by Rochelle Smith

John Coltrane is my father. The jazz saxophonist, yes, who many say was the greatest musician of the twentieth century. I’ve known this all my life. Or that’s not true, not all my life, really only since I first heard his music, which was in college. Before that, I’d always wondered who my father was. My first boyfriend, Brian, used to sneak recording equipment into the library in his messenger bag and bootleg jazz albums onto cassettes. He would play them for me later, and that’s where I heard them all: Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk and Lester Young and Charles Mingus and Miles Davis and Dexter Gordon and Coleman Hawkins and Max Roach. (Why do jazz musicians have such interstellar names? Who else that you know has had the last name Mingus? The first name Thelonious?  The middle name Sphere?  Uncle Ornette, Uncle Thelonious, that nice Mr. Strayhorn who drives the school bus.)  And my father. My mother was the last woman he made love to before he died in the summer of 1967. He was her first, her only for years to come. Let me tell you about him. He was born in a crook of the southern end of North Carolina, in a town called Hamlet. He was raised Methodist. He loved to roller skate as a boy. He joined the Navy at the age of nineteen and became a sailor. He had three other children, all boys: John, Ravi, and Oran. (More …)