John Coltrane was already one of the most in-demand saxophonists in Jazz when he was kicked out of Miles Davis’ band in 1957 due to his heroin addiction. By then he had played with all the greats – Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis – and was on his way to becoming one of the greats himself when his drug and alcohol problems caught up with him. Coltrane was saved by a spiritual awakening. His religiousness helped him kick his addiction and gave him a new purpose in life and music.
Once Coltrane combined his masterful playing chops (he was known to obsessively practice for up to 12 hours a day and his wife would often find him asleep with the sax still in his mouth) with his spiritual purpose he became a force of musical nature. Coltrane’s new direction culminated in his best known album, A Love Supreme, released in 1964. Coltrane sums up his new devotion to faith in the album’s liner notes: “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. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music. I feel this has been granted through His grace.”
In A Love Supreme Coltrane offers up his gratitude to a higher power through music and the album is considered not only one of the most influential jazz albums ever, but one of the most influential albums ever, regardless of genre. Coltrane didn’t believe in one religion. Although he was raised in the Christian faith, Coltrane intensely studied all the world religions and was deeply influenced by Islam, Hinduism and Zen Buddhism. Coltrane’s live performances became musical sermons as he searched for a way to tap into the beauty of nature and the divine through the power of his horn.
For some, it really was a divine experience. After hearing one of his searing live performances in 1965, a young couple believed they had felt the power of the Holy Spirit within Coltrane. They formed the St John Coltrane Church and are still practicing today, dedicated to worshipping “the music and wisdom of Saint John Coltrane.”
As Coltrane said: “Once you become aware of this force for unity in life, you can’t ever forget it. It becomes part of everything you do … My goal in meditating on this through music … is to uplift people, as much as I can. To inspire them to realize more and more of their capacities for living meaningful lives. Because there certainly is meaning to life.”
– I’m a jazz novice, my listening is limited to classic Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck albums (and watching a lot of Cowboy Bebop). I’ve plunged into Coltrane’s music the past two weeks while working on this comic and his music, especially his later avant-garde work, can be extremely challenging. For now, I’m sticking to his ‘easier’ stuff like In a Sentimental Mood, Blue Train, Favourite Things and Giant Steps. I think A Love Supreme is an intermediate level and requires a few listens through before it clicks. Damn my uncultured ears!
– The comic uses a combination of two of Coltrane’s quotes. The main portion comes from a interview with Newsweek in 1966. The quote about healing his sick friend and making it rain I’ve found in various books about Coltrane but I can’t find the original source. Any help would be appreciated.
– Visit the official John Coltrane website.