Philly jazz lovers seek to repair Coltrane house

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  • Music enthusiasts in the City of Brotherly Love are looking to rekindle a love supreme for the deteriorating John Coltrane House, a preservation effort that mirrors a broader mission to reclaim and promote Philadelphia’s rich jazz heritage.

    Cultural officials gathered more than 100 local jazz musicians on Friday for a group photo in front of the rowhouse where Coltrane, a renowned saxophonist, lived from 1952 to 1958. It became a national historic landmark in 1999.

    “We are serious about our music here in Philadelphia, and jazz has meant a lot to this city,” Mayor Michael Nutter said.

    He and other city officials hope jazz lovers will donate money to save the brick house in the tough Strawberry Mansion neighborhood. Unoccupied for the past several years, the Coltrane home has fallen into severe disrepair; homes on either side are boarded up.

    The run-down property is an apt symbol of Philadelphia’s jazz history, “a legacy that has certainly been too often neglected and not celebrated,” said Gary Steuer, the city’s chief cultural officer.

    Philadelphia claims jazz greats including Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner and Grover Washington Jr. Last year, musicians and club owners formed the Philadelphia Jazz Coalition to promote the current scene and the city’s musical legacy.

    Coltrane played with the Miles Davis Quintet for part of the time he lived here on 33rd Street. He later became known for a pioneering jazz style that incorporated Indian and African influences. Seminal recordings include “A Love Supreme,” ”My Favorite Things” and, with Davis, “‘Round Midnight.”

    Coltrane eventually moved to New York but continued to own the Philadelphia house until his death in 1967. It remained in the family, and a cousin lived there until several years ago; she sold it to devoted fan Norman Gadson in 2004.

    However, Gadson died before he was able to rehabilitate the property. His family recently created a nonprofit organization to spearhead a revival. Local and national preservation groups are supporting the effort and hope to raise $50,000 for immediate repairs and stabilization.

    Ideally, future plans for the home will include programming and neighborhood engagement, said Walter Gallas, director of the northeast field office for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

    Gallas, who attended Friday’s event, said historic homes-turned-museums often struggle with attendance and finances because they fail to take on interactive, broader roles in the community.

    “They have to become more relevant to what’s going on right now,” Gallas said.

    Friday’s events were part of National Jazz Month. The mayor declared it “Jazz Appreciation Day” in Philadelphia and presented a proclamation to 92-year-old drummer Charlie Rice, who still plays in local clubs. Coltrane was among many notable musicians with whom Rice has performed.

    “John Coltrane was one of the nicest human beings you ever wanted to meet,” Rice said. “He really (rose) from the bottom on up to the top.”

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