HIGH POINT, N.C. (WGHP) — There are a few people in every profession who, when you mention their name, people can’t help but smile. John Coltrane is one of those in the world of jazz music.
“In a professional setting for … only 20 years, he accomplished more than anyone I can even think of,” said Wally West, a professional saxophonist who ran the John Coltrane Workshop in High Point for 20 years.
Coltrane set a path for West to shoot for when he discovered Coltrane’s music as a beginner musician in the seventh grade.
“The amount of growth that Coltrane had as a musician … has not been matched by anyone since,” West said. “It seems like he could never quench his thirst for pushing music forward. It’s just more than the music. He used the music to communicate who he was.
Coltrane was a man of faith in his later years.
“There was a period starting around 1957 where he started to really feel a closeness to God and was trying to overcome some personal demons and the culmination of that was ‘A Love Supreme,’” said West, referring to Coltrane’s legendary album released in January of 1965 just two-and-a-half years before his death at age 40.
It all began on Underhill Street in High Point.
“This is the root of his music,” said High Point historian and documentarian Phyllis Bridges. “I knew of his music but where he lived as a child, did not know. And, of course, it was a shock, I’m … sure a lot of people in High Point don’t know that John Coltrane lived here.”
Coltrane was born in the town of Hamlet in Richmond County, North Carolina, about 85 miles south of High Point, but his mother moved with him to High Point to live with her father, the Reverand William Wilson Blair.
“It was inhabited until 2018,” said Coralle Cowan as we walk into the house. Cowan is part of Preservation High Point, which is involved in restoring the home.
“The Reverand Blair was a very prominent minister,” Cowan said.
Being a minister’s home during the tough times of the Great Depression, the Blair House was one many came to for help.
“There is a story that Mrs. Blair, the Reverand’s wife … would cook in the kitchen and feed people during the Great Depression,” Cowan said.
Cowan points out that it’s obvious there is still a significant amount of work to do.
“A lot of the challenges are just neglect,” Cowan said.
Bridges knows how long it might be before the house is open to visitors.
“I was like, ‘I’ve got to tell this.’ It’s another piece of High Point’s rich African-American history that has to be told,” Bridges said.
And West couldn’t agree more.
“He was in pursuance of excellence his entire life, and his candle went out way too early,” West said.
See what Coltrane’s house looks like today in this edition of The Buckley Report.