As one of the interviewees in the documentary below notes, there are many fanatics who follow people but only Coltrane inspires, literally, religious fervour. Coltrane was, by all accounts, an intensely passionate man which is reflected in his music. In interviews, ironically, he is very quiet, gentle and laid back but his music was anything but. The documentary notes that he was dominated by female influences growing up and his mother, who he resembles, was very spiritual. While Coltrane was involved in heroin and alcohol, a spiritual awakening in 1957 inspired him to move in another direction. In fact, he lost his place with Miles Davis due to his lack of reliability when he was in the throes of his addiction. But eventually he did become sober. He felt that he would lose his music and made a promise to God that if it returned he would become a preacher with his horn.
He had a hit with "My Favourite Things" which is in the Music Interludes on this page and you can listen to it there. It became his signature song. Improvising it was unique as it is a familiar song and melody. He played it over an over again throughout his career.
Themes that emerge from those who knew him was this almost unquenchable wellspring of creativity that would explode in, sometimes, an inchoate way through his instruments. People feel like listening to him is a religious experience. Certainly, A Love Supreme, stands as a unique homage to his religious ecstasy. A Love Supreme, to me, personifies his spirituality. Friends describe how he composed A Love Supreme far from the busy New York, Manhattan scene. During the composition of A Love Supreme, he would meditate in the morning and then drive to the studio. Part of what makes A Love Supreme unique is that the music is also a poem and you can almost hear words in each of the notes. Coltrane is incredibly vulnerable in his music; his passion, fear, love, and raw emotion explode from the sax. Many listening have had to walk out as it was so intense.
Ascension, another piece, has been described as those who played with him as a draining experience of 45 minutes of prolonged, intense, play. His music split the jazz community in that many felt that he lost the melody, plot, rhythm and the music seemed like a jumble of disjointed tones all over the place. Towards the end of his career, he moved more and more to pure sound and raw experimentation with no seeming cohesion or underlying structure. The roots of the music were in eastern mysticism. Coltrane also got into LSD and that might have "informed" some of his work.
For my part, his later work is too far out there for me to follow and it resemble too much psychotic breaks with reality. Still, I respect and admire his work, his art, and listen as respectfully as I can for what wisdom might be there. When an interviewer asked how he would like to be remembered, Coltrane replied, "as a saint". And so the title of this post, St. John Coltrane.