John Coltrane: Images of Trane

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John Coltrane, Columbia Recording Studios, New York, NY 1958
By Don Hunstein
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John Coltrane, Newport Jazz Festival, Newport, RI 1960
By William Claxton
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John Coltrane, Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ 1957
By Esmond Edwards
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John Coltrane with Johnny Hartman, Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ 1963
By Joe Alper
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John Coltrane with Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers and Miles Davis, Newport Jazz Festival, Newport, RI 1958
By Courtesy of Frank Driggs Collection
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John Coltrane with Eric Dolphy, Reggie Workman and Art Davis, The Village Gate, New York, NY 1961
By Herb Snitzer
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John Coltrane with Jackie Mclean, Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ 1957
By Esmond Edwards
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John Coltrane, The Village Gate, New York, NY 1961
By Herb Snitzer
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John Coltrane, The Olympia, Paris 1962
By William Claxton
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John Coltrane, The Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY 1960
By William Claxton
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John Coltrane with Shadow Wilson, Thelonious Monk and Ahmed Abdul-Malik, The Five-Spot, New York, NY 1957
By Don Schlitten
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John Coltrane with Miles Davis, Columbia Recording Studios, New York, NY 1958
By Aram Avakian
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John Coltrane with Curtis Fuller and Donald Byrd, Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ 1957
By Francis Wolff
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John Coltrane with Lee Morgan, Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ 1957
By Francis Wolff
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John Coltrane with Paul Chambers, Cannonball Adderley, Jimmy Cobb and Miles Davis, The Chicago Amphitheater, Chicago, IL 1957
By Lee Tanner
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John Coltrane with Archie Shepp, Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ 1965
By Chuck Stewart
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John Coltrane, Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ 1957
By Esmond Edwards
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John Coltrane, The Village Gate, New York, NY 1961
By Herb Snitzer
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John Coltrane with Dizzy Gillespie, The Olympia, Paris 1961
By Jean-Pierre Leloir
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John Coltrane with Curtis Fuller and Lee Morgan, Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ 1957
By Francis Wolff
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John Coltrane, The Jazz Workshop, Boston, MA 1963
By Lee Tanner
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John Coltrane, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 1966
By Andy Nozaka
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John Coltrane with Pharoah Sanders, Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ 1966
By Chuck Stewart
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John Coltrane with Alice Coltrane, Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ 1966
By Chuck Stewart

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Essentially an unknown, 29-year-old John Coltrane was thrust into the jazz forefront in 1955…into the world of Miles Davis …when he was summoned to fill in for the absent Sonny Rollins in the new Davis quintet. So began Coltrane’s intense musical and spiritual journey that lasted a mere 12 years but left a monumental legacy. Being with Miles until 1960 was a gift because it gave him both the freedom and confidence to develop his abilities. However, early on he knew he had to rid himself of the addictions that plagued him. He left briefly, accomplished his goals, and before rejoining Miles, he worked with Thelonious Monk for several months in 1957. This was a watershed learning experience that truly prepared him for the creativity of the subsequent years. The extended Monk-Coltrane stay at New York’s Five Spot Cafe was a magnetic draw for devoted listeners and musicians, but apparently only one photographer, Don Schlitten.

When playing, John Coltrane was a powerful dynamo with a fiercely searching improvisational style. However, he did not have a flamboyant stage presence, so that a photographer could only image the subtleties in facial expression and body language that measured the increasing intensity of his creations. Nat Hentoff once wrote, “The music sometimes sounding like the exorcism of a multitude of demons…” This would seem to fit an art critic’s description of Claxton’s photograph of Coltrane mounting the stage stairs at Newport as being like a matador entering the ring to do an afternoon’s battle.

Between solos or offstage and in repose, Coltrane was a quiet, gentle man often inwardly directed and meditative. Images of these moments were quite beautifully captured by Don Hunstein, Chuck Stewart, Esmond Edwards, Bob Parent and Herb Snitzer. A Coltrane smile was apparently rare but, as Stewart observed, “…his whole face would light up!” which is quite evident in one of Stewart’s pictures and the one by Joe Alper with Johnny Hartman.

On his own from 1960, he surged through his most creative and spiritually satisfying years with the quartet featuring McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones, and later with various avant garde musicians, constantly experimenting with still freer methods of playing. He succumbed to cancer in 1967.

Originally published in June 1997

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