John Coltrane: How to Listen to Albums

Scott K Fish

Silver Member
John Coltrane: How to Listen to Albums

Somewhere -- among my magazines, I think -- there is a John Coltrane interview in which Coltrane's how-to listen-to-albums idea helps my ear training and gives me great joy. Maybe it will do the same for you.

John Coltrane told his interviewer if you really want to hear an album, listen to it once for each musician on the album so "you can hear what each man is doing."

For example, the Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall album. Listen to it once focusing on Thelonious Monk, even when he's comping behind a soloist, even when he's laying out. Focus on when Monk is playing, when he is not playing, and on what he's playing.

The next time you listen to that album, focus in the same way on drummer Shadow Wilson. Then on John Coltrane. And then on bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik.

I can't remember if Coltrane also told the interviewer to listen to albums once focusing on the whole band. I think he did.

Happy New Listening!

Scott K Fish Blog: Life Beyond the Cymbals


Platinum Member
I can't remember if Coltrane also told the interviewer to listen to albums once focusing on the whole band. I think he did.
I'd like to think it was definitely something that he wouldn't have overlooked.

A musical composition is still the sum of many parts. And whilst I've always loved pulling it apart and dissecting what the various elements are doing, how they approach it and how they interact, I think the greatest enjoyment has always come from hearing the whole.

I love looking at the trees, but I'd sure as hell hate to to miss the forest because of them too.


Silver Member
I listen to a lot of jazz (along with many other genres) and although I'm acutely aware of the other instruments, as a percussionist my hears seem to focus in that direction. I'm constantly dissecting the drums, congas, bongos or any other percussion. It's not that I don't hear, nor appreciate, other aspects of the music, it's the beat that I tend to feel.


Well-known member
I often wonder with the fast paced world we're in, if the art of listening is diminishing. I hope to think not, but perhaps it is.

About 37 years ago, when I was 12, I received as Christmas gifts from my parents, the albums My Favorite Things & The Gentle Side of Coltrane. I was so confused and perplexed I didn't know what to make of it.

I remember trying to figure out Elvin.. Then McCoy... I was lost. It took years before I understood it - though I never lost appreciation for it.

Anyways.. Listening is an art. It goes beyond putting something on as background music while being used as a back drop for daily life going on in front of it. It deserves attention. It deserves as much focus as watching a movie &/or reading a book intently without distraction.

Nice post.