Cultivating ideas for John Coltrane's old Strawberry Mansion house

ASSOCIATED PRESS Students last spring played a little music to help kick off a fundraising effort to renovate the former Strawberry Mansion home of jazz great John Coltrane.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Students last spring played a little music to help kick off a fundraising effort to renovate the former Strawberry Mansion home of jazz great John Coltrane.
Posted: March 15, 2013

NORMAN GADSON bought John Coltrane's old house in Strawberry Mansion in 2004 from Mary "Cousin Mary" Alexander, a relative of the jazz saxophonist. Not long after, he'd call up musicians in the city and ask them to come over to jam in 'Trane's house.

Lenora Early, Gadson's widow, said her husband, a fervent jazz fan, intended to fix up the house and open it as a jazz venue.

"He just loved jazz," Early said of Gadson. But he died in 2007, before he could restore the house, on 33rd Street near Oxford.

Now Early, founder and board member of the John Coltrane House, is pursuing her husband's vision by renovating the house where Coltrane lived from 1952 to 1958, before moving to New York.

On Thursday, the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia gathered scholars and other experts to discuss suggestions for the future of the house for a report they plan to provide to Early.

Among the considerations: Should there be live jazz performances there? What about musical instruction for young people in the adjacent house?

How about raising the money to make this happen?

"Resources like this [the Coltrane House] are important to the city and its neighborhoods," said Melissa Jest, coordinator of the alliance's neighborhood-preservation program.

"It diversifies the history and image of Philadelphia. People think Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and the Constitution Center. This makes [city history] more diverse."

Coltrane was famous for albums like "Blue Train" and "Round Midnight." He played with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie before starting his own quartet in 1960.

The house, a National Historic Landmark that's also listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, is in sad shape. Long wooden planks support the front porch. Some windows are boarded.

Since last August, the alliance has hosted several focus groups to collect ideas, including a community workshop that was held Saturday in North Philadelphia at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center.

Residents from Strawberry Mansion and Brewerytown were asked to share their ideas and memories about Coltrane.

"We're very excited about the opportunity to have it opened so that we can honor this history and John Coltrane's legacy," said Tonnetta Graham, president of the Strawberry Mansion Community Development Corp.

Francis Davis, a jazz critic and writer who is working on a biography of Coltrane, attended one of the focus groups.

"The important thing is that it be accessible to people," Davis said. "For years, [Coltrane's] cousin, Mary Alexander, tried to do things there, but she also lived there. A person couldn't just get off the plane as tourist from Japan and go over" to the house.


On Twitter: @ValerieRussDN

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