Keeping the Heritage Alive
Co-founder of The John Coltrane House
On October 27, 2004, my father, Norman Gadson, became the proud owner of the John Coltrane House. My dad absolutely loved jazz. He kept a collection of several thousand records that covered all genres of jazz, and he was always playing his records. He constantly talked about the music, the musicians, who he saw perform, where, and in what year. He had seen Coltrane perform with the classic quartet.
Like most local jazz fans, my father felt a sense of kinship with Coltrane as a fellow Philadelphian. For years, Coltrane had walked the same neighborhood streets, ate in the same restaurants, and had played the local bars and clubs. Everybody knew somebody who knew Trane or had met Trane or had seen him show up unexpectedly in the neighborhood after he moved to New York City. John Coltrane was homegrown and Philly’s own!
My father had rehabilitated many properties over the years. The winter of 2004-05 he lived at the Coltrane House, working on little repairs here and there. In the spring of 2005, he was discovered near death in the Coltrane House, in a diabetic coma. After weeks of hospitalization, my dad was on his feet again, but he never completely recovered. He was in and out of the hospital for the next two years. He later passed December 26, 2007.
Even though he was seriously ill, my dad kept working on the Coltrane House. He also held meetings with supporters concerned about the future of the property who were interested in having it become a jazz or arts center or historic house, or all three. In 2006, he organized a Coltrane birthday tribute at the property, featuring saxophone player Odeon Pope. By 2007, my father had become too frail to put together another birthday celebration or do much work on the property.
My mother, Lenora Early, and I recently established The John Coltrane House organization, a 501c3. Its mission is to raise money to restore the property and establish the house as a memorial that honors the life of John Coltrane and educates people about jazz.
Below is a photo of my dad proudly holding the John Coltrane House National Historic Landmark commemorative plaque. The photo is from the 2006 Coltrane birthday celebration.
John Coltrane and his cousin, Mary Lyerly, grew up in the same house in High Point North Carolina. Their mothers were sisters. Cousin Mary and John came to Philadelphia as teenagers; they were close Coltrane’s entire life. Cousin Mary and Coltrane’s mother lived in the Philadelphia house after Coltrane’s death in 1967, and Cousin Mary took care of his mother during her final years. After the death of her aunt in 1977, Cousin Mary stayed in the house on N. 33 street. It was “Cousin” Mary who kept the house up for thirty years so that the house and its legacy could be passed on to future generations.
In 1986, Cousin Mary and jazz organist Shirley Scott gathered some friends and started the John Coltrane Cultural Society. For the next fifteen years the Society worked diligently to promote John Coltrane’s story and legacy. The group was also important to the Philly jazz scene. They developed a jazz education program for children and organized live jazz events. With the help of supporters and advisers, the Society obtained the designation of National Historic Landmark for John Coltrane’s Philadelphia home in 1999.
My father was well known in Philadelphia jazz circles for his love and knowledge of jazz and his huge jazz record collection. He and Cousin Mary had been friends for years. When Cousin Mary sold my father the Coltrane House, she was putting it in the hands of someone she knew loved jazz as much as she did. Cousin Mary knew she could count on my father to preserve the John Coltrane House National Historic Landmark and its Coltrane family history.