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Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane
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Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  432 ratings  ·  106 reviews
Young John Coltrane was all ears. And there was a lot to hear growing up in the South in the 1930s: preachers praying, music on the radio, the bustling of the household. These vivid noises shaped John's own sound as a musician. Carole Boston Weatherford and Sean Qualls have composed an amazingly rich hymn to the childhood of jazz legend John Coltrane.

Before John Was a Jazz
Hardcover, 24 pages
Published April 1st 2008 by Henry Holt & Company
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4.11  · 
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 ·  432 ratings  ·  106 reviews

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I am looking forward to sharing this one with my students. We listened to some jazz last week and I think they'll appreciate this book. The text is brief, but shares about John Coltrane's life simply and in a fun and lively way.
Apr 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
Picture books about jazz are the oddest little critters, aren't they? There are a surprising number of them, first of all. Sometimes I think that all the rock and roll, blues, and opera picture books combined can't compare in number to the sheer amounts of jazz-related texts that cross library doorsteps every year. Much of this, I suspect, has much to do with illustrators feeling a kinship with that particular style of music. If jazz is an improvisational art, then it must burn in the bones of m ...more
Ralf Urbach
Oct 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Being a lover of all types of music this was a wonderful read with my kids to show them much of anything that makes noise can be incorporated into a song or in this case John Coltranes future in music. The blues and purples used and seeing the music come straight out of the instruments throughout this book flow right with explaining how John grows into the great musician. One of the books bonus features is the biography/timeline of Johns journey.
Adriana Cole
Nov 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Text to self connection:

This book tells the story of a little boy who uses his world, his experiences and his family to become a “jazz giant”. A phrase from the book that better explains this is “ Before John was a Jazz giant, he heard steam engines whistling past, cousin Mary giggling at jitterbuggers, and bojangles tap-dancing in the picture show”. He is speaking of past experiences and sounds and using them as a platform for his music. I think this would be a great lesson to the students abo
Erin Ramai
This text is a 2009 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor book. It is appropriate for children ages 4-8.

Sean Qualls's illustrations for Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane allow us as readers and viewers to see the "hand of the creator" so to speak. His seemingly chaotic and haphazard application of acrylic paint is immediately visible even on the mostly indigo endpapers. His layering of the paint creates space, movement, depth and shadow. Although Qualls uses several coats of p
Feb 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I just loved, loved, loved this one! It just excites me through and through. It just works. So many things to love, so many reasons why. I don't think I can do it justice. But I'll try. I'll try. The book--beautifully illustrated, award-worthy illustrations in my humble opinion--is a poetic tribute to the legendary John Coltrane. Each stanza of the poem begins with the refrain, "Before John was a jazz giant..." Each stanza gives the reader information about John's life--his family, his childhood ...more
Huh. I'm torn. I really liked this book, but it left me wanting more. The pictures are to die for. Sean Qualls is quickly becoming one of my favorite children's illustrators. (Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah was awesome.) I really like Carole Boston Weatherford, too. She wrote one of my favorite picture books last year, Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer. And Before John Was a Jazz Giant does what it says it's going to do. It's a lovely song about John Coltrane. BUT... ...more
Feb 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
I didn't shelve Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane as nonfiction, because it's pretty much speculative. But it could be kind of an intro biography for the younger set. This book has a great, jazzy cadence to it, which really serves to introduce the kids to jazz. It also has a bit of a music appreciation theme. This is about when John Coltrane was a young boy, and how he heard music everywhere: in hambones knocking around a pot, in the wails of funeral mourners, in his grandfat ...more
Mar 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Centers on the childhood of jazz legend John Coltrane, and the sounds that inspired and shaped him as a musician. The story begins in John's kitchen at home where the sounds of the pots and pans of where his grandmother cooks catches his ear, as well as the ukulele his father played. Young John also would pay attention to the steam engine that passed through his neighborhood, and the music coming from the local movie theatre. He paid close attention to the poetic sounds of his grandfather's serm ...more
Apr 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Pre-2
Shelves: easy-kids
Another beautifully illustrated book about jazz for kids. This book is about Jonh Coltrane before he was a star. I really like the way that it emphasizes all of the things he did, like playing his horn and hearing sounds, people and music all around him.
Lori Gravley
Jan 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Lovely structure, a beautiful way to approach a biography, not too much fact, but every phrase opens a world. Nice back matter.
Helen Ladson
Jun 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Before A Love Supreme, Mr. John Coltrane was a boy with a dream! I absolutely LOVED this book!
Sep 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
Jazz begins with the rhythm of pots and pans for John Coltrane and can for any other child luck enough to see and hear this book read to them.
Stephanie Croaning
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: picture-books, 2018
This book focuses on the childhood of jazz legend John Coltrane. The author repeats the refrain "Before John was a jazz giant" and then mentions the sounds he heard around him every day -- the whistle of a steam engine, his grandpa's Sunday sermons and the church choir, music on the radio. The story ends with the stunningly simple, yet powerful, statement that "Before John was a jazz giant,/he was all ears." An Author's Note is included in the back of the book that provides more details about Co ...more
Grace Ramseur
Apr 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Genre: Biography
Awards: Coretta Scott King Award
Audience: Grades 3-5th
A. This book is a partial biography because it only discusses a short time of John's childhood of him growing up and how he found his way to loving music. This book does not dive deep into his whole childhood or any of his adulthood, just a short portion of his early years.
B. This is a fictionalized biography because his childhood is described very briefly and without much or any conversations. This book is used to give a basi
Emily Krafcik
This was a great nonfiction story with some super cute illustrations. Little John Coltrane was so cute! It is amazing to see how he transformed his life and experiences into music! I loved the use of color with the notes flowing from the instruments. Blue and purple are such a good color combination! The way his life changes from seeing trains and then becoming a music giant. Like I said about the book, "A Splash of Red" I would have enjoyed music class so much more if we had beautiful resources ...more
Oct 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a clever way to tell the story of John Coltrane that is both simple and colorful. Every page had just enough text to balance with the illustrations allowing young children to follow along without feeling overwhelmed by text. It also leaves room for a child to ask questions about jazz and John Coltrane which can lead to an investigation at the library or internet. Recommend to anyone with children who love music.
Inna Han
Dec 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
All color in this book seems well- chosen, considering the character and his environment. It is a good example of biography from which children come to recognize the importance of childhood experiences in shaping who we become as adults.
Mar 20, 2019 rated it liked it
The text covers different sound and musical influences on a young Coltrane, but does not effectively connect those sounds to his music, and I suspect that could have been done.

Still could be a good precursor to helping children identify different sounds in music.
ashley folman
I wasn't much of a fan of the book Before John Was a Jazz Giant, it was about a young boy that got his sound of music from the sounds he grew up listening too. The illustrations were very cute and different in this book. Its recommended for the Kindergarten age.
Jan 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Good story and pictures.
Feb 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
"Before John was a jazz giant, he was all ears." A sweet book for very young children about the sounds the child John Coltrane absorbed that shaped the musician he became.
Mar 01, 2019 rated it liked it
short, concise prose. worked just fine for the subject matter and intended audience.
Heather Gettys
Mar 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Adriana Servin-cruz
Illustrations always seem to have a strong appeal to the story, especially to children since it triggers curiosity and imagination. Whether it is the front cover of a book that might interest them or the illustrations in between the book that hold their interest. Nonetheless, the illustrations in the book Before John Became a Jazz Giant are quite appealing and say more about the story. John is an African American little boy who grows up to be a famous jazz musician however, the plot of the story ...more
James Govednik
Oct 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music, picture-book
This book pulled me in slowly, taking me from a “ho-hum, another simplified biography” to “Wow, I love this book!” What struck me about this book was how much is revealed in so few pages. Coltrane had his share of bad choices in his life, but the author focuses instead on the person behind the music, and highlights the riches of a young boy’s life that lead him to personal fulfillment and greatness. The text epitomizes the qualities of a great picture book because the text and the illustrations ...more
Amy Forrester
Oct 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This picture book biography examines and celebrates the influences of John Coltrane before he was a jazz giant. As a boy, John hears music everywhere. There’s music in the sound of his grandma cooking, in the steam engines whistling, the hymns at church, and the birds singing sunrise. And John takes all the sounds in the world around him and he puts them in his saxophone. “Before John was a jazz giant, he was all ears.”

This book, which was named a Coretta Scott King honor book for illustration,
Apr 04, 2013 rated it liked it
Audience: The audience for this book would be grades K-3. I believe both boys and girls would find an interest in this book. Children who have an interest in music could gravitate to this book and it might also help pique an interest to those who don’t.

Appeal: Some of the words might be kind of tough for kindergarteners to understand but the flow and rhythm of the words they would love. The author did a great job in the details of describing the sounds and Johns experiences. The illustrations ar
Jessica Garcia
Sep 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing

It is not often that books on music are incorporated into the classroom. Looking back into my childhood I was almost never introduced to a childrens book that acknowledged the succes of any musician. Before John was a Jazz Giant is the story of young jazz player John Coltane and how he became to be a successful saxophonist. Growing up John was all ears. He would pay attention to every sound around him and growing up in the south during the 1930s there was a lot to hear. John heard things from m
Lydia Johns
Jan 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
I love books about music! Especially those that are accurate and well illustrated like this book! I have a little background knowledge about "Trane" and his career as an adult, so being able to read a book about his earlier life was awesome. I feel that the representation of a young John Coltrane has been thought out very well, and done with respect. From this humble beginning, to finding success in the jazz scene, he is amazing. This man recorded with Miles Davis, one of THE best trumpet player ...more
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Carole Boston Weatherford is a children's book author and poet who "mines the past for family stories, fading traditions, and forgotten struggles." A number of Weatherford's books tell the stories of African-American historical figures such as Harriet Tubman, Jesse Owens, and Billie Holiday. Other books recount historical events such as the Greensboro Sit-ins and the bombing of the Sixteenth Stree ...more