Fifty years of a love supreme...

Today is the 50th anniversary of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme." It may be his greatest artistic achievement - and deserves comment for a few reasons. It has been said that this composition, recorded on December 9, 1964 during a four-hour session at the Van Gelder Studio in Englewood, NJ, is the essence of Coltrane's genius. That is true but it only tells part of the story.

"A Love Supreme" is also the consequence of 'Trane's mystical encounter with the healing power of music that freed his body and soul of junk and booze, too. After encountering and playing the purity of some constellation of notes, the master noted that he no longer needed to put the needle in his arm or fog his mind with liquor. He also acknowledged that his subsequent legendary improvisations were both a spiritual and artistic quest for the sounds that had first set him free.

Coltrane put it like this in the liner notes for this album: During the year
1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening, which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life,” the saxophonist, then 38, wrote in the album’s liner notes. “At the time, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music. This album is a humble offering to HIM.  Sadly, the damage to his body from previous abuse led the artist to his untimely death of liver disease three years later.

Another reason it is vital to celebrate the creation of this album has something to do with the way it liberated OTHER musicians to create beauty from out of their own wisdom and wounds. NPR commentator, Arun Rath, wrote: This week sees the 50th anniversary of a sacred day for many music fans. On Dec. 9, 1964, theJohn Coltrane Quartet recorded the album A Love Supreme. I call it a sacred day for music fans, not just jazz fans. For people across musical boundaries and cultures — for Carlos Santana, Bono, Joni Mitchell, Steve Reich, Bootsy Collins, Gil Scott-Heron — hearing A Love Supreme was a revelation.

That rings true for me, too.  I know I was inspired by Roger McQuinn's attempt to replicate 'Trane's trumpet sound on his guitar during the improvisations of "8 Miles High." His sound changed the way I heard music and the way those I loved played it. In time, as I grew into the jazz realm, another less obvious truth dawned on me: Jazz is one of the few places where African American culture and genius was celebrated, honored and revered by white musicians. The white guys came to listen and learn the music from the black cats. In other realms, Black culture has been stolen. But in jazz, even when there has been injustice, musicians like Coltrane, Monk, Miles, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Satchmo and so many more both shaped and taught the rest of us how to do it.
In an era like our own, when we are struggling to find a way to listen and learn from one another again, John Coltrane still has something for us to learn from "A Love Supreme." (Check out this link at NPR for more insights.  

We'll be doing a contemplative Jazz Advent III gig this Sunday in worship. Join us if you can. 


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