A Love Supreme


Today marks what would have been John Coltrane's 79th birthday and it is as good a time as any to ponder just what it is that makes the man and his music so very special to so many people.

I first heard Trane in the 12th grade, on the 1992 soundtrack to Spike Lee's Malcolm X. Spike used Alabama, to great effect, as background music for a scene late in the film where Malcolm watched television footage of the civil rights movement from his hotel room. I say background music, but the truth is the music was right there in the fore and had as much to do with the success of that scene as Denzel Washington's subtle and powerful acting. This introduction lead me to a slight obsession with the soundtrack (repeat track 9) and a subsequent purchase of a Greatest Hits compilation on cassette tape. I spent an entire summer annoying even my most tolerant friends with the more "outside" stuff on that cassette but kept plugging away. There was something fascinating about this music, even the stuff that didn't appeal to me right away. I really believe that music you have to work to enjoy is, in the end, a much more rewarding experience.

Like everyone I ultimately made my way to A Love Supreme and am as attached to that piece of music as is probably possible. I can't even articulate why. Maybe there is something about music like this that is so personal, music that the artist has so completely given himself to - that it in turn, touches the listener in a deeply personal way. People use the word spiritual a lot and that is appropriate as anything, really.

"You gotta be willing to get up there and DIE for a motherfucker" was Elvin Jones explanation for the sound he created as drummer with Trane's quartet along with McCoy Tyner on piano and Jimmy Garrison on bass. Willing to die while you search for musical and spiritual freedom.

Enjoy a short (poor quality) sample below, the just over 2 minute version of Alabama that began my relationship with Trane's music. If you are new to Trane also check out his work as a sideman with the great vocalist Johnny Hartman, specifically on the Strayhorn tune, Lush Life which is restrained and beautiful and allows even more insight to the full scope of what he was capable of as a musician.

If you are in Toronto this weekend The Rex is hosting their annual celebration of Trane September 22nd - 24th at 9:30pm. Toronto sax player Pat LaBarbara who worked with Elvin Jones for many years is joined by a great line up of musicians. It's a wonderful tradition and well worth checking out.

this is an audio post - click to play

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