Spirituality and John Coltrane
After being fired from Miles Davis's band in 1957 for his chronic use of heroin, John Coltrane was hurt tremendously. He decided it was time he quit using heroin. He took a month off from music while he went "cold turkey." During this month in the early spring of 1957, Coltrane had a momentous religious experience (Nisenson, 40). Coltrane asked God to give him "the means and privilege to make others happy through music" (Coltrane, 1995, 2). As time went on, Coltrane felt that he was leading a life that was "contradictory to the pledge and away from the esteemed path" that he had made to God (Coltrane, 1995, 2). Starting with A Love Supreme (recorded in December, 1964), Coltrane stuck to his pledge. In doing so, Coltrane would seek for the "truth" in sounds, Einstein, the Kabbalah and Sufism. Coltrane's version of God was not limited to denominational name, and this broad palette of spirituality helped guide him through his life and his music until his death on July 16, 1967.
A Little Background
John William Coltrane was born September 23, 1926 in Hamlet, North Carolina. He was the grandson of a Reverend, Walter Blair. Blair was the pastor of St. Stephen's African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. John's father, John Robert Coltrane, loved to play the violin and the ukulele (Nisenson, 4). John Coltrane received some of his musical training from the Zion Church his grandfather was the pastor of. First, the young Coltrane played clarinet, and eventually moved to saxophone, which was the instrument he was associated with from that time on.
During his earliest days of playing music, the church had an impact on him. But in 1943, he moved to Philadelphia to become part of the jazz scene there. From this point up until his epiphany in 1957, it seems that God was absent from his life. As Coltrane was starting to get introduced to the greats of jazz like Miles Davis and Charlie Parker, he started drinking heavily. Then, probably in 1953, he started doing heroin (Thomas, 52). By 1957, he had played with Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and twice with Miles Davis. Davis, a recovering heroin addict himself, said of Coltrane during this time that "he'd be playing in clothes that looked like he had slept in them for days . . . and when he wasn't nodding, [he'd be] picking his nose and sometimes eating it" (Davis, 212). Once, while on stage with Davis, Coltrane nodded out, and Davis punched him in the stomach. Eventually, Davis would kick him out of his band for the second time.
While Coltrane was kicking his habit in early 1957, he was touched by God. How this came about was known only to Coltrane. But the transformation in him resulted in some of the most powerful music of the twentieth century. In late 1957, he started working on what was to be known as "sheets of sound," a style in which Coltrane would play every note in chord as fast as he...