September 23 marks the 90th anniversary of the birth of John Coltrane in Hamlet, NC. Perhaps the greatest jazz saxophonist, Coltrane is one of the most dominant influences on post-1960 jazz musicians and a significant influence on players in other music genres.
In Philadelphia, where Coltrane moved in 1943, the city has been celebrating his music and significance with a free festival September 17-26, including film screenings, media presentations, concerts, exhibitions and other special events.
Coltrane settled in New York in 1958, the same year critic Ira Gitler coined the term “sheets of sound” to describe the unique improvisational style Coltrane developed during his stints with Theolonius Monk and Miles Davis – rapid runs cascading in hundreds of notes per minute.
In 2007, the Pulitzer Prize Board awarded Coltrane a posthumous Special Citation for his lifetime of innovative and influential work. The citation lauds Coltrane for “his masterful improvisation, supreme musicianship and iconic centrality to the history of jazz.” The committee said of Coltrane: “His exalted stature arises from his composition and recordings. In ‘A Love Supreme,’ he produced an imposing composition expressing faith. In ‘Africa/Brass Sessions,’ he achieved astonishing orchestral feats. His work has weight, an artistic quest and searching nature. Coltrane infused the existing tradition with innovation and radical approaches. The surface of his music is dynamic and palpable, the underlying structure is suffused with spirituality and provocative political content.”
Coltrane died from liver cancer in 1967, age 40. He had battled heroin addiction in the 1950s until a spiritual “awakening“ in 1957, which helped him kick his habit and influenced his later music.
His last home, the John Coltrane Home in Huntington, New York, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. A former home, the John Coltrane House in Philadelphia, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1999.