Coltrane in Hawaiʻi

This post is the third in a series Iʻm calling the “in Hawaiʻi” series. (The other posts are about Herman Melville and Mark Twain). It’s also the first of a new style of post Iʻll be experimenting with, which Iʻm calling the “mini-post” – defined as: longer than a status update, but shorter than a normal post (250+ words). It will allow me to post more often, and accommodate peoples’ (alleged) shorter attention spans. It also means Iʻll be posting more versions of the same post as I add and lengthen them. We’ll see…

Iʻm fairly conventional when it comes to jazz, although Iʻm told by my Pandora algorithm that my favorite genre is “post-bop.” In my view, one of the innovators whose style led to post-bop was John Coltrane. For me, Coltrane’s significance is difficult to put into words. He spanned the continuum from the fundamentals of jazz to its most avant-garde and even to points where he was experimenting with music’s spiritual dimensions. I’ve used his version of “My Favorite Things” to show my daughters the virtues of jazz – the transition from stating the theme to carrying the piece far from its origin. Arnie Saiki turned me on to the Ascension and Om albums, which are as avant grade as anything Ornette Coleman produced. And what was seen as repetitiveness seemed, in my view, an experiment with the very boundaries between notes themselves. Iʻve had many nights of listening to Coltrane while reading Fred Moten’s analysis of Coltrane in In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition.

While listening to him on Pandora, I was amazed to find that he had been stationed, and did some of his early work in Hawaiʻi. According to the bio of Coltrane on Pandora:

In 1945, [Coltrane] was drafted into the navy and stationed in Hawaii. He never saw combat, but he continued to play music and, in fact, made his first recording with a quartet of other sailors on July 13, 1946. A performance of Tadd Dameron‘s “Hot House,” it was released in 1993 on the Rhino Records anthology The Last Giant. Coltrane was discharged in the summer of 1946 and returned to Philadelphia. 

One biographer wrote of Coltrane’s Hawaiʻi years:

On July 13 1946, John William Coltrane, seaman second class, recorded eight songs with four other musicians, drawn from the ranks of the Melody Masters. The Melody Masters was a large Navy band, stationed in Oahu, Hawaii [sic]; Navy bands were segregated in those days, and this one was all white.

It is interesting to imagine whether his boundary-crossing experience in Hawaiʻi had an effect on his later crossing of musical boundaries.



Filed under Hawaiian history, music, Uncategorized

4 responses to “Coltrane in Hawaiʻi

  1. Coltrane’s music — so unchained and exploratory, so dismissive of convention and boundaries — was the soundtrack for the big changes in culture and society that were going off at the time. But whatever become of those changes? When I posted the following clip of the all-white Navy marching band I got a lot of flack — mostly from white Navy musicians — calling ME a racist. I went on a search for images of US military marching bands, from all branches, and they are very lightly complected. This seems at odds with the actual ethnic composition of the various military branches and the US military in general.

    And that left me contemplating on ‘Trane and the times we hoped were a changin’…


    • umi

      What a great response – Iʻm looking for more info like this and Gary Pak’s Facebook response to this, in order to fill out this “mini post”


  2. KamuelaA

    Here is the recording of Hot House.


  3. Mahalo nui loa Doug for sharing info on Coltrane in Hawaii. Obama Hawaiian Africana Museum will be sharing this history on February 27, 2021 at 4pm to 6pm via zoom.


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