“I was in the eighth grade the first time I heard John Coltrane play the saxophone. It was a recording with Miles Davis titled “Someday My Prince Will Come.” Coltrane’s style was completely unique. My young ears had never heard anything like it. It was if Miles, having exhausted all possibility of recruiting talent in this galaxy had traveled to another and returned with Coltrane in tow.

Coltrane possessed an ability to make creative choices others either did not know existed, were afraid to make, or simply couldn’t pull off. He stretched musical boundaries and erased limitations that many thought to be intrinsic to the instrument. In the world of jazz saxophone, Coltrane narrowed th gap between what a musician could imagine and what he could actually create. I heard in Coltrane a call to greatness.

Late at night, alone in my room, I would light a candle and a cone of incense, put Coltrane on the turntable and let him transport me to new worlds of sound and invention. It was for me, as people  often remarked in those days, a religious experience. I read everything I could about him in magazines, books and liner notes. One writer explained Coltrane’s premature death at the age of 40  by postulating that a man cannot see God and live. The inference, even to my young mind was understood and noted. John Coltrane was a deeply spiritual man. Honestly though, I had no idea what that really meant. Years later I returned to the subject of John Coltrane and his spiritual life. I had a pocketful of questions I wanted answers to. Among them, ‘Why was his spiritual life significant?’ Today my answers are pretty concrete. I think every serious music listener should know something about Coltrane’s music and his spirituality. To know only one aspect is to not now the essence of the man.

Coltrane developed a unique personal style as an improviser and, in the process, expanded the musical reach of the saxophone- an artistic achievement still unrivaled more than 40 years later. Between 1949 and 1967, a span of 18 years, Coltrane made over 110 recordings, including his own “A Love Supreme” and Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” (two of the best selling, and critically acclaimed jazz albums of all time). He is a cultrual icon and his influence extends far beyond the jazz community. But his music is only the vein through which his deeper passion flowed.

In December of 1964, in the liner notes of ” A Love Supreme,” Coltrane wrote:

“During the year 1957, I expereinced by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music. I feel this has been granted through His grace. All praise to God.”

From this point in 1957, until his death in 1967, there was no division between Coltrane’s musical and his spiritual journey. At the height of his career, he took his understanding of spirituality into the public square, and in turn created his most revered and popular recording, A Love Supreme. This is one of the most significant details about Coltrane’s story. when he was the most transparent about his spiritual journey, his music seemed the furthest reaching. Consider the effect it had on his audience. – According to Coltrane’s wife Alice, “Someone in the audience would stand up, their arms up reaching, and they would be like that for an hour or more. Their clothing would be soaked with perspiration, and when they finally say down, they practically fell down. The music just took people out of the whole material world; it lifted them up.. Call it universal consciousness, supreme being, nature, God, call this force by any name you like, but it was there, and its presence was so powerfully felt by most people that it was almost palpable.”

The African Orthodox Church officially accepted Coltrane as a saint in 1982. St. John’s African Orthodox Church in San Francisco (founded in 1971 by Franzo King) integrates Coltrane’s music and poem A Love Supreme, into its Sunday service. While certainly unique standings for a jazz musician, these religious ties could still be passed off as ancillary effects of deeply devoted fans. Many of us do, after all, occasionally find certain music a religious experience at given times in our lives. Yet I believe there was something different, something higher about Coltrane and his music, and maybe this is best perceived through their effect on other musicians who should be more sensitive to distinction. When asked about Coltrane, pianist McCoy Tyner confessed that he believed that Coltrane showed that ‘God still speaks to man” and sends us “messengers.” Coltrane’s bandmate Elvin Jones was once quoted as saying that he believed that Coltrane was an angel- but maybe Carlos Santana explained the distinction of JOhn Coltrane’s music best. ” I haven’t heard anything higher than ‘The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost’ from the Meditations album,” he said. “I would play it at four in the morning, the traditional time for meditation. I could hear God’s mind in that music, influencing him. I heard the Supreme One playing music through John Coltrane’s mind.'” – Charlie Peacock


~ by crossmd on December 14, 2010.

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