Black US jazz saxophonist. He was one of the most influential and commercially successful jazz musicians of the 1960s.
Born in Hamlet, North Carolina, Coltrane played in a US navy band before joining a rhythm and blues group. Once established as a jazz musician, he played in groups led by Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Bostic (1913–65), and Johnny Hodges (1906–70). In 1955–57 he was part of the Miles Davis sextet, where he developed his ‘sheets of sound’ technique, playing passionate arpeggios as though trying to play entire chords at once. In 1957 he recorded Blue Train under his own name. A drug addict, Coltrane gave up tobacco, alcohol, and heroin in the first six months of 1957, deciding that music was more important to him. During the second half of the year he worked for Thelonius Monk, from whose difficult music he learned a great deal about rhythm and harmony. In 1959 he returned to Davis, recording Kind of Blue. In mid-1960 he formed his own quartet and soon became the most influential jazz musician since Charlie Parker. He took up the soprano saxophone as well as the tenor and explored Eastern modes and split-reed techniques in an attempt to express his religious mysticism. Long improvisations on ‘My Favourite Things’, an unusual vehicle for jazz in 3:4 time, included a musical conversation with drummer Elvin Jones (1927–2004). The recording A Love Supreme seemed to many of his followers to sum up the soul-searching culture of the decade.
Technically, his playing was a link between the harmonically dense jazz of the 1950s and the free jazz that was evolving in the 1960s. Despite his gentle introspective personality, his music sometimes sounded angry – a phenomenon his fans described as the love in him trying to get out. He died of cancer.