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Artist Stories

An introduction to the “Trane”: John Coltrane, local and national jazz legend

Curtis Davenport blogger, January 2020 — The recorded career of John Coltrane as a leader, breaks essentially, into three distinct phases.

First were the Prestige Years (1957 – 1958). Though Trane was doing outstanding work with Miles Davis quintet/sextet, at the time as a leader, he had not yet found his own voice. His albums of that period were solid but not spectacular; the one exception being the album that he recorded ironically, as a one-off for Blue Note, the classic Blue Train.

Next came Atlantic Records (1959 – 1961). By then Coltrane had gained confidence from his time with Miles and the shedding alongside Thelonious Monk. Among his output then, were the illustrious albums Giant Steps and My Favorite Things.

In fact, the surprising commercial appeal of the soprano sax driven title track of the latter album, led to Trane’s most artistically successful (albeit commercially mixed) phase – Impulse Records.

Coltrane recorded for Impulse from 1961 until his death in 1967. He was lured to Impulse by the label’s founder, producer Creed Taylor. Taylor caught a Coltrane set at the Village Vanguard in December 1960, Taylor then called the saxophonist and asked him if he would like to record for his fledgling label. Coltrane was interested, but not in a one-shot deal; he knew that his star in the jazz world was rising fast. He was also represented by the Shaw agency, who had recently secured a sweet deal with Impulse/ABC records for another of their clients, by the name of Ray Charles. Trane knew he couldn’t command the same type of financial advances as Charles, but he certainly could demand more artistic freedom and resources than he had at Atlantic. He got it and the jazz world was forever enriched. Coltrane was so much of an influence that the label came to be known as “The House That Trane Built”.

John Coltrane Quartet, “Impressions”:

Trane’s first album for Impulse was a big band session, Africa/Brass. It only included three selections, in its initial release, including “Africa”, which took up the entire first side. It wasn’t a commercial or critical success upon release, but it has since become a classic. After that, came a string of almost three unbroken years of critical and commercial successes: Coltrane; Live at the Village Vanguard; Duke Ellington & John Coltrane; Ballads; John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman; Impressions; Live at Birdland; Crescent; A Love Supreme (the GOAT) and The John Coltrane Quartet Plays. That incredibly fertile creative period also included two albums that did not see the light of day, until 2018 (Both Directions at Once) and 2019 (Blue World). The albums that began with 1965’s Ascension and ended with the posthumous Expression (1967), are avant-garde efforts, that were met with many respectful but confused comments, from fans and press alike, upon release. They have received additional appreciation and positive reception over time.

John Coltrane, “Alabama”:

As JazzArts Charlotte, looks back at this seminal period in the career of one of the greatest jazz artists of all time and one that we are proud to say, hails from High Point, NC, we are honored to be joined once again by a Carolinas native, who now lives and works in Los Angeles; Philip Whack. Mr. Whack first brought the music and stylings to our Jazz Room audience in May 2013, as he played alongside of trumpeter Mark Rapp, in Mr. Rapp’s Miles Davis tribute. He has been with us numerous times, over the ensuing years, leading several Coltrane related weekends and acting as a sideman, whenever he was available. Mr. Whack is renowned across the U.S., Europe and Asia, for his work with Fred Wesley and the New J.B.s; a group led by Mr. Wesley, who is famous for the music he made with James Brown. Mr. Whack is coming home for two sets on Friday, January 17 and two on Saturday, January 18, as a part of our “Come Hear North Carolina” series. Since this weekend will focus on “The Impulse Years”, you can expect to hear numerous selections from A Love Supreme, as well a several other of the albums that John Coltrane recorded, between 1961 and 1967. It will be another weekend of amazing jazz, that should not be missed.

Tickets are on sale for all shows now but they are going very quickly, as usual. The best place to go for tickets, is the Blumenthal Performing Arts website at

In addition, Jazz Arts Charlotte, will be hosting a discussion about the music of John Coltrane, with Philip Whack, at 12 noon, on Friday, January 17, at the Main Branch of the Charlotte Public Library (310 North Tryon St.). Admission to that event, is FREE.   More information here.

Join us and celebrate the musical legacy of one of the greatest musicians that North Carolina has ever produced.

Featured image by Chuck Stewart.

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