Ascension (John Coltrane album)

Ascension is a jazz album by John Coltrane recorded in 1965 and released in 1966. It is often considered a watershed in Coltrane's work, with the albums recorded before it being more conventional in structure and the albums recorded after it being looser, free jazz inspired works. In addition, it signaled Coltrane's interest in moving away from the quartet format. Coltrane described Ascension in a radio interview as a "big band thing", although it resembles no big band recording made before it. The most obvious antecedent is Ornette Coleman's octet (or "double quartet") recording, Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation, which—like Ascension—is a continuous 40-minute performance with ensemble passages and without breaks. Jazz musician Dave Liebman, commenting on Ascension, recalled that the album was the "torch that lit the free jazz thing". George Russell stated that the recording of Ascension was "when Coltrane turned his back on the money."[7]

In a black-and-white photo, Coltrane sits on a stool facing right, wearing a three-piece suit and holding his saxophone between his legs. To the right, the word "stereo" appears in the upper corner in black, with "Ascension" written in multiple colors beneath it, followed by "John Coltrane" in black below that.
Studio album by
ReleasedFebruary 1966[1]
RecordedJune 28, 1965
StudioVan Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ
GenreFree jazz, avant-garde jazz
Length40:49 (Edition II)
38:30 (Edition I)
79:19 (CD release)
ProducerBob Thiele
John Coltrane chronology
The John Coltrane Quartet Plays
New Thing at Newport
Professional ratings
Review scores
Allmusic5/5 stars[2]
The Penguin Guide to Jazz4/4 stars (crown)[3]
Rolling Stone Album Guide5/5 stars[4]
The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide4/5 stars[5]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music4/5 stars[6]


Coltrane's horn section is moored to a rhythm section, centered on pianist McCoy Tyner, double bassists Jimmy Garrison and Art Davis, and drummer Elvin Jones. On Ascension (and unlike on Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz), group ensembles alternate with solos, and take up about equal space. The basic theme stated in the opening and closing ensembles is a variation on the major motif of Coltrane's earlier album A Love Supreme, recorded in December 1964, particularly the opening bass riff stated on said album's opening track, "Acknowledgment".

Coltrane gave the musicians no directions for their solos, other than that they were to end with a crescendo. The ensemble passages are more structured. There were chords, but apparently they were optional; it is more accurate to say that the ensembles consist of a progression of modes rather than chords, with mode changes signaled by Coltrane, pianist McCoy Tyner, and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. By comparison to Free Jazz, Ascension features a much expanded "front line", with two altos, three tenors, and two trumpeters.

Additional musiciansEdit

The musicians that Coltrane chose to supplement the members of the classic quartet were a mix of players ranging from established to relatively unknown, all of whom were younger than Coltrane, and many of whom had played with Coltrane in the years preceding the recording of Ascension.[8] Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and bassist Art Davis were well-known and well-recorded by that point, and both had recorded with Coltrane on Africa/Brass and Olé Coltrane. (Davis also appeared on The John Coltrane Quartet Plays, recorded earlier in 1965.) Saxophonist Archie Shepp recorded his first Impulse! album, Four for Trane, in 1964 after Coltrane recommended him to producer Bob Thiele,[9][10], and went on to release over a dozen albums on the label. Shepp, along with Art Davis, also appeared on an alternate take of the "Acknowledgement" section of A Love Supreme, which was released more than thirty years after the appearance of the original recording.[11][12] Shortly after the recording of Ascension, Shepp appeared on New Thing at Newport, a split LP with Coltrane's quartet appearing on side one and Shepp's quartet on side two.

Shepp also introduced Coltrane to saxophonist Marion Brown,[13] and Coltrane soon used his influence at Impulse! to help Brown secure the recording date for Three for Shepp.[10] Saxophonist John Tchicai had previously recorded with Shepp as part of the New York Contemporary Five and on Four for Trane, and also sat in with Coltrane during one or more performances at the Half Note.[14] Trumpeter Dewey Johnson had played with Marion Brown[15] and repeatedly sat in with Coltrane's group before being asked to participate in the recording of Ascension.[16] Saxophonist Pharoah Sanders had performed with Sun Ra, whose music Coltrane admired, and had also played and practiced yogic breathing exercises with Marion Brown.[15] In 1964, Coltrane invited Sanders to sit in with his group after hearing his debut recording on the ESP label and attending a concert by Sanders's band, which featured John Hicks, Wilbur Ware, and Billy Higgins, at the Village Gate.[17][18][19] (Ware and Higgins had both previously recorded with Coltrane.) Sanders was invited to join Coltrane's band in September 1965 and went on to play and record on many of Coltrane's later recordings.[20][21]

In addition, drummer Rashied Ali, who would eventually join Coltrane's group, was invited to participate in the recording of Ascension, but passed up the opportunity, a decision he would soon come to regret.[22][23] Saxophonist Frank Wright was also invited, but reportedly felt that his skills were not up to the demands of the music.[24]

Order of soloists and ensemblesEdit

The solo order differs slightly between the takes; Elvin Jones does not solo in Edition II.

Track listingEdit

Two recordings of "Ascension" exist, called Edition I and Edition II. The latter replaced Edition I (also as A-95, with "EDITION II" etched on the vinyl runout circle[25]) some months after the original release. Both versions are available on the single-CD version released by Impulse!/Verve/Universal in 2000 and were previously available on the 1992 double-disc collection The Major Works of John Coltrane on Impulse!/GRP/MCA. [26]

Edition I

"Ascension" (John Coltrane) – 38:30

Edition II

"Ascension" (Coltrane) – 40:49



  1. ^ Billboard Feb 5, 1966
  2. ^ Allmusic review
  3. ^ Cook, Richard; Morton, Brian (2008). The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings (9th ed.). Penguin. p. 291. ISBN 978-0-141-03401-0.
  4. ^ All Music Guide Info and Review.
  5. ^ Swenson, J., ed. (1985). The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide. USA: Random House/Rolling Stone. p. 47. ISBN 0-394-72643-X.
  6. ^ Larkin, Colin (2007). Encyclopedia of Popular Music (4th ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195313734.
  7. ^ Nisenson, Eric (1995). Ascension: John Coltrane and His Quest. New York: Da Capo Press.
  8. ^ Porter, Lewis; DeVito, Chris; Fujioka, Yasuhiro; Wild, David; Schmaler, Wolf (2008). The John Coltrane Reference. Routledge. p. 298.
  9. ^ Kahn, Ashley (2006). The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records. New York: W. W. Norton.
  10. ^ a b Giddins, Gary (1998). Visions of Jazz: The First Century. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 486.
  11. ^ A Love Supreme Deluxe Edition. 2002; Impulse! Records 5899452, liner notes.
  12. ^ Henderson, Alex. "John Coltrane: A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters [2002 Deluxe Edition]". Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  13. ^ AAJ STAFF (April 11, 2003). "A Fireside Chat with Marion Brown". Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  14. ^ Trouchon, Mike. "Interview with John Tchicai, 1995". Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  15. ^ a b Jones, Leroi (1968). Black Music. New York: Da Capo Press. p. 123.
  16. ^ Crépon, Pierre (July 2018). "The Alphabet Of Dewey Johnson 1939–2018". The Wire. Retrieved May 8, 2020.
  17. ^ "Pharoah Sanders: Bio". Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  18. ^ Reid, Graham (Apr 26, 2009). "Pharoah Sanders Interviewed (2004): Creative man without a masterplan". Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  19. ^ Friedman, Nathaniel (January 12, 2020). "'If You're in the Song, Keep on Playing': An Interview With Pharoah Sanders". Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  20. ^ Giddins, Gary (1998). Visions of Jazz: The First Century. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 488.
  21. ^ Porter, Lewis; DeVito, Chris; Fujioka, Yasuhiro; Wild, David; Schmaler, Wolf (2008). The John Coltrane Reference. Routledge. pp. 329–330.
  22. ^ Grimes, William (August 14, 2009). "Rashied Ali, Free-Jazz Drummer, Dies at 76". Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  23. ^ Mandel, Howard (August 13, 2009). "Rashied Ali (1935 – 2009), multi-directional drummer, speaks". Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  24. ^ Allen, Clifford (July 13, 2005). "Frank Wright: Frank Wright: The Complete ESP-Disk Recordings". Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  25. ^ "John Coltrane – Ascension (Edition II) (Vinyl, LP, Album) at Discogs". Discogs. Retrieved August 19, 2011.
  26. ^ Ascension (CD insert, CD back cover). John Coltrane. Impulse. 2009. 0602517920248.CS1 maint: others (link)


  • Kahn, Ashley. A Love Supreme: The Creation of John Coltrane's Classic Album, Granta Books, paperback 2003, ISBN 1-86207-602-2