John William Coltrane was born on September 23, 1926 in Hamlet, North Carolina. At the age of three his family moved to High Point, NC, where young Coltrane spent his early years. His father, John Robert Coltrane, died in 1939, leaving twelve year-old John and his mother on their own. His mother, Alice Blair Coltrane, moved to New Jersey to work as a domestic while John completed high school. John played first the clarinet, then alto saxophone in his high school band. His first musical influence was the tenor saxophonist Lester Young of Count Basie's band. In June of 1943, after graduation, Coltrane moved to Philadelphia to be closer to his mother. After a yearlong stint in the Navy (1945-46), Coltrane began playing gigs in and around Philadelphia. During this time he became involved in drug and alcohol use, vices that would follow him throughout his career and ultimately lead to his death. In late 1949 Coltrane was invited to play alto sax with Dizzy Gillespie's band; the first recording session was on November 21 of that year. When the big band broke up in May of 1950 Coltrane moved to the tenor saxophone and played with Gillespie's small band until May of the next year. Coltrane played with Earl Bostic's group in 1952, switching to the band of his early idol Johnny Hodges in 1953. Problems with drug and alcohol abuse, however, forced Coltrane out of the group in 1954.
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