Today could be just the perfect day to cue a track called India by a man who pioneered many new directions in the ’50s jazzscape – the immortalised John Coltrane who, incidentally, studied Indian classical ragas with none other than Pt Ravi Shankar (ah yes, and his son’s named Ravi Coltrane).
Jazz is sometimes stupidly accused as old people’s music, but the genre holds seasoned listeners in thrall even if it leaves some of us millennials confused.
Jazz is part swing, part freestyle and heavily improvised by musicians who know music theory better than you know your name, and aren’t afraid to push through sonic boundaries.
John Coltrane falls into the category of freestyle gods who could puff magic in and out of a saxophone all day long.
Born on this day in 1926 in North Carolina, few knew that the boy would go out to create magic of a different realm with his saxophone, influencing modern jazz with his signature smooth melodies and complex chord progressions.
However, a star was born when Coltrane witnessed Charlie Parker’s performance sometime in 1945. The Bird proved to be a huge inspiration, and Coltrane would eventually work together with Parker and stars such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonius Monk.
The genre’s collaborative nature got the ‘Trane rolling and his genius began to float on several of Davis’ landmark albums such as Milestones and Kind of Blue.
“The beauty of John Coltrane is how effortless he makes his complex music sound,” says Vishwaraj, founder of CounterCulture, a live entertainment and programming company in Bengaluru. “Though I love jazz, I’m more of a Blues guy. For me, what works best is the swinging mood I get into every time I hear Coltrane Plays the Blues,” he adds.
From bebop, ‘Trane transcended to classic, avant-garde and modal jazz with a fluidity peculiar to hummingbirds. His innate talent for the saxophone and penchant for introducing something fresh (often at a blistering hundred notes per second) to jazz makes him one of the most versatile artists to have graced the genre during his short life.
Just like A Love Supreme – the landmark 1964 album – featured one of the most theatrical odes to faith and his love for god, Coltrane’s spiritual awakening after his battle with heroin remains one of his most creative phases.
Two pastors even believe the Holy Ghost appeared during a 1965 Coltrane performance. The vision was so strong that they eventually built the Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco. The jazz legend is worshipped here as a saint, and live jazz performances punctuate the service till this day!
In India, Jazz has a small but steadfast following in its metros. Intimate venues such as Delhi’s Piano Man Jazz Club, Bengaluru’s BFlat and Mumbai’s The Bandra Base have jazz performances several times in a month.
And millennials are opening up to the genre’s lush sounds. “I feel that Jazz has a purity of music that cannot be seen in modern pop. I prefer to spend my evenings seeing jazz artists perform live and am even learning to play the saxophone,” says Delhi-based graphic designer Sakshi Makhija.
Whether you pop a Coltrane album at your home or attend a gig at the above venues, there’s never been a better day or reason to celebrate Jazz than September 23!
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