John Coltrane’s A Reminder of How Far We’ve Come (and Still Need To)

Today’s the 96th anniversary of the birth of an American legend, John Coltrane.

Trane only lived 40 1/2 years, but did more than many musicians with twice the lifespan: played with Miles Davis, Jimmy Heath, Coleman Hawkins, Thelonius Monk, to name just a few, and led bands on the major jazz stages and record labels throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

It’s said that “jazz is America’s gift to the world”, and if so, John Coltrane delivered.

Throughout his life, people marveled at his devotion to practicing his craft. Jimmy Heath told stories about Trane falling asleep with his horn still in his mouth, or playing “air” when he was in a San Francisco hotel because of guest complaints (imagine complaining?). Asked about his rehearal habits, Coltrane replied “25 hours a day”.

He joined the Navy in 1945 (he actually enlisted the day the first A-bomb fell) and soon they recognized his musical talents. But, because they wanted him to play in a whites-only Navy outfit called “Melody Masters”, Coltrane could only be listed as a “guest musician”, and unlike his bandmates, still had to perform kitchen and sentry duties. Nevertheless, it was clear he was the talent and the leader of the combo.

Liver cancer took him in 1967, but he’s influenced countless men and women musicians ever since, and today. His music hasn’t been off the radio or the jazz festival stages for a day since.

His life is also a reminder of how far we have come with race in America, and what we still have left to do, to reach our ideals.



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