Ascension (John Coltrane album)

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 John Coltrane
Released February 1966[1]
Recorded June 28, 1965 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs
Genre Free jazz, avant-garde jazz
Length 40:49 (Edition II)
38:30 (Edition I)
79:19 (CD release)
Label Impulse!
Producer Bob Thiele
John Coltrane chronology
The John Coltrane Quartet Plays
New Thing at Newport
Professional ratings
Review scores
The Penguin Guide to Jazz (crown)[3]
Rolling Stone Album Guide[4]
The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide[5]

Ascension is a jazz album by John Coltrane recorded in 1965 and released in 1966. It is often considered to be a watershed album, with the albums released before it being more conventional in structure and the albums released 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".


Coltrane's horn section is moored to a monolithic rhythm section, centered on pianist McCoy Tyner, double bassists Jimmy Garrison and Art Davis, and drummer Elvin Jones. On Ascension (and unlike on 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 previous album A Love Supreme (1965), 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.

The horn section consisted mostly of younger players, most of whom would soon attain some degree of fame on the (free) jazz scene. A notable exception is trumpeter Dewey Johnson, who plays the first solo of the album after Coltrane. Plagued by mental illness, Johnson never made another professional recording (he had played previously on Paul Bley's 1964 album Barrage), eventually disappearing in New York City in the 1980s. He currently resides in Coler Specialty Hospital and Nursing Home on Roosevelt Island in New York City. Because of Johnson's obscurity, and his prominent place on the album, his solo is sometimes mistaken for Hubbard's.

Order of soloists and ensembles

The solo order differs slightly between the takes; Edition II also features no drum solo by Elvin Jones.

Edition II
  1. (Opening Ensemble)
  2. Coltrane solo (3:10–5:48)
  3. (Ensemble)
  4. Johnson solo (7:45–9:30)
  5. (Ensemble)
  6. Sanders solo (11:55–14:25)
  7. (Ensemble)
  8. Hubbard solo (15:40–17:40)
  9. (Ensemble)
  10. Tchicai solo (18:50–20:00)
  11. (Ensemble)
  12. Shepp solo (21:10–24:10)
  13. (Ensemble)
  14. Brown solo (25:10–27:16)
  15. (Ensemble)
  16. Tyner solo (29:55–33:26)
  17. Davis and Garrison duet (33:26–35:50)
  18. (Concluding Ensemble)

Edition I
  1. (Opening Ensemble)
  2. Coltrane solo (4:05–6:05)
  3. (Ensemble)
  4. Johnson solo (7:58–10:07)
  5. (Ensemble)
  6. Sanders solo (11:15–13:30)
  7. (Ensemble)
  8. Hubbard solo (14:53–17:50)
  9. (Ensemble)
  10. Shepp solo (18:55–21:40)
  11. (Ensemble)
  12. Tchicai solo (23:11–24:56)
  13. (Ensemble)
  14. Brown solo (26:23–28:31)
  15. (Ensemble)
  16. Tyner solo (29:39–31:36)
  17. Davis and Garrison duet (31:36–33:30)
  18. Jones solo (33:30–33:55)
  19. (Concluding Ensemble)

Track listing

Two recordings of "Ascension" exist, called Edition I and Edition II. Edition I is the second recorded take of the composition and was originally released on Impulse in February 1966 (catalog number A-95). Because of vinyl limitations, it was divided into two parts. Edition II is the first take and Coltrane's preferred version. It replaced Edition I (also as A-95, with "EDITION II" etched on the vinyl runout circle[6]) some months after the original release. Both versions are available on the CD version first released by Impulse in 2000.[7]

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. (Editor) (1985). The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide. USA: Random House/Rolling Stone. p. 47. ISBN 0-394-72643-X.
  6. "John Coltrane Ascension (Edition II) (Vinyl, LP, Album) at Discogs". Discogs. Retrieved August 19, 2011.
  7. Ascension (CD insert, CD back cover). John Coltrane. Impulse. 2009. 0602517920248.


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