American jazz saxophonist John William Coltrane, born September 23, 1926, by the late 1950s had secured his own lofty jazz throne as composer, bandleader and improviser thanks to his work with artists such as Dizzie Gillespie, Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis. He explored hard bop and bebop idioms and would also go on to become a pioneer in the use of modes in jazz.
Unfortunately, Coltrane’s personal road to success was oft’times a bit bumpy. His troubles were first evident in 1956 when he would be fired by former heroin addict Miles Davis because of all his dependency issues. Luckily, his Christian mother and Muslim wife would help him He went through a spiritual awakening that would aid him in quitting drugs the following year.
His personal life would still continue to contrast the success and good fortune of his professional career. In 1959 he lost his two front teeth thanks to an after-effect of his previous heroin addiction. The 1960s would witness his rise to commercial success thanks to his two signature platters Giant Steps (1960) and My Favorite Things (1961). These works would go on to become classic examples of modern jazz. He experimented with collective improvisation and free jazz and also introduced his personal interest in Eastern music to the jazz scene.
In 1964 he would struggle through an agitating divorce that was brought on mainly because he twice impregnated pianist Alice McLeod. (McLeod would later become his second wife.) The following year would bring on yet another issue. He would begin a struggle with his ever-increasing weight.
By sometime in 1967 He would be residing on Long Island with Alice and their three kids. His weight was out of control and he was plagued by a near constant pain in his side. After he returned from a trip to Japan, Coltrane fell down on his front porch, overcome with pain which was now acute.
He was taken to Huntington Hospital. It was there his doctor discovered a tumor on his cirrhotic liver. Three weeks later, on July 17, 1967, Coltrane died from liver cancer. He was 40.
While his biographer, Lewis Porter, believed the true cause of his death was hepatitis brought on somehow by Coltrane’s heroin addiction, to date this has not been proved. The jazz community had no clue. In fact, trumpeter Miles Davis stated: “Coltrane’s death shocked everyone, took everyone by surprise. I knew he hadn’t looked too good… But I didn’t know he was that sick—or even sick at all.”
Coltrane was buried four days later at Pinelawn Cemetery in Farmingdale, New York. Anyone wishing to visit his grave must be aware that the park they want is to the left off of Pinelawn Avenue. (Unfortunately, there are nine different cemeteries that border each other so visitors must be careful to select the correct one.)
Enter the park at William H. Locke Drive. This is the main entrance. Take the second left onto Walt Whitman Drive after passing the office.
Next take the second right onto Oak Drive. Drive for 100 yards and park your vehicle to the right at the turnout. There is a brick wall across the drive. Coltrane is buried 24 rows past the wall.
According to sources, Coltrane’s son, Ravi is in charge of reviewing a significant quantity of his father’s unreleased music. So perhaps Coltrane’s music will continue to live on long after him in the end.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.