John Coltrane Quotes: The Iconic Saxophonist In His Own Words

The best John Coltrane quotes offer revealing insights into the art of a man who kept pushing music forward.

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Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

There are no shortage of John Coltrane quotes that give an insight into the remarkable artistry of arguably the most gifted jazz player of his generation. Born on September 23, 1926, Trane’s reputation has justly spread far and wide, and his music is deserving of the largest possible audience. Whether on his beautifully controlled ballads or his more avant-garde material, he offers listeners the kind of inspired playing and composing that has few equals. Both intelligent and articulate, with depth and spirituality, his music is emotionally charged and satisfying on every level.

Here are 20 John Coltrane quotes that give an insight into the man whose mind was as fascinating as his playing. If you’re looking for a better understanding of the man and his music, these John Coltrane quotes are the place to start…

“One positive thought produces millions of positive vibrations.”

“I think I was first awakened to musical exploration by Dizzy Gillespie and Bird. It was through their work that I began to learn about musical structures and the more theoretical aspects of music.”

“I’d like to point out to people the divine in a musical language that transcends words. I want to speak to their souls.”

A Love Supreme, Pt. I – Acknowledgement

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“The real risk is not changing. I have to feel that I’m after something. If I make money, fine. But I’d rather be striving. It’s the striving, man, it’s that I want.”

“I never even thought about whether or not they understand what I’m doing… the emotional reaction is all that matters. As long as there’s some feeling of communication, it isn’t necessary that it be understood.”

“You can play a shoestring if you’re sincere.”

“All a musician can do is to get closer to the sources of nature, and so feel that he is in communion with the natural laws.”

“I want to be a force for real good. In other words. I know that there are bad forces, forces that bring suffering to others and misery to the world, but I want to be the opposite force. I want to be the force which is truly for good.”

“Any time you play your horn, it helps you. If you get down, you can help yourself, even in a rock’n’roll band.”

Blue Train (Remastered 2003/Rudy Van Gelder Edition)

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“My goal is to live the truly religious life and express it through my music. If you can live it, there’s no problem about the music, because it’s part of the whole thing.”

“Damn the rules, it’s the feeling that counts. You play all 12 notes in your solo anyway.”

“I’ve found you’ve got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light.”

“My music is the spiritual expression of what I am – my faith, my knowledge, my being… When you begin to see the possibilities of music, you desire to do something really good for people, to help humanity free itself from its hang-ups.”

“Sometimes I wish I could walk up to my music for the first time, as if I had never heard it before. Being so inescapably a part of it, I’ll never know what the listener gets, what the listener feels, and that’s too bad.”

“Over all, I think the main thing a musician would like to do is give a picture to the listener of the many wonderful things that he knows of and senses in the universe… That’s what I would like to do. I think that’s one of the greatest things you can do in life and we all try to do it in some way. The musician’s is through his music.”

“There is never any end… There are always new sounds to imagine; new feelings to get at. And always, there is the need to keep purifying these feelings and sounds so that we can really see what we’ve discovered in its pure state.”

Ascension (Edition I / Pt. 1)

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“Sometimes I’d think I was making music through the wrong end of a magnifying glass.”

“When you are playing with someone who really has something to say, even though they may be otherwise quite different in style, there’s one thing that remains constant. And that is the tension of the experience, that electricity, that kind of feeling that is a lift sort of feeling. No matter where it happens, you know when that feeling comes upon you, and it makes you feel happy.”

“The reason I play so many sounds, maybe it sounds angry, is because I’m trying so many things at one time, you see? I haven’t sorted them out. I have a whole bag of things that I’m trying to work through and get the one essential.”

Looking for more? Discover the essential albums to start building your John Coltrane collection.



  1. mambo

    September 23, 2016 at 8:44 am

    he was the best ever

  2. Leslie

    September 23, 2016 at 11:19 am

    The one and only St. John Coltrane; thank you for the music that connects my soul to everything else.

  3. Jeffrey Curtis Shriner

    September 23, 2016 at 11:24 am

    John touched my life and playing in a profound way. Happy Birthday to the greatest tenor player that ever lived!

  4. carole weinstein

    September 23, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    I am so thankful I watched him at the Jazz Gallery many nights and have adored him ever since…he touched me in ways I can never explain…and he was the greatest with a horn and an ear that will never be matched…

  5. Steve Miller

    September 23, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    I’m a very, very fortunate person who Trane live many, many times in SF as a teen. Talked to him, have his autograph, carried his tenor. Life changing experiences for me. Happy 90th BD St. John.

  6. Jouvanni

    September 23, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    John Coltrane is a special because he tauch our hart and soul.

  7. baward

    September 23, 2016 at 3:48 pm

    Er, webmaster I think its ‘Trane, not ‘Trans (which is something else entirely.)

  8. Kim

    September 23, 2016 at 8:43 pm

    Just amazing….

  9. Isabel maturana O.

    September 23, 2016 at 9:09 pm

    El mejor SAXO, TRANE.

  10. sherman butler

    September 24, 2016 at 3:04 am

    the beauty of music minus the material world.

  11. Jaime Ventura

    September 24, 2016 at 3:46 am

    He is the “non plus ultra”

  12. Gerry

    September 24, 2016 at 9:18 am

    Truly wonderful

  13. Peter Bartlett

    September 24, 2016 at 10:32 am

    The Best!

  14. Dan Weinstein

    September 24, 2016 at 7:31 pm

    LeGrand Jazz and Chamber’s Music were my first Coltrane experiences at the age of 8 or 9. Atill love these records. Then came Cannonball and Coltrane, Miles’ Relaxin’ and Transition, then much more. I always wanted to get some Trane in my trombone playing, hope I succeeded a little.

  15. Dwayne Jons

    October 23, 2016 at 7:27 pm

    great artist!!!

  16. Bert Dobben

    November 18, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    Fantastic player and very inspirational but his quotes are a little too vague and too general for me (damn the rules in music…it’s about feeling….how many times can you hear that? Music always has rules and is also about ideas and intellectual processes, also and certainly Coltrane’s great sounds ) although I absolutely think this wonderful man and dito player meant everything sincerely what he said.

  17. Grahame Rhodes

    February 12, 2017 at 2:19 am

    Yes music has rules, many of them, but those rules are meant to be broken because if you fit into those rules of structure/harmony etc: then you will never advance. Jazz is freedom and it does not matter what you play. The entire purpose of picking up any instrument is the pathway to freedom. Miles said that he was sorry for symphonic musicians because unless they are soloists they have no chance t break out of the robotic structure of playing what’s in front of them.” great though they may be. I agree with that

  18. Carolyn

    February 12, 2017 at 2:23 am

    In July of 1967, I had gone to see him perform a clinic at UIC (I think) and found out at the door that the show had been cancelled. Later we learned he had died. Not only do I regret not seeing and hearing him, but regret that he left us so early – imagine all the great music he would have created.

  19. Nancy

    July 17, 2017 at 11:10 pm

    Trane was the man and he had the perfect artist accompanying him. I was Fortunate to see them in concert in early 60’s, just blew me away,put me in another zone. Just mesmerizing to sit close to the stage in concert and watch him.
    A gentle humble man.

  20. Jayheart

    September 8, 2017 at 3:23 am

    If you really know and enjoy Jazz, you know that Cat cld play people.I mean play! His music is and always will be a best.

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