HAMLET — A downtown, full-wall mural of jazz legend John Coltrane is now complete.
The mural is the first in a planned series by artist Scott Nurkin of musicians born in the Tar Heel State.
“There’s not a lot of mention about who he is and the fact that he was born in this town, so it’s my intention to do something that sort of recognizes how great he was,” Nurkin told the RO about midway through the painting.
“They call him the ‘Jazz Messiah,” Nurkin continued, “because he literally changed the way people thought, heard jazz music. He was phenomenal — still is. He’s probably heralded as one of the greatest American saxophonists of all time.”
Coltrane was born at 200 Hamlet Avenue in Hamlet Sept. 23, 1926 to John and Alice Blair Coltrane, but grew up in High Point.
He joined a community band at the age of 12 and started a school band at William Penn High School, where he graduated at 16 before moving to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Coltrane served a short stint in the U.S. Navy and went on to meet and make music with other jazz greats including Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis.
Gillespie, nearly nine years older than Coltrane, was born in Cheraw, South Carolina, and attended the Laurinburg Institute on a music scholarship before also moving to Philadelphia.
Coltrane overcame alcohol and heroin addiction and was named “Jazzman of the Year” by Down Beat magazine in 1965.
Two years later, he died due to complications from liver cancer.
The mural is based on a photograph of Coltrane by Chuck Stewart, according to the artist’s Facebook page.
Nurkin consider’s Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” one of the greatest albums of all time.
“Given the current climate of things going on in America, it’s probably something everybody should be listening to right now,” he said.
Nurkin has five more murals in his NC Musicians Mural Project slated to go up across the state within the next two months and plans 15-20 more over the next two years.
The following is the backstory on Nurkin’s project from his Facebook page:
“In 2007, I painted 23 portraits of famous North Carolina musicians to showcase in Pepper’s Pizza on Franklin Street (in Chapel Hill), on top of a mural of the state. Each portrait was arranged in proximity to where the musician was born. I wanted to remind people that NC has produced some of the greatest musical trailblazers the world has ever known. When Pepper’s closed in 2013, the portraits were purchased by UNC’s Department of Music by Mr Mark Katz, where they hang today, and I began thinking about repainting them as murals in each of the birthplaces. Last week, I completed the first installment. Please follow along for updates; a website is coming soon to mark the entire trail. #NCMMTRAIL”
The mural was originally supposed to be in the city’s budget for the next fiscal year, with the city paying $6,000 and an anonymous donor footing another $6,000 through the N.C. Arts Council, according to Councilwoman Abbie Covington.
But the council had to strike it when the Richmond County Board of Commissioners voted in April to change the method of sales tax distribution, leaving a lesser amount than the municipalities were used to getting.
However, Covington said they were able to pay for it out of the current year’s budget and Nurkin rearranged his schedule to get it done.
“We were very fortunate,” she said.
But that wasn’t the only obstacle, according to Covington.
The mural was originally supposed to be on the other side of the former Hamlet Theatre, but OSHA had concerns, saying it was too dangerous because of the nearby wires, Coivngton said, adding that she’s glad, now for the change.
“I think the perspective of where it is … is excellent,” she said.
“It’s an incredible work of art,” Covington added. “The look in his eyes looks like he’s surveying the landscape. Any direction that you approach it from … you see the look on his face.”
Previous RO stories on John Coltrane: