Strawberry Mansion: A Walk Through a Jazz Hero’s Home

The original plaque marking The John Coltrane House as a National Historic Landmark sits on the fireplace mantle in the living room of 1511 N. 33rd St.
The original plaque marking The John Coltrane House as a National Historic Landmark sits on the fireplace mantle in the living room of 1511 N. 33rd St.

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.”

Lenora Early stands proud on the steps of The John Coltrane house in Strawberry Mansion.

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.

1 Comment

  1. “Lyrically narrated, resplendently illustrated and deeply respectful of both subject and audience.”
    “Golio and Gutierrez present a portrait of John Coltrane’s lifelong quest to discover and share his spiritual search through music.”
    Kirkus, starred review, Oct. ’12

    “There have been other picture books about gifted jazz musician and composer John Coltrane that have focused on his music or his childhood, but this one dares to take on the complexity of Coltrane’s entire life.”
    Horn Book Reviews, Nov./Dec. ’12

    Dear Ryan Shellenberger–
    Sometimes, when you lost almost everything as a child, a lifeline appears that restores your faith and re-ignites your spirit. For John Coltrane, that lifeline was the saxophone, and the musical dreams it inspired. Spirit Seeker – John Coltrane’s Musical Journey (Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) captures John’s struggle from lost boy to musical leader, from darkness to light. In words and images that reflect the depth of John’s joy as well as his yearning for inner peace, Spirit Seeker tells the story of how art and spirituality shaped one man’s talents and gave him the courage to share those gifts with the world. It’s a uniquely American tale that touches on race, jazz, religion and redemption (from addiction), the power of Art, and how John’s early difficulties fueled his unique vision of the Divine (A Love Supreme).
    Like my previous books on Jimi Hendrix (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, NY Times bestseller) and Bob Dylan (Little, Brown), Spirit Seeker is meant to introduce a new generation of listeners to a great musical creator and his story. Can I send you a copy of the book for consideration? (on-air mention/giveaways/interviews)

    all the best,
    GARY

    PS–the press release is below.


    GARY GOLIO – Children’s Book Author
    http://www.garygolio.com

    JIMI: Sounds Like A Rainbow – A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix (Clarion/HMH)
    When Bob Met Woody – The Story of the Young Bob Dylan (Little, Brown)
    Spirit Seeker – John Coltrane’s Musical Journey (Clarion/HMH, Fall ’12)
    Bird & Diz – Two Friends Create Bebop (Candlewick, Fall ’14)

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Gary Golio gary@garygolio.com

    (914) 762-3140

    JOHN COLTRANE PICTURE BOOK INTRODUCES KIDS TO JAZZ ICON

    Sometimes, when you lose almost everything as a child, a lifeline appears that restores your faith and re-ignites your spirit. For John Coltrane, that lifeline was the saxophone, and the musical dreams it inspired. Spirit Seeker: John Coltrane’s Musical Journey (Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)—written by NY Times-bestselling author Gary Golio (JIMI: Sounds Like A Rainbow) and illustrated by award-winning artist Rudy Gutierrez—captures John’s struggle from lost boy to musical leader, from darkness to light. In words and images that reflect the depth of John’s joy as well as his yearning for inner peace, Spirit Seeker tells the story of how art and spirituality shaped one man’s talents, and gave him the courage to share those gifts with the world.

    Drawn along by saxophone greats like Lester Young and Johnny Hodges, John’s life changed overnight when he first heard bebop master Charlie Bird Parker. Still, the sadness that had clung to him since childhood—and his father’s death—led to drinking and drug use that finally brought his early success to a standstill. In a moment of great courage, John remembered the words of his grandfather, Reverend Blair, and cleansed his body of the deadly habits weighing him down. Following a spiritual revelation, he set free his enormous talent to soar like an angel of sound. With the creation of his masterpiece A Love Supreme, he offered a timeless gift of gratitude to the Divine.

    For young people, Spirit Seeker highlights the importance of goals and aspirations—particularly in the face of personal adversities—and showcases the value of the Arts in providing a guide or roadmap for the future. Golio’s sensitive, poetic text and Gutierrez’ intricate, expressive paintings portray Coltrane as the multifaceted musical genius he was, infusing his music with a new understanding of God and Spirit that should spark fresh thinking in young minds.

    Gary Golio has been interviewed on NPR’s Weekend Edition and the Michael Eric Dyson show, and featured on CBS-TV in New York City. He is the author of JIMI: Sounds Like A Rainbow – A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix (Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and When Bob Met Woody – The Story of the Young Bob Dylan (Little, Brown). Golio is a clinical social worker/psychotherapist who helps children, teens, and their families deal with the multifaceted problems of addiction, a subject addressed in an Author’s Note about musicians and drug use. He lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife, author Susanna Reich, and is available for interviews. Visit him online at http://www.garygolio.com.

    Spirit Seeker illustrator Rudy Gutierrez’ art graces the cover of Carlos Santana’s “Shaman” CD, and has been featured in Rolling Stone, The NY Times, and Ms. He has been awarded the Distinguished Educator Award from the American Society of Illustrators, and a Pura Bel Pre Illustrator Award. See his children’s book art at https://altpick.com/rudygutierrez.

    ###

    Spirit Seeker – John Coltrane’s Musical Journey

    Written by Gary Golio

    Illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez

    Published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

    October 2012 • Ages 9 & up • 48 pages • $17.99 hardcover • ISBN 13: 978-0547239941

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