Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Magic of John Coltrane

I write this not as a jazz aficionado or as an expert on John Coltrane.  I am simply speaking as one who has recently enjoyed the saxophonist's music. For years, I have heard of about the recording,  A Love Supreme. Often it has been on my list of things to hear some day. Last month I decided that it was time to hear that composition.  I was at the downtown public library and decided to look for the CD. A Love Supreme was nowhere to be found, but I did find Blue Train. I figured that was better than nothing, and it would give me a sample of Coltrane’s music until I could find the other legendary recording. While I was searching through CD recordings, I found Windham Hill’s Summer Solstice sampler and picked that up to listen to as I drove around town. Blue Train would go on the shelf until I could sit down to appreciate it.

A few days later, I discovered while looking online that another library branch had a copy of A Love Supreme. I immediately headed out for the other library location, since I had decided that now is the time to hear that classic work of jazz.  Happily, I found the CD, checked it out and put it in the CD player of my Ford Ranger as I headed back home.  A quick look at the liner notes had indicated to me that this was a testimony of searching and gratitude to a higher power. Listening to that CD allowed me to hear that testimony in the language of jazz.  I enjoyed the opportunity to finally hear the music I had heard about off and on for so many years.

Three weeks later, I spotted the Blue Train CD on the shelf. I had not yet put that one in the player to listen to it.  Knowing that it had been some time since I checked it out, I went online to verify the due date.  The CD was due that very day! “No problem,” I thought, “I’ll just renew it to give me time to listen hear it.” When I tried to renew it online, however, I got a red-lettered message that renewal was not possible, the CD was on hold, requested by another patron. That was serious. I could not deny someone else the joy of Coltrane. I had to get to the library right away. I had some other errands to run, so I decided to pop Blue Train into the CD player of my truck while I ran about town. I would make the library my last stop.

When the strains of Blue Train came across the speakers, the day became lighter and more joyful. As I said earlier, I cannot claim to be an expert on jazz, but this was yet another exceptional recording! In many ways it was easier to listen to that A Love Supreme.  When I finished all my errands, I headed downtown to the library where I would return the CD for the next patron to enjoy.  You may not believe it, but at the exact moment that I pulled into the parking space at the library, the last bars of the final track on that CD were complete! I was truly in the Tao! The music and the travel ended simultaneously. That was one more tribute to the magic of John Coltrane.

I have since gone online to learn more about the artist. I took a brief look at the John Coltrane official website and found a Wikipedia article about him.  Like many artists and musicians, Coltrane had his struggles. I learned that the inspiration for A Love Supreme came after a near fatal drug overdose in the late 1950s. Apparently that experience solidified his resolve to embrace his spirituality. So many poets and artists seem to write from the extreme edges of life, and they declare to the rest of us from those extremes the beauty and grandeur of life. Gratitude becomes the best response to life,  showing us how to live with a joyful celebration, even in the midst of pain and struggle.

He was only 40 when he died from liver cancer, but he left quite  legacy in his short life. As I read further about Coltrane, I learned that he was canonized as a saint by the African Orthodox Church in 1982, and that the St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco uses Coltrane’s music and lyrics in its liturgy and prayers -- further tribute to the creative expression the man gave to the world in his music. I’ve only lately come to experience some of his music. I look forward to hearing more.


  1. I recently listened to some John Coltrane too. I put him in Pandora and it started playing some of the smoothest music I've heard in a long time.

  2. Thanks for this excellent article on Coltrane. I'm a fan too.


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