Lewis Porter began research in 1980 for a survey of John Coltrane’s musical accomplishments and uncovered new information since the publication in 1975 of two biographies on the saxophonist. He saw the need for a new biography, composed primarily of unpublished materials, which would also correct and update previous information.
The author meticulously traces Coltrane’s family tree, characterizes his early life in North Carolina, the significance of his move to Philadelphia after high school graduation, his influences, his musical associations, and the continuing development of his new approach to music. What emerges is a definitive portrait of one of the 20th century’s most revered musicians.
No prodigy, Coltrane practiced obsessively, constantly challenging himself with such things as playing Czerny piano exercises on his horn or arpeggios from a harp book, stacking up chords to create what Ira Gitler termed “sheets of sound,” pushing tonal harmony to the limits, and investigating scales and modes from the music of other cultures.
Porter, a jazz pianist and saxophonist himself, analyzes Coltrane’s music in dozens of transcriptions taken from all stages of his development. While these technical aspects may appeal primarily to musicians, the book as a whole is fascinating and of great value to general readers interested in jazz and in Coltrane, the man.
Included are extensive notes on each chapter, a chronology of performances and interviews, a bibliography, index, and recommended box sets.
Lewis Porter is Associate Professor of Music at Rutgers University where he directs the Master’s program in Jazz History and Research. He is the author of Jazz: A Century of Change and two books on Lester Young; coauthor of Jazz: From its Origins to the Present; and the editor and assisting author of the Coltrane discography by Yasuhiro Fujioka. He wrote the notes to the Monk and Coltrane CD Live at the Five Spot and was a project consultant and contributor to “Remembering Trane” (a public radio documentary), “The Miles Davis Radio Project,” The John Coltrane Anthology, and The Complete Atlantic Recordings of John Coltrane.