Stream the “Complete” John Coltrane Playlist: A 94-Hour Journey Through 700+ Transformative Tracks

In a con­trar­i­an take on the lega­cy of John Coltrane on the 50th anniver­sary of his death last year, Zack Gra­ham at GQ did not rec­om­mend Giant Steps nor A Love Supreme nor Blue Train nor My Favorite Things as the most impor­tant album in the artist’s career, but a record most casu­al jazz fans may nev­er encounter, and which even the hard­est-core Coltrane fans nev­er heard in his life­time. Record­ed in the year of his death, Inter­stel­lar Space—a fre­net­ic suite of free jazz duets with drum­mer Rashied Ali—didn’t appear until 1974. The album has since received wide­spread crit­i­cal acclaim, and stands, Gra­ham argues, as “Coltrane’s most influ­en­tial record, its echoes still heard today in every­thing from elec­tron­ic music to some of the world’s biggest hip hop acts.”

Gra­ham makes a com­pelling case. It’s hard­ly an acces­si­ble album, but dis­cern­ing lis­ten­ers will nonethe­less hear the sound of now in Ali’s stut­ter­ing, rapid fire beats and Coltrane’s modal bleats. Look­ing back, it can almost seem like he knew he was run­ning out of time, and rushed to leave behind a blue­print for the music of the future.

“In his last months,” writes Stephen Davis at Rolling Stone, “Coltrane had changed every­thing about his music,” and, per­haps, every­thing about music in gen­er­al, jazz and oth­er­wise. His evo­lu­tion as a musi­cian and explor­er of the mys­ti­cal poten­tial­i­ties of artis­tic expres­sion was so rad­i­cal that from a cer­tain point of view we are forced to work back­ward when approach­ing his cat­a­log, as we might do with biogra­phies of saints.

Should we pur­sue this line of think­ing, how­ev­er, we might have to grant that the posthu­mous Inter­stel­lar Space and its fol­low-up Stel­lar Regions—com­piled from tapes Alice Coltrane dis­cov­ered in 1994—are the result of Coltrane’s final musi­cal apoth­e­o­sis and thus can sound nigh-incom­pre­hen­si­ble to most mere mor­tals. Inter­stel­lar Space “is a musi­cians’ album, for sure,” Gra­ham admits, and an album for those ful­ly open to the unknown: “the dis­so­nance and enhar­mon­ic exper­i­men­ta­tion… is oth­er­world­ly.”

Work­ing back­ward, we see Coltrane’s trans­fig­u­ra­tion into an avant-garde pio­neer in 1966’s Ascen­sion, an album that “still man­ages to con­found as many lis­ten­ers as it con­vinces,” Derek Tay­lor writes at All About Jazz. A Love Supreme is Coltrane’s gospel, a spir­i­tu­al clas­sic that draws every­one in with its mes­sage of tran­scen­dence and one­ness. Ear­li­er mile­stones My Favorite Things, Giant Steps, and Blue Train are each mirac­u­lous feats of musi­cian­ship that drew huge crowds of admir­ers and imi­ta­tors, and then there are the years of appren­tice­ship, when the young Coltrane stud­ied under mas­ters like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gille­spie, and prac­ticed the dhar­ma of Char­lie Park­er.

A nar­ra­tive of Coltrane as a kind of musi­cal mes­si­ah explains the lit­er­al ven­er­a­tion of his work by the Church of Saint John Coltrane, but it is only one con­ve­nient means of Coltrane appre­ci­a­tion. In truth, his oeu­vre is too vast and var­ied in scope to neat­ly sum up in any ful­ly sat­is­fy­ing way. We might just as well start at the begin­ning, when Coltrane was a most­ly unknown, but very hip, side­man, play­ing with the greats through­out the fifties. “From his Bird-emu­lat­ing begin­nings to his flights into the unknown in his last years,” writes Fer­nan­do Ortiz, com­pil­er of the “Com­plete” John Coltrane playlist above, “the stan­dard of his music and his pas­sion are always at the top or very close to it.”

Com­pris­ing over 700 tracks, “or four straight days of lis­ten­ing,” this playlist list is still “far from per­fect,” Ortiz admits, “since it is sub­ject to avail­abil­i­ty and to the non-sys­tem­at­ic approach to data on Spo­ti­fy, but it’s not that far this time.”

…no stu­dio record­ing he made between 1955 and 1965 is miss­ing (his pre­vi­ous years are well rep­re­sent­ed, start­ing with his 1946 record­ings while in the Navy), which includes all his stu­dio work as a leader dur­ing those years, as well as all his record­ings as a side­man with Miles and Monk.

The weight­ing toward live record­ings, “both from offi­cial and boot­leg sources,” pro­vides a very mul­ti­fac­eted view of the artist’s onstage devel­op­ment, and the inclu­sion of box sets like Heavy­weight Cham­pi­on: The Com­plete Atlantic Record­ings offer panoram­ic sur­veys of his stu­dio work. While we don’t get every­thing here, and some of the omis­sions are key, you will, if you spend qual­i­ty time delv­ing into this trea­sure house, under­stand why the name Coltrane con­jures such inten­si­ty of awe, praise, and devo­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Orga­nized Reli­gion Got You Down? Dis­cov­er The Church Of Saint John Coltrane

John Coltrane Draws a Mys­te­ri­ous Dia­gram Illus­trat­ing the Math­e­mat­i­cal & Mys­ti­cal Qual­i­ties of Music

John Coltrane’s Hand­writ­ten Out­line for His Mas­ter­piece A Love Supreme (1964)

The His­to­ry of Spir­i­tu­al Jazz: Hear a Tran­scen­dent 12-Hour Mix Fea­tur­ing John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Her­bie Han­cock & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (7)
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  • Christian Hogue says:

    Stream­ing on Spo­ti­fy is not free.
    Many rea­sons NOT to use Spo­ti­fy.

  • Robert says:


  • alvin carter bey says:

    I enjoyed John Coltrane until 1965, I wit­ness his changes in Dizzy’s band to the evolve­ment of Love Supreme. but, all the oth­er notes of his mind, I got lost. any­way thanks for the info.

  • Paul Hirsh says:

    Not too famil­iar with Inter­stel­lar Space, but some thir­ty years ago I tran­scribed three of the tracks from the album Expres­sion, also made in his last year (Ogunde, Offer­ing, Expres­sion) with most of the solos. I have been study­ing them from time to time since then on sax­o­phone and late­ly with vio­lin. These pieces have been so impor­tant to me they have served as my main moti­va­tions for lit­er­al­ly years of prac­tice, along with the Live in Japan track Peace on Earth. But even know­ing them note for note, I find myself still mys­ti­fied by them, aston­ished by their depth, by the com­po­si­tion­al tech­nique, the inter­play of the musi­cians, Alice’s har­mon­ic intu­ition, but above all grate­ful that this music came into exis­tence. It’s not stuff you can ana­lyze like Giant Steps. It’s com­ing from a dif­fer­ent place.

  • Thomas F Rowe says:

    If you need a per­son­al Degree in Trane, this is your best chance.

  • Eli Newberger says:

    On the sub­ject, the pow­er­ful dance group Urban Bush Women is tour­ing a trib­ute to Coltrane. Last week, they per­formed it at the Jacob’s Pil­low Dance Fes­ti­val in Beck­et, MA.

    Here’s a review, just pub­lished, with real-time draw­ings and pho­tos:

    Eli New­berg­er

  • Thurman Booker says:

    for me every­thing pri­or to 1965 was pre­li­ma­nary. Ascen­sion, kulu se mama, med­i­ta­tions, live at the van­guard again, live in Seat­tle, live in Japan, expres­sion were the cul­mi­na­tion of Tranes life. a tests­ment of his soul. few oth­ers are equipped to fol­low.

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