Thursday Jazz: John Coltrane
Words By Zach Zeidner
Music has always been thought of as a means of religious enlightenment. From the highly religious aspect of eastern music, to the ring chants of slaves, to the use of church organs, music has always found itself a niche in the spiritual world. When the sound of Jazz first appeared in the public square, it was thought of as the devil’s music. This music, that would cause people to lose all inhibition and partake in activities that were deemed “sinful”, was banished from households and major venues and forced to thrive in the after-hour clubs of big cities such as New York, New Orleans, and Chicago. The dissonant spiritual connection to Jazz music ended in 1965 with the release of A Love Supreme by tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. Coltrane, who was essentially discovered by Miles Davis, was inducted into Davis’ first great quintet which included Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. Coltrane, who struggled with an addiction to heroin as well as alcohol, eventually left working with Davis to pursue his own career.
It was in 1957 that Coltrane began playing with Thelonious Monk and it wasn’t until 1960 that Coltrane eventually begun coming out with his own albums. During his time with monk in 1957, Coltrane had a “religious awakening” and kicked his heroin and alcohol habit. Seven years after his religious awakening, Coltrane released A Love Supreme. This work came to embody the most influential album to spiritual Jazz ever; in turn, inventing the sub-genre of Spiritual Jazz. A Love Supreme was a four part spiritual composition that proved that Jazz music could be written for spiritual enlightenment. Never before has Jazz had the kind of connection to religion than it did when Coltrane released A Love Supreme. A Love Supreme proved to be a pinnacle of the Jazz movement, immediately creating a sub-genre many other musicians would exhaustively explore.
In 1966, Coltrane released Meditations. Coltrane continued his desire for music as he explored the avant-garde style of composition and jamming attributed mainly to Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor. Coltrane continued to prove his inescapable ability to perfect music to the ultimate degree by releasing Ascension. Ascension, complete with an incredible cast of musicians, came to be considered arguably the greatest avant-garde record of all time. Coltrane explored the realms of avant-garde music most have never dreamed of. Coltrane continued to prove his remarkable ear for music when he fused the ideas of the avant-garde with that of the spiritual. This is precisely what Coltrane was shooting for when he recorded Meditations.
Meditations is the last studio album that Coltrane would play with his long time pianist, McCoy Tyner, and long time drummer, Elvin Jones. The album also includes Jimmy Garrison on bass and special guests Rashied Ali on drums and Pharoah Sanders on tenor sax. The first track of the album “The Father and The Son and The Holy Ghost” immediately foreshadows the religious aspect of this album. In addition to the album title, the first track does well to set the scene of an avant-garde spiritual album. The only response as a listener at this point is to, as cliché as it sounds, let yourself go with the music. Coltrane’s immensely intense solos in addition to Elvin Jones’ driving drum parts allow this album to reach centrifugal capacities of improvisation. As the band continues with their cyclical orbits of rhythm, the soloists explore the deepest ends of the improvisational spectrum. Turn off your mind, turn on this album and let Coltrane take you on a ride of spiritual and musical enlightenment.
Purchase John Coltrane's "Meditations" on Amazon.com