John Coltrane

His Life and Music
Lewis Porter
A definitive assessment of the life and work of jazz musician John Coltrane, based on new interviews with his colleagues and never-before-published material


John Coltrane was a key figure in jazz, a pioneer in world music, and an intensely emotional force whose following continues to grow. This new biography, the first by a professional jazz scholar and performer, presents a huge amount of never-before-published material, including interviews with Coltrane, photos, genealogical documents, and innovative musical analysis that offers a fresh view of Coltrane's genius.

Compiled from scratch with the assistance of dozens of Coltrane's colleagues, friends, and family, John Coltrane: His Life and Music corrects numerous errors from previous biographies. The significant people in Coltrane's life were reinterviewed, yielding new insights; some were interviewed for the first time ever.

The musical analysis, which is accessible to the nonspecialist, makes its own revelations—for example, that some of Coltrane's well-known pieces are based on previously unrecognized sources. The Appendix is the most detailed chronology of Coltrane's performing career ever compiled, listing scores of previously unknown performances from the 1940s and early 1950s.

Coltrane has become a musical inspiration for thousands of fans and musicians and a personal inspiration to as many more. For all of these, Porter's book will become the definitive resource—a reliable guide to the events of Coltrane's life and an insightful look into his musical practices.

Lewis Porter is Associate Professor of Music, Rutgers University in Newark. A leading jazz scholar, he is the author of Jazz Readings from a Century of Change and coauthor of Jazz: From Its Origins to the Present. He was a project consultant on The Complete Atlantic Recordings of John Coltrane, which was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Historical Reissue, and an editor and assisting author of the definitive Coltrane discography by Y. Fujioka.

Lewis Porter welcomes feedback from readers. Should you wish to contact him, he can be reached at

Praise / Awards

  • "Lewis Porter is a meticulous person with love and respect for Afro-American classical music. I applaud this definitive study of my friend John Coltrane's life and achievements."
    —Jimmy Heath, jazz saxophonist, composer, educator

  • "John Coltrane: His Life and Music is the most compelling and meticulously documented history of John Coltrane yet written. Mr. Porter finally gives us a perspective solely based on research unlike many authors who have treated John Coltrane's life with conjecture and speculation. This is a beautiful book."
    —Ravi Coltrane, saxophonist and son of John Coltrane

  • ". . . well researched, musically knowledgeable, and enormously interesting to read. Porter is a jazz scholar with deep knowledge of the tradition he is studying, both conceptually and technically."
    —Richard Crawford, University of Michigan

  • "This is a great big bear hug of a biography of one of the greatest jazz legends and jazz masters of all time. . . . John Coltrane: His Life and Music is, in my opinion, highly readable, and at times downright exciting, as indeed Coltrane's era of jazz music-making was itself electrifying. . . . Porter interweaves a nice tapestry of Coltrane's life with one of the deepest explorations of a musical heritage that you will ever find in the jazz literature. The depth and extent of the musical analysis is one of the salient features of the book, and more than equals the rigor of the historical research. Porter's John Coltrane: His Life and Music is bound to be one of the great classics of jazz biography. Readers looking for an 'easy read' will perhaps not find it h ere, but, regardless of whether they are avid listeners or seasoned musicians, they will be greatly enriched by this rigorous and insightful book."
    —Vic Schermer, All About Jazz (

  • "Porter's biography is indispensable and long-overdue. Judicious in its appraisals, it fleshes out the man and explores his art with great sensitivity."
    Boston Book Review, April/May 1999

  • "Porter's biography is indispensable and long-overdue. Judicious in its appraisals, it fleshes out the man and explores his art with great sensitivity. Together with The John Coltrane Companion, it will lay the groundwork for future Coltrane studies. . . ."
    —Scott Saul, Boston Review, April/May 1999

  • ". . . Lewis Porter has crafted the first truly authoritative Coltrane biography. Porter's treatment is meticulously researched . . . ."
    City Paper, Philadelphia

  • ". . . if you are a musician, I'd urge you to get it, and prepare to spend not days but months on it. It belongs in every music school, and certainly every jazz musician should read--no, study!--it."
    Globe and Mail

  • "After suffering several sketchy bios, the ghost of this saxophone colossus finally gets the royal treatment from a Rutgers professor. Porter's myriad solo transcriptions are for players only, but there's much to recommend beyond the theoretical."
    —Joe Vanderford , Independent

  • "Porter's biography is partly a triumphant labor of scholarship, partly an act of loving tribute to a great artist."
    ISAM Newsletter

  • ". . . the definitive Coltrane study, detailing his story as never before."

  • ". . . a monumental volume containing, among much else, new research on Trane's ancestry and a very full chronology of his activities with Miles Davis, Johnny Hodges, Earl Bostic, Dizzy Gillespie and Eddie Vinson. . . . [T]he stimulating text provides much insight into Trane's thought processes. . . . What he has to say is unlikely to be equaled, let alone bettered, by any forthcoming Coltrane biographies."

  • "The most reliable source of information on his music. . ."
    —Ben Ratliff, The New York Times, December 7, 2001

  • ". . . Porter shies away from what Joyce Carol Oates has called 'pathography.' Instead, Porter concentrates on the music itself, tracking Coltrane's stylistic evolution more thoroughly than have any of his previous biographers and offering illuminating analyses of Coltrane's improvisations. . . . Lewis Porter's thoroughly engaging biography leaves us wishing Coltrane had had the time to voyage further into the music that was his life."
    Times Literary Supplement

  • "[Lewis Porter] brings to his study a wealth of technical knowledge. His many analyses of Coltrane's solos, complete with note-by-note transcriptions, will be of great value to anyone who has formally studied music. His writing, free of jargon and insider jazz terms, gives the general reader a clear, well-researched look at a decent, humble, gifted man whose genius did not suddenly emerge, but evolved--as jazz itself has--growing year by year out of his hard work and big heart."
    —William F. Gavin, Washington Times

  • "For its insight and its exhaustive research, this is an awesome achievement--the definitive biography at least for our generation and, surely, several to come."
    —Andy Hamilton, Wire

  • Winner: Association for Recorded Sound Collections 1999 Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research in Recorded Jazz or Blues

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 448pp.
  • 8 figures, 18 B&W photograph section with 104 musical examples in text.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2000
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-08643-6

Add to Cart
  • $24.95 U.S.