Thursday, August 6, 2009

Some of My Favorite Artists (3): John Coltrane

When it comes to music, The Leopard isn’t usually one to indulge in lists.
There is simply too much diversity to bother limiting myself to particular artists, as brilliant as they can be. How do you compare say, Eric Dolphy with Brian Wilson or Youssou N’Dour with Leonard Bernstein?

But some great musicians have meant more to me personally. One of them is the great saxophonist and composer John William Coltrane (September 23, 1926 – July 17, 1967) Coltrane's music touched me emotionally from the very first time I heard it and effects me just as much all these years later. But it's more than that. It's endlessly intellectually satisfying as well. And that is how I see his sound--a perfect union of both.
Like many jazz enthusiasts, the starting point was Miles' Davis' seminal recording Kind Of Blue, where the great saxophonists' solo on "All Blues" had such warmth and ingenuity that I sought out his solo work, hungering for more.
Next stop was the unprecendented My Favorite Things, a glorious reimagining of a catchy little ditty that in Coltrane's hands became a tour de force of modal style adorned with Middle Eastern influences. By then, I was buying every Coltrane record I could get my hands on, eventually catching up to the later Impulse! recordings, where the saxophonist was embroiled in an inner musical battle, screeching atonally to reach some unfathomable peak.

And I love it all. Coltrane's influence on jazz and music in general is incalcuable, and has been written about ad nauseum by scholars much more informed than I. But what truly matters to me is the legacy.

There may be music created over the centuries as great as John Coltrane's, but none greater.

(Click on title to hear the tune "Crescent")

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