Spotlight on Coltrane: 5 Diverse Albums

John Coltrane started his musical journey in 1949 under the spell of Charlie Parker and later Dizzy Gillespie. In 1954, he joined The Miles Davis Quintet where he was encouraged to think more harmonically. During the second half of the nineteen-fifties, he rehearsed extensively with Thelonious Monk. By 1959 Coltrane mastered the skills to compose and record the album that innovated jazz harmonically and rhythmically, and so he released Giant Steps.

The saxophonist continued to explore and develop. He took on numerous projects, collaborated with various jazz legends, and even composed a movie soundtrack. Each album he recorded is unique and spotlights Coltrane’s musical evolution. In this article, you’ll find five diverse albums by one of the most significant jazz musicians of all time.

John Coltrane’s Soultrane

Recorded in 1958 on Prestige Records

The second half of the nineteen-fifties defined John Coltrane’s career and helped him come into prominence as a musician and arranger. Underlined is the time as a member in Miles Davis’ First Great Quintet and later sextet, and the period working aside Thelonious Monk. Many recordings featuring Trane‘s support on the tenor saxophone got listed as the most acclaimed and influential jazz albums in history.

Coltrane’s legacy before moving to Atlantic Records in 1959 got well documented by Prestige. Soultrane is the best example of this. The album got described as a demonstration of Coltrane’s late nineteen-fifties “sheet of sound” (Ira Gitler, DownBeat Magazine.) The term is dedicated to John Coltrane and represents the unique improvisational style he developed while working with Thelonious Monk. He loosened up the demanding chords and harmonies of hard bop while maintaining loyalty to its traditional values. Coltrane was given the freedom to improvise when playing along with Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis.

John Coltrane’s Giant Steps

Recorded in 1959 on Atlantic Records

In 1954, Coltrane joined The Miles Davis Quintet where he was encouraged to think more harmonically. This was an important milestone in the yet-to-be-written composition of Giant Steps as he was introduced to new possibilities in chord progressions. After a drug addiction that caused him to leave Davis’ band, he started rehearsing with the celebrated Thelonious Monk. This not only helped him recover from his addiction, but it also helped him develop artistically.

Fully recovered and evolved, Coltrane rejoined Miles Davis’ quintet in 1958. The following year, they recorded Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, an album that is claimed to be the most important album in jazz history. Giant Steps was recorded less than a month after the sessions for Kind of Blue. Giant Steps – consisting entirely out of Coltrane’s original compositions – was released in 1960, and despite being a perfect contrast to Kind of Blue, it became a mighty equal. Coltrane masters the skills to compose and record an album that innovated jazz harmonically and rhythmically.

Duke Ellington & John Coltrane

Recorded in 1962 on Impulse Records

In the early sixties, John Coltrane’s career and technical abilities peaked. For several years, he would release various historical jazz albums. The saxophonist was a perfectionist, carefully exploring harmonic progressions and multiple rhythms. He was confident in both playing and arranging. Still, while playing with Duke Ellington, he felt honored, imperfect, and challenged. The album Duke Ellington & John Coltrane is a display of two jazz musicians from a different generation who, despite having a divergent background and relationship with music, communicate politely.

The album features acclaimed Ellington standards such as In A Sentimental Mood and some of his new compositions like Take the Coltrane. John Coltrane also added a new composition to the album’s track-list. His work titled Big Nick is a tribute to saxophonist George Walker “Big Nick” Nicholas who influenced Coltrane during his time with Dizzy Gillespie. “In thinking back,” Coltrane said, “it seemed to have something that would suit the style he likes to play in. But maybe not?”

John Coltrane’s Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album

Recorded in 1963 on Impulse Records

The recording was made one month after his collaboration with Duke Ellington was released and features Coltrane’s so-called Classic Quartet: McCoy Tyner on the piano, Jimmy Garrison on the bass, and Elvin Jones behind the drums. The recording got lost but surfaced in 2018.

Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album got released in 2018 and features seven tunes from which two previously unissued tracks: Untitled Original 11383 and Untitled Original 11386. The numbering refers to the identification system used in the studio by Bob Thiele. Aside from the standard one-disc version, also a two-disc deluxe edition containing several alternate takes got released. Spotlighted are the alternate takes of Impressions.

John Coltrane’s Blue World

Recorded in 1964 on Impulse Records

By 1964 saxophonist John Coltrane was one of the leading figures in jazz music. Mainly thanks to his release of Giant Steps in 1960. Officially, he recorded and released two albums that year: the often-overlooked album Crescent, and the well-known masterpiece A Love Supreme. With the recent release of his recording Blue World, we can add a third album to the list.

Blue World, recorded in the Rudy Van Gelder Studio on June 24 (1964,) is a composition for the movie: Le Chat Dans Le Sac (Gilles Groulx, 1964.) The soundtrack was fully composed by John Coltrane. For the recording, he invited his classic 1960s quartet. The album features two alternate takes on the song “Naima“, a ballad he composed for his wife Juanita Naima Grubbs (married 1955-66.) Also notable are the three takes on his composition “Village Blues,“ a song that was originally released on the studio album Coltrane Jazz with Steve Davis on the bass. The Blue World recordings would feature Jimmy Garrison who replaced Steve Davis in 1961.

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John Coltrane’s Giant Steps

John Coltrane’s masterpiece, Giant Steps, turned sixty in 2020 and this was celebrated with an anniversary deluxe edition LP. Let’s have a brief look at how the album came to life and how Coltrane developed, personally and musically, before being able to compose one of the most influential jazz albums of all time.

John Coltrane went through a lot before he was ready to create his masterpiece Giant Steps. Starting his musical journey in 1949 under the spell of Charlie Parker, and later Dizzy Gillespie, he felt dissatisfied, even dejected. In 1954, Coltrane joined The Miles Davis Quintet where he was encouraged to think more harmonically. This was an important milestone in the yet-to-be-written composition of Giant Steps as he was introduced to new possibilities in chord progressions.

Coltrane had a drug addiction and was dismissed from the band (together with drummer Philly Joe Jones) in 1957. Being sacked by the number one musical influencer, Miles Davis, was a wake-up call. With the help of friends and family, Coltrane took steps to get his life back in order. He started rehearsing with the celebrated Thelonious Monk and this not only helped him recover from his addiction but also helped him develop artistically.

“Working with Monk brought me close to a musical architect of the highest order”

John Coltrane in an interview with DownBeat (1960)

Fully recovered and evolved, Coltrane rejoined Miles Davis’ band in 1958. The following year, they recorded Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, an album that is claimed to be the most important album in jazz history. Giant Steps was recorded less than a month after the sessions for Kind of Blue (1959). Giant Steps, consisting entirely out of Coltrane’s original compositions, was released in 1960, and despite being a perfect contrast to Kind of Blue, it became a mighty equal.

Working with Thelonious Monk, and recording Kind of Blue with Miles Davis, were both giant steps John Coltrane took before he mastered the skills to compose and record the album that innovated jazz harmonically and rhythmically.

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