John Coltrane: American Jazz Musicians Look To South Africa For Inspiration


John Coltrane, Jazz Saxophonist, Musician

John Coltrane, jazz saxophonist, musician: In the 1940s and 1950s, numerous American jazz musicians looked to South Africa for inspiration, but it was John Coltrane, in 1961, who made one of the most profound statements about what South Africa stood for (spiritually), among jazz musicians in the United States.The man's playing is in essence, lyrical - even when he is at his most demoniacally complex.  

Because of the breadth of his work, his technical innovations as an instrumentalist, and the stimulating combination of discipline and experiment he brought to the groups he led, John Coltrane became the most influential saxophonist on the jazz of the last four decades of the twentieth century, overtaking Charlie Parker as a universal role model.

Coltrane's career began substantially earlier than that of Ornette Coleman, the other dominant innovator in jazz saxophone playing of the 1960s. Although Coleman outlived him and continued to develop the free jazz ideas he first explored in the late 1950s into the twenty-first century, Coltrane passed through a free stage around 1965 that drew heavily on Coleman's work and then moved beyond it.

Coltrane's links to the "recent jazz tradition" were impeccable. His career began in the bebop era
when he joined Dizzy Gillespie's late 1940s big band alongside a number of fellow musicians.

John William Coltrane, also known as "Trane", was an American jazz saxophonist and composer. Working in the bebop and hard bop idioms early in his career, Coltrane helped pioneer the use of modes in jazz and was later at the forefront of free jazz. He led at least fifty recording sessions during his career and appeared as a sideman on many albums by other musicians, including trumpeter Miles Davis and pianist Thelonious Monk.

However, he made virtually no records during this Miles Davis's quintet period and none that show he was anything other than competent in bebop or in rhythm and blues. It took until the - mid-1950s Miles Davis's quintet
to find his feet as a soloist, a process which began slowly during his first period in

His visionary piece Africa produced some of his most exalted playings and was a powerful influence on other musicians of the time. However, his work leading up to this piece has again been examined by Norman C. Weinstein, who saw a growing interest in the saxophonist's use of African ornamentation from 1957 to 1959, leading to the programmatic evocation of the continent in several  works of the Africa period,which he sees being consolidated in what he calls Coltrane's "African Spiritual Music" of his final years.


Most importantly, Coltrane had been influential in creating a climate of Afro-centrism among American jazz musicians that were in place when the diaspora of South African musicians began in
the early 1960s. It may seem extraordinary, but the first ever complete band of black South African musicians to make a record had only done so less than two years earlier than Coltrane's Africa

That band was the Jazz Epistles: Abdullah Ibrahim on piano, Jonas Gwangwa on trombone, Kippie Moeketsie on alto, Johnny Gertze on bass, and Makaya Ntshoko on drums, plus Trumpeter,
Hugh Masekela.

John Coltrane's work on pieces like Dollar's Moods and Carol's Drive from that early album, was only re-released for the first time as a CD as recently as 1999, reveal a band that mingled many aspects of hard bop with the clear thematic ideas that both Abdullah Ibrahim, then known as Dollar Brand, and Hugh Masekela were to develop in their subsequent international careers.
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