Stories of Standards is sponsored by ListenUp - If you love music, you’ll love ListenUp.
“Naima” was written in 1959 by John Coltrane in honor of his first wife Juanita Austin, more often known by the nicknames of Naima (pronounced Ny-EE-ma) or Nita. The song was first recorded in May 1959 for the album “Giant Steps”, which was released in early 1960 and selected in 2004 by the Library of Congress for the National Recording Registry. Biographer John Litweiler said “… the melody of ‘Naima’--quiet, sunfilled--is worthy of Coltrane’s reverence, the unsuspected calm in the midst of his storms....”. Coltrane recorded this song many times over the course of his life, and is said to have considered it his best composition.
John Coltrane (1926-1967) grew up in North Carolina in the midst of his extended family, but lost his father, grandparents, and uncle in 1939. That year he joined a community band, where he played clarinet and E flat alto horn, followed in high school by alto saxophone. After graduating from high school in 1943 he moved to Philadelphia where he rejoined his family. Two years later he was drafted into the Navy, where on 7/13/1946 he recorded his first song (“Hot House” by Tadd Dameron) with four fellow sailors. In the late 1940s and early 1950s Coltrane played first with Dizzy Gillespie, then with Miles Davis; he also became addicted to heroin in 1948, was fired from the band, kicked the habit in 1957 following a spiritual awakening and was re-hired. He married Juanita Austin in 1955, separated in 1963, and married pianist Alice McLeod in 1966. From the time of his awakening in 1957 until his sudden death in 1967, Coltrane fused music and spirituality with a focus on Eastern religions which also assimilated many other religions as well. After his death the Yardbird Temple in San Francisco began worshipping him as God incarnate; when they became affiliated with the African Orthodox Church his status changed from god to saint. This resulted in the St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church, which incorporates Coltrane’s music and lyrics into the liturgy.