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New John Coltrane mural rises after original succumbs to development

(Photo Left) From left, Joey Harris, Sen. Vincent Hughes, Cathy Harris and Jane Golden of Mural Arts, and Artist Ernel Martinez at the John Coltrane mural dedication in Strawberry Mansion.  Photo by Sarah J. Glover.

That a mural of John Coltrane once again looks out over Strawberry Mansion is a testament to the power of collective engagement.

It started with Faye Anderson, a jazz enthusiast and director of All That Philly Jazz, who insisted that Pennrose Development be held accountable for having demolished the “Tribute to Coltrane” mural that, until 2014, had adorned a building on North 33rd and Diamond Streets.

Coltrane was the jazz saxophonist and composer who pioneered the use of harmonic progression in jazz. He lived in Philadelphia in the 1950s, and could then often be heard playing his horn in the park across from his house on N. 33rd Street. It was in that house that he kicked his heroin habit and recorded his seminal album, “Giant Steps.”

Jane Golden, executive director of Mural Arts Philadelphia, told radio station WRTI-FM about others who rallied around Anderson’s charge, including scholars from as far away as Los Angeles and Chicago.

Pennrose acquiesced and helped raise funds for a new mural. Finally, on an unseasonably warm Sunday in late September, the magnificent photorealistic creation, “Why We Love Coltrane” by artist Ernel Martinez was dedicated.

Many who contributed to the effort attended the ceremony, including members of the Strawberry Mansion Neighborhood Action Committee, Fairmount Park Conservancy and All That Philly Jazz. John Griffin — the owner on the home that the mural was painted on and himself a jazz musician — happily donated his side wall. “For me to have this, I was just so ecstatic,” he said.

Artist Martinez described Coltrane as “someone who came from humble beginnings but aspired to become one of the greatest composers, musicians, thinkers and leaders this world has ever seen.”

In creating the mural, Martinez said he drew on inspiration from the original one, rendered in 2004 by artist John Lewis. “But I wanted it to evolve, become more my style and personality.”

This one is less bluesy and more vibrant, and includes elements such as Coltrane’s house and a shopping strip that populated the area at that time.

Golden said the mural “is important because [John Coltrane’s legacy] is so significant as it relates to the history of jazz and music. And we knew we had to keep his story alive and that is what’s so wonderful about the murals of this city. They are truly the autobiography of the city of Philadelphia.”

She added, “Our program is about art, but it’s also about equity and opportunity and access and justice, and we are on a mission about all those things. … [The murals] represent our lives, our histories, our struggles, our collective humanity. They are a visual testament to Philadelphia and its people.”



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Sheila Simmons - Contributor

Sheila Simmons brings many years of writing and communications experience to her work for Liberty City Press. She began her professional writing career at the Philadelphia Daily News, where she covered Business, City Hall and Education.


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