John Coltrane’s Naval Reserve Enlistment Mugshot (1945)


Do you ever have déjà vu? Last week we post­ed Jack Ker­ouac’s U.S. Naval Reserve enlist­ment mugshot from 1943 and the response was enthu­si­as­tic. Many of you were fas­ci­nat­ed to see the great Beat writer at such a ten­der age and in such an atyp­i­cal, unlib­er­at­ed con­text. Today we offer an eeri­ly sim­i­lar pho­to of anoth­er free­wheel­ing icon of 20th cen­tu­ry art: John Coltrane, when he was 18 years old.

Coltrane entered the Navy on the same day the Unit­ed States dropped the atom­ic bomb on Hiroshi­ma (August 6, 1945) and was assigned reserve sta­tus, as were many African-Amer­i­cans at that time. Accord­ing to Lewis Porter in John Coltrane: His Life and Music, only lim­it­ed num­bers of black men served as sea­man after 1942. Pri­or to that, they were only allowed to work as kitchen help. The Navy was seg­re­gat­ed, and Coltrane was sent to boot camp at the black sec­tion of Samp­son Naval Train­ing Cen­ter in upstate New York. By the time he fin­ished train­ing, World War II was over.

In late Novem­ber of 1945, after a tran­si­tion­al month at Camp Shoe­mak­er near San Fran­cis­co, sea­man sec­ond class Coltrane was assigned to active duty in Hawaii. Sta­tioned on the island of Oahu, Coltrane played clar­inet and alto sax­o­phone in a black Navy band called the Melody Mas­ters. He made his first record­ings with some of the musi­cians from the band in the sum­mer of 1946. But all the while Coltrane was serv­ing, the Navy was in the process of down­siz­ing. With the war over, bands were no longer need­ed to boost morale. So on August 11, 1946–just over a year after his enlistment–Coltrane was dis­charged from the Navy and sent home.

Relat­ed con­tent:

John Coltrane and His Great Quin­tet Play ‘My Favorite Things’

John Coltrane Plays Only Live Per­for­mance of A Love Supreme

John Coltrane: Three Great Euro­pean Per­for­mances, 1969, 1961 and 1965

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