’s name and Jazz fans immediately fall into two categories: those who love his playing or those that hate it.

We love it: always have, always will, although we do prefer his “earlier periods" when there was less seeking and searching and more seeming satisfaction with having found a new approach to playing the instrument that followed in the footsteps of tenor sax pioneers such as Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young.

How could we have not featured John’s singular approach to the tenor saxophone sooner on these pages?  Shame on us.

But maybe this hesitancy was because so much has been written about John that we barely knew where to start.

And then it dawned on us: what better way to begin than with a video tribute to him that contains a sample of John’s beautiful way with a ballad?

On the accompanying audio track, the haunting refrains of John’s tenor saxophone are heard on You’re a Weaver of Dreams along with Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bassist and drummer Jimmy Cobb.

Should you require further, written commentary on John and his music you can seek out copies of J.C. Thomas, Chasin’ the Trane: The Music and Mystique of John Coltrane [[Da Capo], C.O. Simpkins, Coltrane [Black Cat Press], Eric Nisenson, Ascension: John Coltrane and His Quest [Da Capo], or Bill Cole, John Coltrane [Schirmer].

In the interim, please enjoy this beautiful music.

“Coltrane … begins directly on the chorus with his pure, sensuous tone voicing a line very close to the original melody. … Coltrane appears more concerned with stating the melody clearly, then gradually reducing its familiar elements by replacing them with more and more connective material.”

- Don Heckman