Attaining unity

Self-reference in the music of John Coltrane


  • Marc Medwin American University



John Coltrane, Modernism, Self-reference, Jazz


John Coltrane’s final works have been ignored and reviled, but there have been only a few enthusiasts seeking to find order in the challenging compositions Coltrane recorded between June of 1965 and April of 1967. In the present study, I demonstrate that Coltrane’s life-long interest in unity gave rise to the final works, which he acknowledged publicly to be “music of the individual contributor” and labeled “Classical music.” I show that, through musical self-reference and self-quotation, Coltrane recontextualized his entire oeuvre during his final two years, bringing his musical biography to bear on a compositional aesthetic outside of that associated with jazz. Furthermore, by giving many of his pieces geographical and “universal” titles, he renders his art a mirror in which the journey from racial and sociopolitical struggle to affirmation is reflected.

Author Biography

Marc Medwin, American University

Performing Arts Department/Assistant Professor


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How to Cite

Medwin, M. (2009). Attaining unity: Self-reference in the music of John Coltrane. Jazz Research Journal, 2(2), 119–131.