BeforJohnWasAJazzGiantJohn Coltrane, musician
Sept. 23, 1926-July 17, 1967

Before and After John Coltrane Was a Jazz Giant by Carole Boston Weatherford

Jazz great John Coltrane was born on September 23, 1926 in Hamlet, North Carolina. I first heard Coltrane’s saxophone on the classic Miles Davis album, “Kind of Blue.” I later listened to ’Trane leading his own group into new musical territory on compositions such as “Naima” and “A Love Supreme.”

I wanted to write about him because he grew up in my adopted hometown of High Point, North Carolina, where his grandfather pastored St. Stephen A.M.E. Zion Church. After studying the saxophonist’s background and listening to his recordings, I decided to focus on his musical influences rather than his biography.

In Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane, free verse text uses repetition to evoke a jazz riff. Paintings by award-winning illustrator Sean Qualls let readers see young John soaking up the sounds around him—from the church choir and marching band to bird songs and jazz radio. Perhaps echoes from his past influenced Trane’s unique, improvisational style known as “sheets of sound.” 

Interestingly, as I researched this book, a bit of my own family history emerged. My great aunt, Terah Whitten, was Coltrane’s third grade teacher.

Trane’s virtuosity and social conscience are both evident in “Alabama,” a composition he wrote in response to the September 15, 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.


Birmingham-1963_2I also wrote a book—a narrative poem–about the church bombing—Birmingham, 1963. Hear an excerpt here.        

Lesson Ideas

Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane

Birmingham, 1963


Before John Was a Jazz Giant
Coretta Scott King Honor
Golden Kite Honor for Picture Book Text, SCBWI
Newsweek Pick of the Week

Birmingham, 1963
Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Jefferson Cup
Virginia Library Association
Jane Addams Children’s Literature Honor
The Lion and the Unicorn Honor for Excellence in North American Poetry
Kirkus Reviews’ Editor’s Choice
North Carolina Children’s Book Award Nominee

Anneographies note: Special thanks to Carole for hosting today! For more about Birmingham, 1963, visit Carole’s post this month at The Brown Bookshelf.       

Tagged ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.