Fifty years after it was issued to the public, John Coltrane’s seminal record, A Love Supreme, is back in the spotlight. Dubbed, one of the most influential records ever made, Verve Music Group is delighting fans with this reissue with an introduction by guitarist, Carlos Santana.
Aficionados can now own A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters. This includes recorded conversation, a 32-page booklet with photos, various takes, overdub from the two day recording, along with his powerhouse quartet which included Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrison, McCoy Tyner, accompanied by Dr. Art Davis and Archie Shepp.
The album went on sale in November. We went back to the WORD Magazine vaults and discovered this 30 Year Retrospective written by freelance music writer, Norman (Otis) Richmond. It was first published in the July 1997 WORD edition. Enjoy!
“I want to be the force which is truly for good.”
– John Coltrane
John William Coltrane is a unique figure in the history of African American classical music (jazz). Trane, as he was affectionately called by his fans and his friends, recorded gold albums and won a Grammy Award despite never compromising his music. As a result he didn’t die broke like some musicians of that era.
“When Trane died it wasn’t necessary to do a benefit for him,” remembered fellow jazz musician Nat Adderly. “Trane’s money was budgeted wisely.”
One of the most revolutionary and influential saxophonists in modern jazz, Trane was born in Hamlet North Carolina on September 23, 1926 and died July 17, 1967 in Huntington, Long Island. Trane’s music proved to be timeless and jazz lovers globally have embraced his searching solos, his tremendous technical fluency, the lightening speed of his arpeggios and the pinpoint accuracy of his articulation. Critic Ira Gitler described Trane’s playing as “sheets of sound.”
Trane recorded and played with the cream of the crop in music. He recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk before forming his own group in 1960. The album, Duke Ellington & John Coltrane is of the all-time classics of Black Music.
Black music has always been a bridge between African people at home and abroad. Trane’s study of African and other non-western music was a mainstay in bolstering his belief that the purpose of music transcends that of mere entertainment, and can actually, socially transforms its listeners.
In 1973 the People’s Republic of the Congo, issued a set of stamps honouring Trane. Several of the great African musicians praised Trane. Nigera’s Fela Kuti and Manu Dibango of the Cameroon also acknowledged Trane. Dibango whose record “Soul Makossa” swept North America in the ‘70s summed up Trane’s role as a bridge builder.
His love for the Motherland inspired him to write “Africa,” “Dahomey Dance,” “Liberia,” and “Afro Blue.” One is last recordings, Interstellar Space contained the songs: “Mars,” “Venus,” “Jupiter” and “Saturn.”
Trane also looked to Asia for inspiration. One of his most famous compositions is called “India” and he subsequently named a son Ravi after the great Indian musician, Ravi Shankar.
Elombe Brath, the Chair of the Harlem-based Patrice Lumumba Coalition knew both Malcolm X. Brath points out that in his many conversations he had with Trane, he found Trane looking to Africa and Asia musically and spiritually. Some have called Trane the Malcolm X of the saxophone.
In 1963 when four black children were killed when a church was bombed by racists in Birmingham, Alabama, Trane wrote a memorial composition entitled “Alabama.”
Archie Shepp, a saxophonist who was influenced by Trane says,
“I equate Coltrane’s music very strongly with Malcolm’s language because they were just about contemporaries. I believe that essentially what Malcolm said is what John Coltrane played.”
Trane’s music was not only respected in Asia, Africa, but America and the Caribbean as well. “Afro people in America are learning about their roots,” says Dibango. “Musicians like John Coltrane did so much to make this connection between African people and Black people here in the States. Even if he didn’t say it in words, he said it with his instrument. You know in North Cameroon we have Hautby (African Oboe) players who sound exactly like Coltrane — without having heard him.”
Jamaican reggae artists Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer and Big Youth openly acknowledge Trane as an influence. During his lifetime, Trane recorded for Prestige, Atlantic, Blue Note and Impulse and several of those labels have and will be issuing box sets in honour of Trane’s memory. Blue Note released The Ultimate Blue Train, an enhanced CD version of Trane’s masterpiece which was his only recording as a leader for the label.
Commemorating the 40th anniversary of the release of Blue Train in 1957, this deluxe CD is Blue Note’s first interactive product and can be played on both standard CD and CD ROM players.
Blue Train was recorded six days before Trane’s 31st birthday. He was joined by 19 year-old trumpeter Lee Morgan and 23 year-old trombonist Curtis Fuller, both of whom had just been signed to Blue Note Records. The rhythm section featured pianist Kenny Drew and Trane’s colleagues Miles Davis’ quintet — bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones. The album features the four originals, “Moment’s Notice,” “Locomotion,” “Lazy Bird,” and the powerful title track, “Blue Train.” The date is rounded out by a version of Jerome Kern’s ballad, “I’m Old Fashion.”
Impulse is currently preparing a box set of Trane’s legendary engagement in New York City’s Village Vanguard. The four-disc CD will be entitled John Coltrane, The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings and featured reed-man, Eric Dolphy, bassist Reggie Workman, drummer Elvin Jones, pianist McCoy Tyner and bassist Jimmy Garrison.
On three days in November 1961, Trane and his band recorded 22 pieces in order of performance, with discographical accuracy and consistent sound. The CD includes “Chasin’ Another Train,” “Softly As in a Morning Sunrise,” “India,” “Spiritual,” “Greensleeves” and the previously unissued “Miles’ Mode.” The CD will be available on September 23 — Coltrane would have been 71.
Surprisingly, 30 years after his death, with the help of hip hop artists Public Enemy, Trane’s name is still alive among the youths. PE calls out Trane’s name on the rap, “Don’t Believe the Hype” on the CD, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.
Says Chuck D: “Writers treat me like Coltrane, Insane/Yes to them, but to me I’m a different kind/we are brothers of the same mind, un-blind.”
Spike Lee’s fourth film Mo’ Better Blues was originally going to be called A Love Supreme from Trane’s album of the same name recorded in 1964. The album is one long composition arranged in four parts: “Acknowledgement,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance” and “Psalms.”
“It’s a very spiritual work and I used it as inspiration for the film,” says Lee. “A Love Supreme” goes beyond romantic love. It’s love for God and the human community.”
When poet Jayne Cortez recorded her first album, Celebrations and Solitudes, in 1974 she devoted portions of it to Trane. The poem, “How Long Has Trane Been Gone 1968” is dedicated to Trane.
Even though Trane’s music was inspirational and influential on a global basis, it was in a constant state of flux. At the beginning of his career he played in R&B bands and by the time he died, his music was headed for outer space. But there was constant in his music — he never forgot his blues roots.
You could still hear Trane’s blues in his most outside pieces. In his essay, “War/Philly Blues/Deeper Bop from John Coltrane: Where Does Art Come From?,” Amiri Baraka says:
“The first paying jobs Trane had in music were with R&B groups, and necessary credentials for the R&B saxophonist was a big, big sound, and blue funky intonation. The rooting in the bad blues, was fundamental. To my own view, the Afro American musical tradition was rooted in the blues — i.e. Rhythm and Blues in all its basic forms. And without anchoring oneself in those basic traditions, absorbing them and being absorbed by them, the nature of one’s approach to Black music can only be shallow.”
Perhaps John Coltrane’s greatest legacy is his ability to use his music as a tool to promote his political and spiritual views. Paradoxically he was able to maintain his musical integrity while amassing unparalleled global allure. This is Coltrane’s supreme appeal.