John Coltrane is recognized as one of the most innovative musicians in jazz history. He would have been ninety this year, but instead, his music is outliving his life. The saxophone sounds he mastered, whether it be alto or soprano, transcended different cultures.
His music was an extension of himself and it brought people together. That is the goal of most aspiring musicians, to transcend themselves and create a community around their music. What else can John Coltrane school aspiring musicians on?
1. Work up the ladder.
Although Coltrane would eventually be the bandleader and center of his later records, this was not always the case. Before bands were built around Coltrane, he was merely a piece of other great bands. Working hard under bandleader, Miles Davis, Coltrane established himself as a major component of the jazz icon’s band before making his own name.
Through the recognition he received from doing session work for Davis, Coltrane garnered enough respect to become his own band leader. Sometimes musicians need to play second fiddle before setting out on their own journey.
2. Scare listeners.
It is sometimes hard to imagine that certain musicians listeners take for granted in a modern era were once considered shocking. Every generation has music that puzzles people, but eventually certain styles are brought into the mainstream and accepted. Some music will always be made for outsiders, but current musicians should respect the Coltrane’s nerve to release daring music for his time.
Musicians should follow in his footsteps, not by playing like him, but by being innovative and pushing boundaries that define what music should be. Unlock the avant garde element.
3. Be able to speak about music.
Musicians are interviewed at length about their music. Sometimes they seem to talk about everything but music. Yet, certain fans and journalists will respect musicians that can articulate their creative process, as well as their own way of hearing music.
Musicians do not only make music, they help listeners make sense of music. John Coltrane spoke simply, yet eloquently about his process and musical goals.
John Coltrane approached creating music from as many angles as he could. He was patient, not rushing his way to be the center of attention. Soon after, people within his circle looked to him as a new leader for producing innovative sounds. It’s okay to reinvent the wheel like Coltrane. He put in hard work and managed to give a good interview as well without being a sensationalist. Musicians can learn, both from his class, as well as his gift. John Coltrane teaches musicians to push their creativity to its greatest extent.
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Will Randick is a blogger and educator working out of the Bay Area.