One of modern jazzÆs most innovative musicians, tenor saxophonist John Williams Coltrane, commonly called Trane, died a couple of months before he reached the age of 41; yet his influence remains as profound after his death as in his lifetime. His greatness comes from his search for new modes of expression as well as his masterful musicianship. Starting in the bebop style of the 1940s, he reshaped modern jazz as a leader in the avant-garde with his later free form style, and modal improvisation.
ôJohn ColtraneÆs life was based on a series of discoveries, most of them a result of both hard work and the deepest introspectionà(he) was no prodigy and not until he was well into his 20s did he comes to realize how truly extraordinary he wasàThe surface of his life offers little clues as to the brilliant fate toward which, at times haltingly, he strodeö (Nisenson 3).
Born September 23, 1926 in Hamlet, North Carolina, his family moved to High Point, North Carolina with his maternal grandfather when Coltrane was a few months old, and his musical roots are there. As a small child he was exposed to the music of the southern African-American church where both his grandfathers had been ministers. This exposure gave him a strong sense of both music and religion. His parents also loved music; his mother played piano and sang in the church choir, while his father, `n amateur musichan, played violin and ukulele. ColtraneÆs first instrument was a clarinet, which he received at the age of 12 and played for hours on end, including participating in a Boy Scout community band. He switched to alto saxophone at William Penn High School where he played in the school band. He remained in High Point to finish high school after the death of his grandfather, and then father. ôBy the end of high school, John was already clearly on the way to a career in musicö (Porter 33).
After high school graduation, he moved to Philadelphia, where his mo...