Share Your John Coltrane Stories

As the semester winds to a close, it’s final-paper-time for my fellow graduate students in the Jazz History and Research M.A. program at Rutgers-Newark, the illustrious university from which I am about to graduate. Some of them are wrapping up Dr. Lewis Porter’s semester-long course on the life and music of John Coltrane, the subject of Dr. Porter’s definitive biography (a must-read for jazz enthusiasts of any stripe!)

Bill Graham is one such student, and is looking to understand the impact that Coltrane has had on everyday people who listen to his music for his final project. As a part of this exploration, he’d like to hear from you about your memorable experiences with Coltrane’s music.

Here’s how Bill explains it:

Coltrane lovers, here is a chance for you to bare your souls. I am interested in how the music of John Coltrane has changed your life. Tell us your stories about how Trane came into your life, how his music makes your daily living more livable, funny anecdotes, anything you like, as long as it’s from the heart. I’ll be using your responses in a research paper. No information beyond what you share will be used. Your story may be as simple as the following:

One of the first hints that there was something different about Coltrane’s music came to me when I was working at a job  polishing silverware at merchandise store. I was setting on the showroom floor polishing away, while listening to Coltrane’s tune “The Promise,” on headphones.  All of sudden, for some reason that I can’t explain to this day, I started screaming at the top of my voice. I don’t know how it happened, but before I knew anything I had lost it. I needed to be slapped.

Let us hear your testimonials. Come one – come all!

The experience that comes to mind for me is from my freshman year in college, playing “In A Sentimental Mood” with a small group. The pianist had hipped me to the recording of it from the Duke Ellington and John Coltrane album, and I was listening to it nonstop trying to emulate Trane’s phrasing on the opening line of Duke’s melody. The serenity with which he floated over the slow tempo was unbelievable; not surprisingly, I never quite did get that down. But the amount of effort that it inspired, even in a futile struggle to imitate his sound — that’s what sticks with me, even today.

Share your stories in the comments below — Bill and I are looking forward to reading them!

About Alex Rodríguez

Writer, Organizer, Trombonist
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15 Responses to Share Your John Coltrane Stories

  1. Jon Wertheim says:

    My first experience with Coltrane was with Miles, on “If I Were A Bell.” It was the first jazz I’d ever really paid attention to. I think Miles’s voice at the beginning got me interested – jazz had always been presented to me as a note-perfect music, far removed from any real human experience. Hearing Miles speak that famous line, “I’ll play it and tell you what it is later,” it connected with some idea of actual experience.

    Anyway, Coltrane. His solo totally reinforced and continued that idea of humanity in the music. He rushes up to the mic, not expecting the end of Miles’s solo, and then he plays this wonderful solo, full of barely-there runs and awkward transitions, all tied together by those incredible, soaring higher notes that just cut through everything else. It was real, and personal, and human.

    That’s still one of my favorite tracks in all of recorded jazz, and I still prefer Coltrane’s work with Miles to anything else he ever did. Those later sheets of sound never held a flubbed note, and he was such a supreme human being that no fault can be found with the even later spiritual works. I do love all of Coltrane, but the flawlessly, tensely imperfect sound of those early years has a special place in my ears.

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  4. Peter says:

    My first Coltrane experience was ‘Cousin Mary,’ off of a compilation album given to me by a high school band director. I must say that from the opening chorus I was hooked. The pure soul resonant in those cleverly arranged notes took me completely off guard.

    • Peter says:

      Especially since everything I’d heard about Coltrane before then was high pitched wailing and expressionistic playing (most likely referencing his later recordings. ) I was blown away by his initial solo and immediately inspired t pick up a copy of the album.

  5. My first experience was via Steve Rowland’s audio project for NPR, ‘Tell Me How Long ‘Trane’s Been Gone. I bought the five hour long .mp3 episodes. I put them on my Zune. I listened over and over. On walks, on planes, at the dentist. I was new to Jazz. Steve helped me out quite a bit, told me what to acquire first, what next, and what next.

  6. Eric says:

    WOW, I first fell in love with Coltrane’s music as a very young child of about 6 or 7. My dad on Saturdays used to clean and polish our hardwood floors. He was so into it and he was so proud of his floors. He would always play Jazz but it was something about when he played Coltrane, especially “My Favorite Things”, things became so peaceful, my dad seemd so focused.

    Later in life after listening to all kinds of music my heart took me back to Jazz and I remember listening to out local Jazz station on the way home from work and the had just finished a Miles /Coltrane set with Kind Of Blue. The DJ said “if you don’t have this and Blue Trane in your collection…you don’t know Jazz. I ran to the store and bought both!

    Then there was Mo Better Blues, the Spike Lee Joint that was originally title “Love Supreme”. Being a film maker I was in love with Spike Lee movies and looking forward to a movie about JAZZ that included the music of John Coltrane. So I got deep into a Love Supreme and now…It is my GOSPEL! When my computer starts up it comes on…it’s like sunrise on a beautiful ocean to me. It calms me, keeps me focused…Its my religion!

  7. I was in high school and had lost the love of my life. I wouldn’t get out of bed except to eat and go to the bathroom. My sister gave me a copy of “A Love Supreme.” I got out of bed.

    Years later, during the Vietnam war draft, I based my C.O. status claim on the liner notes from that album-and got it.

  8. While healing from a horrendous car accident, an old friend of mine from childhood got in touch with me and part of the conversation went like this …”Have you ever heard of John Coltrane?” I wasn’t sure when he first spoke of him. “How do you spell his name? ” I asked. The first song he shared with me was My One and Only Love. What powerful words my friend had shared with me, and I listened to one song, then another, and another. As I listened to more songs, I felt Trane speaking to me through his music. His music raised me up, and held my hand as I took the next steps to change my life into the one I really wanted for myself. He helped me believe in what I knew to be true about myself.

    I had the opportunity to walk through his home on Long Island recently after getting an invitation by one of the members of the Coltrane Home Board, and in the room that he wrote A Love Supreme, I made John a promise.

    I can’t tell you all exactly what that was right now, but if you view my work at, I think you may be able to figure out what John Coltrane means to me. He was a brilliant star who graced this earth, and his music and message of brotherhood should continue on for our youth to hear. My students now understand who Trane was, and respect the gifts he has left us. Jazz is America’s music and musicians all over the world will tell you that John Coltrane was a genius who had, and still has an enormous impact on the lives of human beings.

  9. ATLien says:

    When I first heard “A Love Supreme” I was in high school. For some reason, the first track reminded me of rain falling on pavement at night. The album was incredibly passionate yet equally delicate and subtle. Moving between light and darkness, between intensity and gentleness. Amazing record, and it really turned me on to the work of McCoy Tyner and Jimmy Garrison as well Coltrane. Unfortunately there is not enough written about what an amazing bassist Jimmy Garrison was.

  10. Salvatore says:

    Coltrane and McCoy Tyner was , basically , my first approach at the jazz music , with Mingus and Monk . His session men , a maniacal choice of group elements , the best production of musical panorama at that years . I don’t really remember wich composition or improvisation first , but ” Giant steps ” , for the freshness and the dynamics of language ; ” My favorite things ” beacuse brackaway from the current stylemes , breackin’ duration of track ( 20 minuts or more , against the standard time of 3 o 4 minutes of commercial music ) , hypnotic pathos , disarming apparent airframe simplicity and my favorite composition : ” Olè ” , with a stellar Eric Dolphy ( George Lane , alias ) , the amazing riff of Workman and Davis on the bass .. At last ( but not least , for shure ) , one of the best solo i ever heard ” I want to talk about you ” – European tour – Pablo . , there’s one of the best solo in the jazz history …. Must hearken ….

  11. Alan B. Rosin says:

    In the winter of 1962, I was a freshman at Columbia University in New York. At the time, so many of the greatest jazz musicians were working regularly there. I contributed to a radio show on WKCR at Columbia called “Speaking of Jazz” by interviewing jazz artists who were playing around town. Over the next two years, I had the great pleasure to hear so many of the best – Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, and dozens more.
    One night, a musician friend and I went to the Blue Note to hear John Coltrane. I was primarily familiar with his work of the late 50’s, like “Blue Train” and “Giant Steps”, and of course from the great Miles Davis “Kind of Blue” album, which had been released in 1959. I knew he was moving towards a new direction in the early 60’s with “My Favorite Things” and “Ole” albums, so I was looking forward to where he was going when this opportunity to hear him play live came up.
    Coltrane did a 45 minute set comprised only of the tune “My favorite Things.”
    I found myself getting impatient as his solo went on and on. He soloed for around 30 minutes. After the set, as we were walking out, I commented to my friend that Bird didn’t need to take half an hour to say what he wanted to say. My friend agreed. I felt he was being self-indulgent and really didn’t understand where he was going.
    I continued to listen to his work, and later on heard “A Love Supreme.” It was then I realized Coltrane using his music as a vehicle for a spiritual journey. His music was much more than an expression of his creativity. He was going much deeper and reaching much further than I had realized until then.
    It was at that point I came to look at his work in a new light. It took me a few years to get there, but now I appreciate what he was trying to do at that stage of his career and find myself going back to those later works with a greater and greater appreciation of his genius.

  12. Alan B. Rosin says:

    One more point – jazz solos can be many things. An expression of happiness or sadness, anger or love. They can be a conversation between musicians or between the musician and the audience. Solos are communication.
    In Coltrane’s case in the 1960’s, they were a striving – an expression of his desire to become closer to his own spirituality and to God.

  13. I heard Coltrane live at the 1965 Down Beat Jazz Festival in Soldier Field, Chicago. He was on late during a great day of music — Monk, Brubeck, Blakey and I think Getz and Woody Herman’s Herd were also on the bill. I was 14 and this was my first major jazz outing on my own (I was with a pal who also liked jazz). I enjoyed some of what I heard that day quite a lot — I was a jazz snob even then — and remember especially being struck by Monk, who had Charlie Rouse with him. When Coltrane came on, as I recall with a gaggle of followers, and started to blow, I was not able to understand what he was doing, other than it was ferocious and full out. I felt respect for him but had no insight of revelation into his music. Over the course of the next couple years I acquired some Coltrane albums, liked some of them but not others. I got Live at the Village Vanguard Again as a premium for my first Down Beat subscription — Naima was beautiful, but I didn’t care much about Jimmy Garrison’s long bass solo and didn’t connect the version of “My Favorite Things” with Pharoah Sanders as being anything like the song I knew. Impressions with Dolphy became my favorite Coltrane album — I like Trane with Miles but wasn’t so impressed with his Prestige or Atlantic Records (though I LOVED “The Avant Garde” with Don Cherry). Then one morning when I was 17 and on the el train way to work as a Fresca vendor at Wrigely Field (Cub’s ballpark) I turned the page on the Sun Times I was reading to the Obits, and there was news of Trane’s death. We were just pulling into the Addison St. station where I would disembark. But I was stunned, and just crossed the platform to take a return El back home. I sat around my bedroom for the rest of the day listening to Coltrane lps. Many years — decades — later, Dave Liebman gave me a cd of the ’65 festival set I’d heard Trane play. Turns out Archie Shepp was with him, and Coltrane didn’t play much at least in what’s preserved on the cd, but Shepp played brilliantly and very powerfully. No wonder I didn’t understand the music at that time. Since first hearing him live I’ve delved deeply into his records, and been able to interview many people about his music and impact (I did the interviews for the Toby Byron production “The World of John Coltrane” — Jimmy Heath, Wayne Shorter, Rashied Ali among them). Today my tastes and comprehension of Coltrane’s music are much broader and deeper — I have special regard for Straight Ahead (on Atlantic), the complete Africa Brass sessions, Meditations, Interstellar Space, Coltrane Plays the Blues, Coltrane (with “The Promise” and “Alabama”) — indeed, all his great quartet recordings, his music with Monk, Dolphy (there’s an untitled ballad with Eric playing flute on an Atlantic compilation), Sonny Rollins, the Japan concerts with Pharoah. He remains a major influence on my listening and thinking and my writing practices, an inspiration of dedication to craft and search for deeper meaning through art.

  14. Alex pinto says:

    I moved to San Francisco to teach with Music National Service, a non-profit modeled after the peace corps, but with musicians. I was assigned to teach at Horace Mann Middle School, a vibrant but struggling school in the Mission District. I wanted to have fun with the music class, share with them what I was passionate about it, so when it was time to lead some units on jazz music, I started with John Coltrane. I was played recordings, discussed “sheets of sound,” read his poem from Love Supreme. The kids liked it when he played “loud and with all those wrong notes, Mr. Pinto!” Anyway, it finally came time to show them the Ashley Kahn book about Trane’s Love Supreme album. The cover of the book is the similar to the album cover. I didn’t think anything of it, showing them the book cover, but then ALL the kids asked, “Is John Coltrane black?!” I was speechless. “Well, yes,” I answered. “Ok, he’s cool!” they all shouted back.
    John Coltrane has always been a somewhat obvious inspirational musical force for me. I would guess for many musicians he is. I was glad though I had a chance to introduce a young, fresh audience to his music even though maybe what for them was most important about our Coltrane unit, is something I had never really spent anytime deeply reflecting on.

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