What You Need to Know About John Coltrane’s Jazz Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


John Coltrane was one of the most influential jazz musicians of all time. His unique style of playing saxophone helped to shape the sound of jazz for generations to come. If you’re a fan of jazz music, then you need to know about John Coltrane.


Jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and composer John Coltrane was one of the most influential figures in jazz history. As a saxophonist, he was known for his powerful, virtuosic playing, and as a composer, he pioneered the use of modality in jazz and was one of the first to use extended harmonic improvisation. His work in both areas has had a profound impact on subsequent generations of musicians.

Coltrane was born in North Carolina in 1926 and began playing the saxophone at an early age. He first gained recognition as a member of bandleader Dizzy Gillespie’s big band in the early 1950s. In 1955, he joined pianist Thelonious Monk’s quartet and subsequently began working with Miles Davis. He made his first recordings as a leader in 1957 and continued to lead small groups throughout the rest of his career.

Coltrane’s music underwent a major transformation beginning in 1960, when he began experimenting with modal jazz. This new approach freed him from the chord progressions that had previously governed his improvisations and allowed him to explore new melodic possibilities. He also began working with drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Jimmy Garrison, who would become lifelong collaborators.

In 1965, Coltrane released “A Love Supreme,” an album that is widely considered to be one of the greatest recordings in jazz history. He continued to experiment with new musical ideas until his death from liver cancer in 1967 at the age of 40.

Coltrane’s legacy continues to exert a powerful influence on musicians around the world. His groundbreaking work remains an essential part of any serious jazz collection.

Early Life and Career

John Coltrane was born in Hamlet, North Carolina on September 23, 1926. His father was a tailor and his mother was a piano teacher. Coltrane’s interest in music began when he was five years old. He started playing the clarinet and then the alto saxophone in high school. In 1945, he was drafted into the Navy and played in the Navy band. After his discharge, he returned to Philadelphia and studied at the Granoff School of Music.

Birth and Childhood

John Coltrane was born on September 23, 1926, in Hamlet, North Carolina. Coltrane’s father, John R., played the trumpet and piano; his mother, Alice Blair, sang gospel music in the local church. When he was young, his family moved to Philadelphia, where he later studied saxophone and piano at the Granoff School of Music. After graduating from high school in 1945, he joined the Navy and played saxophone in a Navy band. He was discharged from the Navy in 1946 and returned to Philadelphia to play jazz.

First Gigs

John Coltrane was born in Hamlet, North Carolina, on September 23, 1926. He began playing the saxophone at age 13 and by 1941 he was gigs with local bands. During this time he also studied music at the Granoff School of Music in Philadelphia. In 1943, he enlisted in the Navy and played in the all-liquid band. After his discharge from the Navy in 1946, he returned to Philadelphia and began playing with Jimmy Heath, Dizzy Gillespie, and Benny Golson.

First Recordings

In 1946, Coltrane began to play with the Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson Band. While with this band, he made his first recordings as a sideman for the DeLuxe and Excelsior labels. These recordings were mostly of standard big-band fare. They do not reveal the originality or mastery of improvisation that would later characterize Coltrane’s work. In 1947, he left Vinson’s band and joined the Howard McGhee Quintet. This group recorded for the Continental label, but only one session featuring Coltrane was released at the time.

Later Career

After Miles Davis left the band, John Coltrane became the de facto leader of the group. Trane’s solos became more exploratory, as he began to experiment with multiphonics, using overblowing and distorted notes produced by using the upper register of the saxophone.

Success with “Giant Steps”

In 1959, after leaving Miles Davis’s group and signing with the Atlantic label, Coltrane recorded his first album as a leader, Giant Steps. The record was a runaway success, reaching number 13 on Billboard’s jazz chart—an unprecedented position for a relatively unknown artist—and selling more than 300,000 copies. It also contained one of Coltrane’s most famous compositions, the eponymous “Giant Steps,” which would become one of the most-played jazz standards of all time.

“A Love Supreme”

John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” is one of the most iconic and influential pieces of jazz music ever recorded. Released in 1965, the album is a four-part suite that is widely considered to be one of Coltrane’s masterpieces. Featuring Coltrane on saxophone, piano, and drums, “A Love Supreme” is a complex and moving work that showcases the musician’s virtuosity and mastery of the genre.

Later Recordings

In the last years of his life, Coltrane’s playing became increasingly abstract, with greater incorporation of elements of free jazz. He also frequently played sheets of metal or plastic instead of conventional saxophone mouthpieces to evoke different timbres. His sound was characterised by its intensity, its “blurring” of pitches (particularly in fast solos), and its frequent use of multi-octave runs.


John Coltrane was an American jazz saxophonist and composer who was born on September 23, 1926, in Hamlet, North Carolina. Coltrane’s jazz music is characterized by its complex harmony, extended phrases, and often dissonant solos. His style of playing influenced many other jazz musicians and helped to shape the sound of the genre.

Influence on Later Musicians

John Coltrane’s influence on jazz music was immense. He is considered one of the most important and influential musicians in the history of jazz. His work helped to redefine the genre and influenced countless musicians who came after him.

Coltrane’s style was unique and instantly recognizable. He was known for his free-flowing solos and complex chord progressions. His approach to improvisation was deeply rooted in the blues, but he also drew inspiration from other genres such as bebop and modal jazz.

Coltrane’s biggest influence was probably his ability to take jazz in new and unexpected directions. He was always pushing the boundaries of the music and expanding its possibilities. His willingness to experiment with new ideas and sounds inspired many later musicians to do the same.

Coltrane’s influence can be heard in the music of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, and countless other jazz greats. His legacy continues to inspire musicians today and his impact on the history of jazz is impossible to overstate.

Critical Reception

Coltrane’s 1962 recording of “My Favorite Things” was met with critical acclaim. The reviewers praised his innovative style and hailed him as one of the most important jazz musicians of his generation. However, some commentators warned that his music was too complex and cerebral for mainstream audiences. Nonetheless, Coltrane’s stature within the jazz world continued to grow, and he soon became one of the most influential musicians in the genre.

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