With Poncho Sanchez’s latest album Trane’s Delight, he pays tribute to one of the more prominent figures that informed his music, the iconic saxophonist John Coltrane. Coltrane, who passed more than fifty years ago, continues to influence a mix of styles and genres, transcending cultural boundaries. His saxophone sound – brooding, searching, dark – is still one of the most recognizable in modern jazz.
To Coltrane, a musician was a message-giver; making music was an endeavor tied to a larger, greater good. “I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music,” Coltrane wrote in a 1964 letter to his listeners. In 1966, less than a year before his death he stated: “I know that there are bad forces, forces that bring suffering to others and misery to the world. I want to be the opposite force. I want to be the force which is truly for good.”
Coltrane achieved his goal as a hard-working jazz player coming out of a proud, rooted musical tradition, paying his dues as a sideman, learning the ropes as a leader, working with primarily wordless music to convey his message. He released twenty-five albums as a leader during his lifetime, some attaining classic status: Blue Train, Giant Steps, My Favorite Things and Grammy-nominated A Love Supreme. His compositions and recordings are now permanent parts of the canon of great American music, recognized by the library of Congress, with many inducted into The Grammy Hall of Fame; all are now required study for young musicians hoping to unlock the secrets of the jazz tradition. In 2007 Coltrane was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize, as a Special Citation for a lifetime of innovative and influential work.
Coltrane remained musically driven till the end. As he said in 1966, months prior to his death, “There is never any end… there are always new sounds to imagine, new feelings to get at. And always there is the need to keep purifying these feelings and sounds so that we can really see what we’ve discovered in its pure state. So that we can see more and more clearly what we are… we have to keep on cleaning the mirror.”
The inspiration his legacy continues to instill remains as strong as it is necessary – evidence of the unifying power of music: an argument to cherish our collective heritage; a dictate to listen to and learn from each other.