This phrase, from the liner notes of "My Favorite Things" clearly defines Coltrane's life and his search for the incorporation of his spirituality with his music. John Coltrane was not only an essential contributor to jazz, but also music itself. John Coltrane died thirty-two years ago, on July 17, 1967, at the age of forty. In the years since, his influence has only grown, and the stellar avant-garde saxophonist has become a jazz legend of a stature shared only by Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker. As an instrumentalist Coltrane was technically and imaginatively equal to both; as a composer he was superior, although he has not received the recognition he deserves for this aspect of his work.
In composition he excelled in an astonishing number of forms blues, ballads, spirituals, rhapsodies, elegies, suites, and free-form and cross-cultural works. The closest contemporary analogy to Coltrane's relentless search for possibilities was the Beatles' redefinition of rock from one album to the next. Yet the distance they traveled from conventional hard rock through sitars and Baroque obligatos to Sergeant Pepper psychedelia and the musical shards of Abbey Road seems short by comparison with Coltrane's journey from hard-bop saxist to daring harmonic and modal improviser to dying prophet speaking in tongues. Asked by a Swedish disc jockey in 1960 if he was trying to "play what you hear," he said that he was working off set harmonic devices while experimenting with others of which he was not yet certain. Although he was trying to "get the one essential . . . the one single line," he felt forced to play everything, for he was unable to "work what I know down into a more lyrical line" that would be "easily... [continues]
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