Dennis Sandole Dead at
a jazz guitarist and mentor to John Coltrane, died Saturday at his home. He was 87.
Beginning in the early 1940s, Sandole played with
some of the major swing-era bands of the time, including those led by Charlie Barnet, Boyd
Raeburn, Tommy Dorsey and Ray McKinley. He also recorded film soundtracks and played at
recording sessions for Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday. Sandole moved back to
Philadelphia from the West Coast in the mid-1940s to teach and write music. He was mentor
to jazz giant John Coltrane from 1946 to the early 1950s, teaching him music theory and
exposing him to music from other cultures.
Sandole put teaching ahead of his own musical career
and taught privately until the end of his life. His students said he boosted their
confidence by working to develop their strengths. Sandole published a book, ``Guitar
Lore,'' in 1981. He also recorded some of his own music, including ``Modern Music From
Philadelphia'' in 1956. In 1999 Cadence Jazz released ``The Dennis Sandole Project,''
which contained parts of a jazz ballet/opera called ``Evenin' Is Cryin''' he wrote in the
1960s and 70s.
He is survived by a son, two daughters, three
sisters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Dennis Sandole, educator who taught giants of
By Tom Moon INQUIRER MUSIC CRITIC
Dennis Sandole, a jazz guitarist, composer and educator whose students included John
Coltrane and Pat Martino, died Saturday at his home in Roxborough of congestive heart
failure. He had turned 87 the day before. Although virtually unknown outside the community
of musicians, Mr. Sandole (san-DOE-lee) left his fingerprints all over the jazz-history
He played in the big bands of Tommy Dorsey, Gene Krupa and Boyd Raeburn. He recorded
with trumpeter Art Farmer, saxophonist Charlie Barnet, and others, and put out only a few
records of original material, among them a 1956 collaboration with his brother, Adolph,
titled Modern Music From Philadelphia. But his greatest influence was as a teacher. After
coming off the road in 1948, he began informal teaching and did not stop until January,
said one longtime student and friend, guitarist-composer Jim Dragoni: "He recognized
that that was his calling. . . . His mission was to find the aesthetic potential in people
and develop it." That ability made him one of the most influential mentors in jazz
Coltrane, the saxophonist whose contributions to jazz included revolutionary chord
sequences, attended Mr. Sandole's clinics as a teenager and stayed in touch with him
through much of his life. "When I listen to Coltrane," Dragoni said, "I can
hear my lessons. . . . 'Giant Steps' is right out of the Sandole book." The guitarist
was respected by several other important voices of the '50s and '60s, including
saxophonists Benny Golson and James Moody, both of whom he taught. He later instructed
bassist Stanley Clarke.
Unlike many teachers, Mr. Sandole rarely played during lessons. Those studying with him
already knew the mechanics and were seeking his insights on matters of concept, his
knowledge of exotic scales, and other techniques to broaden an improvisor's range of
expression. Mr. Sandole was known for his progressive approach to jazz harmony. But
Martino, who studied with him for a few months in the early '60s, remembers the educator
as equally adept at nurturing individuality. "He taught by not interfering with the
blessings each student was given, by amplifying them in any way he could," the
The teacher's ideas trickled down from one generation to the next. Because his approach
to harmony was unconventional, he was embraced by the experimental-jazz elite, including
pianist Matthew Shipp, saxophonist Bobby Zankel, and bagpiper Rufus Harley.
Other students were inspired by his lyricism. In the early '60s, Mr. Sandole shaped the
sensibility of the brilliant guitar melodist Joe Diorio, who went on to teach Pat Metheny.
The master also taught Dale Bruning, whose students included Bill Frisell.
In 1956, just as his collaboration with his saxophonist brother, The
Sandole Brothers, was released, Mr. Sandole told a Philadelphia Daily News interviewer
that he was not interested in popular acclaim, saying: "None of my music is aimed at
commercial markets." In the last year, several students began combing through his
master tapes and eventually persuaded the Cadence label to release The Sandole Project,
which includes some material from Modern Music as well as the previously unreleased
"jazz ballet opera" Evenin' Is Cryin'.
Dennis Sandole, Jazz Guitarist and an Influential Teacher, 87
Dennis Sandole, a jazz guitarist and legendary teacher whose students included John
Coltrane, died on Saturday at his home in Philadelphia. He was 87.
Sandole was 19 when he taught himself to play the guitar; his older brother, Adolph, taught himself the baritone saxophone. They began
playing together in a neighborhood band in Philadelphia, and a decade later, in the early 1940's, Mr. Sandole was playing guitar with some of
the major swing-era big bands, including those led by
Charlie Barnet, Boyd Raeburn, Tommy Dorsey and Ray
McKinley. While on the West Coast in that period, he
also recorded film soundtracks and played at studio recording sessions, including several
for Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday.
the mid-40's, Mr. Sandole moved back to Philadelphia to write music and to teach at the
was John Coltrane's mentor from 1946 until the early 1950's, introducing him to theory
beyond chords and scales and exposing him to the music of other cultures. Mr. Sandole
taught advanced harmonic techniques that were applicable to any instrument, using exotic
scales and creating his own.
students said that he helped them develop confidence by focusing on their strengths and
abilities. His book "Guitar Lore" was published in 1981 by the Theodore Presser
Sandole taught privately until the end of his life, letting his musical career take a back
seat to his teaching. His other students over half a century included the saxophonists
James Moody, Michael Brecker, Rob Brown and Bobby Zankel; the pianists Matthew Shipp and
Sumi Tonooka; and the guitarists Jim Hall, Joe Diorio and Pat Martino.
he did record some of his own music, including "Modern Music From Philadelphia,"
recorded with his brother and released by Fantasy in 1956. In 1999 Cadence Jazz released another album, "The Dennis
Sandole Project," a combination of old trio
recordings and parts of "Evenin' Is Cryin',"
a jazz ballet- opera he wrote in the 1960's and 70's.
is survived by a son, Dennis Jr., of Burke, Va.; two daughters, Denise, of Manhattan, and Stephanie Low of Pleasantville, N.J.; three
sisters, Annette Lowe of Plymouth Meeting, Pa.; Marie
Volpe of Philadelphia; and Rita Cavanaugh of Broomall,
Pa.; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.