Jazz Saxophone player John Coltrane was born September 23, 1926.
Coltrane was born in Hamlet, North Carolina, and grew up in High Point. He began playing the clarinet in a community band at the age of 13 and switched to the alto saxophone during his final year of high school. In 1945 he was drafted into the United States Navy, eventually serving most of his two-year term with a Navy band stationed in Hawaii. In 1947 he switched to the tenor saxophone and toured with alto saxophonist Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson.
He joined the group of trumpeter Miles Davis in 1955, beginning an important phase of his career; during the periods he spent with Davis, Coltrane gained an international reputation as a tenor saxophonist. His high notes had an intense, emotional quality, and his melodies were extremely ornate and usually played without vibrato. After leaving Davis’s quintet, Coltrane formed his own quartet and began playing both the soprano and the tenor saxophone.
During the early 1960s, Coltrane and drummer Elvin Jones developed a highly energetic and interactive way of playing jazz, while improvising in one key, he would often introduce notes from another key. Soon he moved into free jazz, a style in which musicians sometimes create very unusual sounds with their instruments. A deeply religious man, Coltrane recorded several albums of his religious compositions, the most famous being A Love Supreme.
In the 1960s, Coltrane won several polls conducted in the United States and in Japan. After his death in 1967, the National Academy of the Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) honored Coltrane’s memory with a Grammy Award and a lifetime achievement award. Coltrane inspired many to play the soprano saxophone, an instrument rarely used in jazz until he began playing it.