THE TRUTH SOME WAY OR ANOTHER:
John Coltrane's Eternal 'A Love Supreme'
: New Release Includes Rare Live Performance (Ashley Kahn, Nov. 26, 2002, NPR Morning Edition)
Saxophone legend John Coltrane's 1964 recording, A Love Supreme, is one of the masterworks in the canon of jazz: most musicians know it. Many have performed parts -- if not all -- of the 32-minute suite.
Now, a new edition of the Coltrane album has been released. It includes the original studio recording plus the only live performance of the complete work. The double CD is a result of research for a new book, A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album. Its author, Ashley Kahn, prepared an essay on the project for Morning Edition.
"John Coltrane is one of those rare musical figures who transcends both his time and category," Kahn says. "Today, in addition to jazz fans, rockers and rappers, head-bangers and hip-hoppers all swear their allegiance to him. And no album in his catalog reaches a wider audience than A Love Supreme, what he called his 'humble offering to God.'" [...]
[A] Love Supreme is more than just a musical statement, Kahn says. "It's an unusually complete vision of one man's spirituality expressed through his art. Coltrane used the tools he had available and that he knew: a saxophone, a well-practiced quartet -- even his own voice -- to create music worthy of his creator."
In a 1966 interview, Coltrane discussed religion and spirituality. "I've always felt that even though a man was not a Christian, he still has to know the truth some way or another. Or if he was a Christian, he could know the truth." he said. "The truth itself doesn't have any name on it to me. And each man has to find this for himself, I think."
As Glenn Dryfoos, our jazz critic
, says: This is the one jazz album even the stoners used to listen to when we were in college. Mr. Kahn's report though sets it squarely in the spiritual realm and suggests it might make--along with Gavin Bryars' Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet
--excellent, if unorthodox, Thanksgiving listening.
Posted by Orrin Judd at November 26, 2002 12:45 PM
Well, I agree, but I have to give a little sigh because of Coltrane's disproportionate influence on jazz after the 1960's.
It's true that even the stoners listened to him back in his day (& after), but that's evidence of his dominance of the popular perception of jazz: he occupied the field. He, and similiarly emotional (and noisy) jazz artists got all the attention to the exclusion of many others. In a time when the jazz audience was shrinking anyway, Coltrane's popularity actually helped restrict what could be commercially popular in jazz music.
Of course, jazz may have withered even further had he not been around. But the generation of sax players that came immediately after him were almost exclusively influenced by him and his contemporary followers. That could be said about Charlie Parker as well, but in Parker's day there was simply much more horn music and horn musicians around; any horn student would be exposed to a greater variety of jazz styles. When Coltrane really exploded a lot of younger players just hadn't heard the older guys.
So during the 70's & 80's saxophonists tended to toe the stylistic and tonal line. Even Coltrane's horn brand dominated the markets: The Selmer Mark VI. Already a superb horn preferred by many professional players, in Coltrane's hands it gained cultic status (think Hendrix with a Fender Stratocaster or Jimmy Page with a Gibson Les Paul). A combination of a bad market, bad business decisions and Selmer's dominance did in most of the American sax makers, who by the late '60's shut down or focused on the student market. Everybody else was inclined to make a horn that copied the Mark VI in mechanics and tone.
Things have begun to change; the older players have been re-discovered by a younger generation of players, and even the old player's equipment. The old American horns (Kings, Conns, Buescher, and Martin) have gone from being pawnshop refugees to internationally desired vintage instruments (type in "King Super 20" on an eBay search & see what pops up).
Anyway, there's an Atlantic Records boxed set of Coltrane's stuff called "The Heavyweight Champion" or something like that, and it's an absolutely correct description of his status in jazz history!!
Whack is right...Coltrane did have a disprportionate effect on the sound of the sax players who followed him. I've always wondered if that outcome would have been different had Sonny Rollins died in his early 40's rather than Trane. But (and as a Sonny man, I thank G-d for it), Sonny is still with us...and, in today's "younger" players, including Branford Marsalis, Eric Alexander, Ralph Moore, and James Carter, one hears both the influences of Coltrance and Rollins.