A late September Sunday saw the reopening of the John Coltrane House in Strawberry Mansion, the home at 1511 N. 33rd St. where the legendary jazz saxophonist once lived.
The house had been vacant since 2004 when Coltrane’s cousin Mary, namesake for the song “Cousin Mary,” sold the property. It was then acquired by The John Coltrane House, at the request from Mary that it be maintained a tribute to her cousin.
“People remember him playing on the porch. He was accessible to the community.” Director of The John Coltrane House Lenora Early said.
Coltrane came to Philadelphia from his birthplace of North Carolina in 1943. He studied music in Philadelphia before joining the U.S. Navy during World War II where he played in the Navy’s Jazz Band. He returned to Philadelphia in 1946 after leaving the Navy, at age 26. Using his GI Bill Coltrane secured the house in Strawberry Mansion, a predominately white neighborhood at the time.
Coltrane himself lived at the house from 1952 to 1958 when he left Philadelphia for New York City. Throughout the rest of his life, that ended in 1967 from liver cancer, he would often return to the house as a second home.
In the dining room of the house sat Coltrane’s player piano where he wrote much of the music for his 1960 album “Giant Steps.”
Coltrane is the recipient of many honors, some posthumously, including a Grammy award and a commemorative U.S. postage stamp.
“I used to play with Coltrane’s nephews over on 26th and Thompson. And I would watch him play downtown,” Philadelphia jazz pianist Alfie Pollitt said. “He would play at Pep’s Musical bar at Broad Street and South Street and at Showboat Lounge on Lombard Street. And I was fortunate enough to sit in with his band.”
With The John Coltrane House now reopened Early has begun planning ahead for future programs to help revitalize the surrounding community.
“In this neighborhood we hope it would be an impetus for revitalization.” Early said in reference to the neighborhood’s current impoverished economic condition. “Not all historic sites are in neighborhoods that are all that great.”
During the reopening of the historic property Early provided a tour that lasted around a half hour. She took visitors through the first and second floors showing Coltrane’s bedroom where in 1957 he spent a week in withdrawal kicking heroin and alcohol addictions.
That Sunday afternoon event sustained a steady crowd throughout the day with many people returning at 6 p.m. for the closing concert.
That concert presented a stunning performance by the Alfie Pollitt Trio with Allen Nelson and Nimrod Speakes. Playing live jazz in the living room of the historic jazzman’s former home electrified the room for an hour keeping the crowd mesmerized.