Help me understand John Coltrane .... seriously.

Hi Everyone,
Listen I have a favor to ask, and those of you better educated in Jazz can help me.

I always have a tough time listening to John Coltrane. It's like he's talking a different language.
Can any of you point me to recordings I should listen to on Tidal or Quboz or whatever that set me up to better appreciate the man?

Thank you for the musical education.


JC is talking a different language. I suggest starting with his time in Miles groups and then go forward.
Listen to two cut by Coltrane -

"My Favorite Things" and "Naima"

If you still scratching your head - move on!

You actually got it. He does speak a different language. The fun part is figuring it out.

I’d start with "A Love Supreme". The concept provides the best chance for Coltrane to register sooner rather than later.
i feel the same way when it comes to Miles Davis.      Its just not my cup of tea.
Also was he building off of or responding to any other artists?  That may help too.

Thank you.

They were both "free spirits",  way out there for their time, were heavily influenced by drugs and were driven to keep playing and pushing boundaries no matter what, not always successfully.

"Ballads" is about as accessible as he gets and it's a beautiful album .. nice place to start. His album with Johnny Hartman is another.
Suppose one were to suggest that Coltrane, like all the jazz greats, is not only playing the song, but is also playing with the song at the same time. I'd suggest listening to "Summertime" as a great example. At points, it's "Summertime," the tune you know, but at others, it's Coltrane doing his thing with it. Until it's "Summertime" again.
I'd suggest not thinking too much, but just grooving as the man makes his way.
-- Howard

Yes those are more accessible Coltrane albums as is even Giant Steps and Blue Train but these alone are limited as a tool to "get" John Coltrane.

A good package for that is the "Live at the Village Vanguard" set where you get multiple and varied takes on the same classic Coltrane tunes on different nights to soak in and process.
Ole Coltrane is an interesting record too. The title track is hypnotic, or at least distinctive. 

Oh hey! The 'Stockholm Concert' from '61 ish'
Yes those are more accessible Coltrane albums as is even Giant Steps and Blue Train but these alone are limited as a tool to "get" John Coltrane.
Limited yes, but his more accessible albums are a good starting point simply because you begin to understand his talent, his genius. Others albums, as you've mentioned, include "Love Supreme", Blue Train", and "Giant Steps". 

IMO a lot of folks just getting into Jazz stumble when listening to the more free-form variety. Melody is key for many. 
Music is a feeling inside the soul.

 If a tune isn't grabbing your attention emotionally, without questioning  "why" you  should Ilike it...
it isn't for you.

Other than maybe reading a bit of history of Classical, Jazz and Blues, it's a matter of something latching on inside.

Also, a read  on a particular musician especially Classical and Jazz, helps me understand where they may be coming from.

No graphs,tweaks,cable,fuses,tubes....

 If a tune isn't grabbing your attention emotionally, without questioning  "why" you  should Ilike it...
it isn't for you.

Well, that's true, don't buy / listen to what you don't like, but it is also true in art that the temporal and historical context a piece was written in and responding to is the language.

You might see a Picasso and think nothing of it, but if you study art history and see the discussion happening in art suddenly Picasso makes sense as a response.
Leaving art and music to personal taste in the moment may leave you impoverished.

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“You might see a Picasso and think nothing of it, but if you study art history and see the discussion happening in art suddenly Picasso makes sense as a response.
Leaving art and music to personal taste in the moment may leave you impoverished.”

super-sage advice, Erik. I was lucky enough, I guess, to not have to “get” Coltrane, I just like his stuff. Certainly, he was one to push boundaries in his career. What are the tracks that puzzle you about him?

What are the tracks that puzzle you about him?

Almost all of it. I mean, of course I can listen to My Favorite Things, but it doesn't sound remarkable.... and the rest, I have a really tough time resonating with. A love supreme is honestly difficult for me.

So it's clear to me I am listening to him completely out of context and without an appreciation for what he brings extra to standards like My Favorite Things.

This thread is of course not to mock him, at all, but to try and hear enough of his world to hear him like others do.
No one can make you like something you don't.  I love swing era jazz.  Most bop and post bop stuff leaves me cold.  I watched Sonny Rollins going on for 10 minutes with his horn at a jazz festival and it just sounded like random notes to me.   I like a lot of Miles and a lot of Miles I don't like.  Coltrane could play sweet ballads but most of the time he spewed out a wall of sound that just gives me a headache.  In my opinion, if you're not going to play the melody at all, then stop telling me that your playing a song.  Other people love that stuff.   Who says we all have to like everything or what we are somehow inferior fans for not liking everything?   Some things just don't resonate.  All of our brains are different.  If you don't like Coltrane, go listen to Coleman Hawkins or Johnny Hodges or Ben Webster.  These guys weren't inferior to 'Trane, they were just different.  Some of the jazz players from opposite ends of the spectrum didn't like each others music.  Why do you think you have to like it all?
 Listen to the song In a Sentimental Mood he does with Duke Ellington. If Coltrane still evades your soul only MP3 for you!
I appreciated your Picasso argument. At some point subjective reaction can appear to betray laziness and/or suspect pre-conditions. You feel guilt.
The distinction between appreciation and beauty and truth
Axiology. Asthetics. 
Jazz is music of Individuality first and foremost. Free to feel. So as an individual there is some jazz I dig, and some I just tune out. Hoisted on its on raison d'existence. 

Coltrane leaves almost all people behind at some point and today's jazz musicians have left Coltrane behind.  Start with his most accessible stuff, listen to the recommendations made above and enjoy what connects with you and stop listening when you no longer get it.  That's what Tidal and Qobuz are for.
What Coltrane recordings have been listening to Erik? A lot of his material after A Love Supreme is difficult to digest and takes some time, analogous to your thoughts on understanding and appreciating Picasso after his Blue and Rose Period paintings. So those recordings would be the wrong place to start.

The only worthwhile thing I got out of many years of college was listening to Coltrane’s A Love Supreme as part of a Jazz Music class I was taking as a lark. I’d never listened to anything but Rock n’ Roll before and loved everything from Bill Haley to what was then going on like the Stone’s Let It Bleed. I had no jazz listening experience at all, and was amazed by that recording. It was kind of a sink or swim experience, getting thrown in the water for the first time. I’ve forty or so of his albums now, not including his contributions to many of the large number of Miles Davis recordings in my collection.

I’m not sure if that would work for you, but reading your posts here makes me think you’d catch on quickly and fall in love with Coltrane too. Are there other jazz artists you like, or is jazz relatively new to you as a listening experience? What do you typically listen to?

Any of his later Prestige or subsequent Atlantic recordings are easier listening maybe. Look at the AllMusic Coltrane discography to get the sequence. The older the recording, the more traditional his playing is, generally speaking dating back to a Coleman Hawkin’s influence stylistically. I’m most enamored of his post Atlantic Impulse recordings up to A Love Supreme, as many others are, and am just now beginning to appreciate his free-form work which is reactive in an historical context just as you described Picasso’s abstract work. It’s well worth the effort to develop an appreciation Erik, as you’ll discover, so give him a good shot, and you won’t be disappointed..

You might try his Giant Steps album. That was a kind of watershed album for his sheets of sound approach which he further developed as a solo artist, and is a precursor to much of his later Atlantic and early Impulse recordings. The original My Favorite Things album to me is always enjoyable and a staple of his repertoire post Giant Steps. Familiarity with the tune from the Sound of Music might give you a bridge even though you found it unremarkable thus far. Listen to the original version as some of the many subsequent recordings of this song veer into the free-form realm.

Once you catch on, the heart felt loveliness of some of his music will be a gift to you, and you’ll wonder how you ever didn’t experience it that way before. The rest of his stuff is mostly good jazz that enabled him to play alongside the best. Good luck from a person who’s at age 67 is just starting to catch on to mainstream Classical music. But I learned to love jazz from Armstrong thru Weather Report after that initial Coltrane exposure.


I would strongly advise against "starting" with A Love Supreme. And I personally feel its wrong to suggest starting there. This is one of his most personal, relevant and challenging pieces of music. Was at a friends the other night helping w the set up of a new TT. Brought some music w me so I could "check out" the new player. One of the records was "The Max Roach Trio featuring the legendary Hasaan" (a record I happen to love) Not something, we both agreed, that would be a good place to start as far as entering the world of jazz piano. He is also someone who doesn't feel Love Supreme is a good place to start. Nor would someone like Anthony Braxton, or the World Saxophone Quartet be a good place to start. Parents came by as I was playing Hasaan one day. My dads comment was "Someone practicing the piano?" Not for him, and thats cool. Often times, for me, I will come across a musician who's work I love - for whatever reason. Then, I will see something new they have done. Because I liked the work before, I figure I should like the new work. Not immediately. I approach things with an open mind and give them time. Now, had I "found" some of these musicians when they had made their most recent recordings today, would I have that same response I had 20 or 30 years ago? Most likely not. It would have been too big a leap for me. Mr. Bungle, is very much one of those for me. Heard Mike Patton in Faith no More and saw them live during the tour for "The Real Thing" before I heard Mr. Bungle.

All this to say, listen to his early work, closely, on Kind of Blue, Round About Midnight etc. Quite melodic. Then try "Coltrane Plays the Blues". Play it once a night for 5 nights. Then the same for "Ballads".

If, after 10 days, you find it's not connecting with you, then its possibly not for you. I suspect, however, that after having gone through the exercise, you will respect the mans work. It's kind of like Gordon Lightfoot for me. Have some of his work, respect his songwriting/playing/singing immensely and listen to it - albeit not very often, but, it's not my cup of tea.

There is a documentary on Netflix - "Chasing Trane" - enjoyed it a lot.

Erik you mentioned A Love Supreme is a difficult listen. That’s a good thing, because there’s so much there a might take a minute to digest it as a whole, especially if it’s out of context for you relative to whatever your listening experience is.

Bright as you are, which is easy to tell from your posts, that music is going to click into place for you. First time I heard the Stones "Let It Bleed" album my all time favorite rock album, I didn’t even like it, until one day I simply "heard" it. God knows why I didn’t get it the first time around. Now I usually expect any new or challenging music to not sound good the first few times around. I’ll know I’ll be be disappointed later on when the initial pleasure wears off from a record that was enjoyable straight off because it fit a familiar mold.

It’s like the whole language approach to teaching reading or immersion approach to learning a new language, versus the teaching the parts of language and grammar until you grasp the whole. Keep immersing yourself in his best works and you’ll wake up one morning having digested Coltrane while you were sleeping and you’ll enjoy him ever after. You’ll not be able to explain why you can hear him once you do, but you will be able to, guaranteed. It just hasn’t fallen in place for you yet.


Please listen to "Theme For Ernie", "Body And Soul" and "My Favorite Things" that will make him easy to step into or forgetaboutit. Duke Ellington & John Coltrane "In a sentimental mood" also a singular gem.

John Coltrane for many is quintessential.
I have a friend who is a huge music fan. I was shocked when he told me he hated Miles Davis. Apparently, years ago his uncle, an accomplished Jazz pianist, had given him a copy of "Bitches Brew" to add to his collection of classic rock albums.  Starting Miles with "Bitches Brew" is like introducing someone to rock music with Nine Inch Nails. There is no way they could get it. They would need to start with Elvis, The Beatles, Cream, Led Zeppelin...

I suggested he listen to Kind of Blue and go from there. 
If you are new to discovering Jazz, I suggest starting with Lewis Armstrong, then follow the trail of musicians influenced by him.

And Ah
On Coltrane '58: The Prestige Recordings "Lush Life" and "I want to talk about you". They are on Qobuz 

On Coltrane Plays The Blues try the iconic "Mr. Syms" (on Qobuz too).

Then pease listen to all of these albums or if not for you then chacun à son goût and hasta la vista señor.

Thanks, enjoyed it.

I spent a day (late 70's) listening to everything Coltrane @ a friends house and during one song we both said "what the F was that" @ the same time.


Maybe he is just not your cup of tea Eric. Just because he is renowned and influential does not mean everybody loves his music.

I agree that most Coltrane is not an easy listen. Lot’s of other jazz for that.

The thing I always find interesting about John Coltrane at his best is he does not play the notes you would expect him to play. He is always doodling/improvising with the material. He goes off on riffs with his sax much the same way say an Eddie Van Halen would later go off with his guitar, often, but not always, with great success.
Let me put it this way, I love jazz, well maybe 1% of it, anyway. The other 99% you couldn’t pay me to listen to. John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Pat Metheny and just about everyone else playing jazz are in both categories. 

The stuff I like includes hundreds if not thousands of albums, though. Enough to fill up all the jazz listening time I have. It’s good to challenge yourself sometimes and to just listen to something you enjoy with no effort other times.

The Coltrane catalog is wide and vast in depth.  The best place to start is Miles Davis "Kind of Blue"(1959).  This album is an excellent gateway into the world of John Coltrane. After this session, which is A-List all of the way, JC released his debut- Giant Steps(1960).
Digest in small doses and have fun!

Happy Listening!

2nd Note;

as above, "A Love Supreme" is not for the beginner- far too advanced in depth and nature. One has to work his way up to this release from JC debut album, IMO.

Happy Listening!
I guess it’s how you absorb things Jafant. I liked A Love Supreme right off the bat with zero jazz listening experience. The rest of his prior catalog was easily and greatly appreciated after that. Same thing with Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring, listened to as a kid. Don’t know why they both immediately made sense. Maybe both had a strong unmistakable statement to make, which was hard to miss and not appreciate. Who knows?

On the other hand it’s taken near fifty years to get a handle on Miles Davis Bitches Brew, another landmark recording which sounds great to me now, but was a complete mystery when I first heard him play live at the Fillmore East in 1970. I took a girlfriend to see Laura Nyro that night who we both liked, and Miles was on a double bill with her. All I could think when hearing him for the first time was "What is this". I was lost like a stranger in a strange land, and had no idea what he and his band were playing. Similar experience with Coltrane’s post Love Supreme free form work, although listening to that is still a work in progress. So either Erik will catch on in short order or maybe fifty years from by now easing into it. Well worth the trouble either way. Take it easy my friend,

I’m not understanding this reasoning at all...what are you guys talking about..."for the beginner" or.."too advanced in depth and nature, "talking a different language"
....what the heck does that all mean....when we are talking about music!

Music, and John Coltrane could play some great music, is what makes the listener enjoy the experience of listening. Personally, ALL music allows me to enjoy the experience...and that is what i think the great players, like John Coltrane could accomplish. So, IMO, there is NOTHING to understand when you listen to John Coltrane, or any other good-great musician, you will enjoy the experience. If you don’t enjoy it, that doesn’t mean you don’t understand just means you don’t like it...and there’s nothing wrong in that!

I hope this makes sense coming from an ex-pro musician.:0)


Right On! MD quickly divided his fans with Bitches Brew. We were expecting more Bop/Hard Bop instead of electric/fusion elements.

Coltrane and Davis were very much ahead of their time to report the least. In their respective lifetimes, both were students of past events, that shaped Modal music.  

Happy Listening!

Makes perfect sense. JC was not afraid to charter different territories. 
Quite unique and/or avant garde at various stages during his short lifetime on Earth.

Happy Listening!

As a beatnik, I listen to jazz a lot. I also smoke pot and own a Bonneville ( I have beret someplace). Note that jazz as an astonishing art form is less popular than polka so hey...if you don't get it that's OK as most people don't, a thing I'm used to..."Kind of Blue" is relatively accessible to many brains...modal...try that maybe. 
Maybe your brain just don’t like the sound of a screaming saxophone playing hundred thousand notes in the right or left channel for hours... :-) Personally prefer Ben Webster. Great live recordings.
@gosta  LOL. That's not far from the truth! BUT consider this, every one of those notes was exactly on time.....
I empathize with Eric and apparently some others; I, too, like hearing music with a "melody" as someone here stated.  I haven't yet tried to see how much/if I can appreciate jazz, but might give it a try after reading this thread.  I worked once with someone who just loved jazz, tried a time or two at his place to listen, but it was not for me, then.  I'm (much) older at the moment, with a lot more time (retired, consult on and off), three setups with three different sounds/equipment, so enough variables and time to give this a serious try.  But, again as might have been stated here, this should not be work, it should be pleasure, and visceral at least as much as intellectual.  Some of the music I love would be laughed at were I to list it here, but its important music to me, for a host of reasons, including memories, linkage to my long-dead parents, my youth.  I am certain many here share that type of connection.  
I don't think it is wrong to work at something before giving up.

Imagine tennis, golf or chess. Neither seems that enjoyable when it feels like all you are doing is chasing a ball or having your ass handed to you by an 8 year old online. We all start that way. Even if you think you didn't, I am sure you had influencers who brought these to you. Same for music, I think. That I realize now that I've lacked those is why I'm reaching out.

Professional musicians need not compare themselves to my plight. :)