Photography: John Coltrane House, Philadelphia

Photo Credit: Catherine Horath
Caption: Liner notes from Coltrane’s magnum opus, A Love Supreme were plastered in the door.
Photo Credit: Catherine Horath.

A friend of mine is a grade school teacher. She had last week off for the mid-Winter break, and she didn’t have much planned. She texted me early last week and suggested a trip to Philadelphia for like a day or two. I hadn’t left the New York area since November 2019 — when I was in Montreal to cover that year’s M for Montreal — and I had been itching to go somewhere.

A few things helped to make the trip possible:

  • COVID infection numbers have been on a rapid decline over the past month. If I were asked about hitting the road in January, I would have declined.
  • We were only planning to be out of town for about a day or two. (I had to be back in New York because my mom and I had tickets to see Hasan Minhaj at Radio City Music Hall.)
  • I know Center City Philly fairly well. I had been to Philly a handful of times over the past decade — mainly for business trips tied into a day job. But I was also in Philly once for The Roots Picnic.

Our first full day in town was very busy: We got up and had the hotel’s free breakfast. The first thing I wanted to see was John Coltrane‘s house in North Philly.

In the midst of chaos, war and destruction, it helped to think of a man, who created some of the most beautiful and thoughtful music ever recorded. Coltrane lived in Philly for close to a decade. And if I have the story right, he kicked heroin — cold turkey, no less! — and began composing what would be some of his signature material there, including Giant Steps.

Although the house is on a local and national historical registry, it’s sadly in rather poor shape. It was abandoned for a while. Gentrification and a fire on the block last year, threatened its existence. Considering how this country has been when it comes to Black History, that didn’t strike me as surprising. But the house is still there. And hopefully someone will restore it to a museum, much in the same way as the Louis Armstrong House. In the meantime, if you’re in Philadelphia and you have a few minutes to spare, go to the house. It’s a special place that radiates with Coltrane’s energy and spirit.