When driving through North Carolina on the way to Myrtle Beach, we pass through a little hamlet called – well, Hamlet. It has one claim to fame, and it’s not the great chicken plant fire of 1991. It’s the birthplace of one of the giants of American jazz, John Coltrane.
The man called “Trane” said that one of his greatest moments was the first time he heard Charlie Parker play. “The first time I heard Bird play, it hit me right between the eyes,” he said. That was in 1945, just about the time Coltrane began to record.
During most of his early career, he was a sideman to such jazz stalwarts as Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Thelonious Monk. He released his first album of his own compositions, Giant Steps, in 1960, and it featured complex harmonic structures and chord progressions unheard before that time. These became known as “Coltrane changes.”
Coltrane gravitated toward more experimental and avant-garde and free form jazz during his later career, and I’ll admit I’m not a fan of that style. What’s undeniable is that he has influenced a whole generation of jazz musicians. He’s in the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame and was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. All in all, not bad for a kid from Hamlet.