Ten John Coltrane Tracks For People Who Don't Know Anything About John Coltrane

Categories: all that jazz

Saxophonist John Coltrane would have been 87 years old today, had he not passed away from liver cancer in 1967. This untimely death means the icon is preserved at the peak of his artistic powers. As both a fiery tenorman and a sensitive balladeer, Coltrane inspired hundreds of thousands of musicians, from Kenny G to Iggy Pop, to do vastly different things in his name.

That dichotomy is often ignored in tributes because few musicians can successfully bridge that breadth of emotion, and even fewer listeners are willing to entertain such variety. In honor of his birthday, here's a list of ten recordings (in chronological order) that show why Coltrane has few equals, despite the fact that his recording career that lasted less than twenty years.

"Ah Leu Cha"
Round About Midnight (1955)

Coltrane joined the Miles Davis Quintet in 1955. This partnership would lead to many classic records, culminating with Kind of Blue in 1959. Here, the young tenor saxophonist is confident on the Charlie Parker tune, bouncing a series of well-spaced phrases and biting riffs. He is a complimentary sparring partner with Davis on the melody. Coltrane was still grappling with the bop sound, trying to find his place in the scene but relative to many other musicians, it didn't take him that long.

"Tenor Madness"
Tenor Madness (1956)

This 13 minute track marks the only time Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane recorded together. The song finds the two tenors interested in sharing ideas, sussing each other out with immense respect and curiosity. This landmark recording only makes the listener wish Coltrane had stuck around the studio for a few more numbers.

"Trinkle Tinkle"
Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane (1957)

Monk's off-kilter tune served as a launching pad for Coltrane's famous sheets of sound. Breath seems to be a low priority as Coltrane rages through his solo with a flight of cascading notes. Monk mostly stays out of the way and lets Coltrane do his thing. The younger saxophonist spent six months on the bandstand with Monk in 1957 and managed to soak up a decade's worth of knowledge.

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Hey Sean, pretty good job.  You touched on most of the important recordings.  That's a tough job and I commend you on it!  However, it's tragic to me how overlooked or ignored Coltrane's body of work AFTER Love Supreme is.  The "First Meditations (for quartet)" would be among these and tracks like "Love" and "Joy" is totally assessable to the average ear.  And I consider the tune "Expression", the title cut of his last recording as hands down his best work.  From the perspective of what's possible to be played on the saxophone, no other track by any other saxophonist in the history of music can touch that.  Give it a re-listen, my Friend!  ~Dale Fielder

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