The city of Philadelphia unveiled this week a second mural of Hamlet native and jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, to replace one destroyed by development in 2014.
The old mural, created in 2002, depicted Coltrane from the shoulders up, against a dreamy blue background of musical notes. It stood near a house on North 33rd Street, which Coltrane bought in 1952, when jazz clubs dotted the neighborhood. Coltrane lived there about eight years, becoming a neighborhood icon.
At 35 feet tall, the new mural — commissioned by the city’s Mural Arts Philadelphia and standing a block from Coltrane’s old home — shows a giant jazzman looming above a neighborhood of row houses with his signature saxophone in hand. It also includes images of Coltrane performing, and his first wife, Alice.
“We have a tremendous amount of pride in Coltrane” in Philadelphia, said Ernel Martinez of Amber Art and Design, who painted the new mural.
Martinez said Tuesday that he paid particular attention to Coltrane’s eyes, which gaze over the neighborhood where the musician lived, struggled with sobriety and created some of his best music after long walks through a neighboring park.
“It’s vital that you capture the eyes,” Martinez said Tuesday. “(They) reflect his passion, his focus, his creativity.”
At 42, Martinez could not have known Coltrane personally, but while he created the mural, he surrounded himself with others who had known the artist. He also played Coltrane tracks while painting. Coltrane’s music, Martinez said, has informed all kinds of artistic endeavors — painting, music, movie screenplays — and it has inspired his.
“I’ve listened to Coltrane for many years,” Martinez said, despite not being “the world’s biggest jazzhead.”
Coltrane was born in Hamlet on Sept. 23, 1926, in a redbrick hotel on Hamlet Avenue that now houses the local NAACP offices. His official biography describes him as being “always surrounded by music” because his father played several instruments.
During World War II, Coltrane played in the Navy Band. In the years after, he performed with Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, among others, before forming his own ensemble.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Coltrane’s death from liver disease.
In 2001, the National Endowment for the Arts named Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” one of 360 “songs of the century.”
A yearly international jazz and blues festival in High Point bears Coltrane’s name, and a historical marker put up in 1991 memorializes his birthplace in Hamlet.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673.