Building up to this years Rocky Mountain Audio Fest we will be posting a blog and playlist about each of the albums we will be featuring, first up is John Coltrane ‘A Love Supreme’.
John Coltrane reached jazz nirvana with A Love Supreme. The musical genius and saxophone pioneer used his instrument to sing and breathe new life into the genre with his spiritual masterpiece. Coltrane is a storyteller that commands your attention as he sonically illustrates his journey of discovering faith. When listening to the album on an amazing hi-fi, it’s easy to imagine him and his horn in the room with you — the purity of tone and his dominance is compelling.
One of the most passionate expressions on the album is A Love Supreme’s closing movement, “Psalm”, where Coltrane ‘plays’ a poem written for the album on his horn and for which he printed the words on the album’s sleeve. Click here to read the poem along with the recording and take in his sermon.
Jazz icons like Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk helped guide him in realizing his great talent and releasing his explosive musical vision. Coltrane collaborated with legendary trumpeter Miles Davis on some of his greatest works, like Milestones and Kind of Blue, and played with Thelonious Monk during his legendary run at the Five Spot. Coltrane said, “I would talk to Monk about musical problems, and he would sit at the piano and show me the answers just by playing them. I could watch him play and find out the things I wanted to know. Also, I could see a lot of things that I didn’t know about at all.” This dialogue helped spur his musical quest and ultimately inspired the personal narrative behind A Love Supreme.
A Love Supreme has inspired modern saxophone maestros to practice as obsessively as Coltrane to master the language of their instrument. Kamasi Washington does so on his debut album, The Epic, which spans over three hours. Washington sings in many different voices through his saxophone and proves to be a leading voice in modern jazz. You can tell he has a similar sense of obsession as Coltrane, and similarly conveys emotion with his reed.
Colin Stetson has the same finesse but transforms the saxophone into a completely different monster. Stetson communicates darker and more complicated emotions with his saxophone and tests its limits, much like Coltrane. Some of his songs utilize the clanking of his instrument keys as percussion, and he conveys an almost haunted sound when he hums through his mouthpiece. Most of his pieces are long and repetitive, requiring him to practice breathing routine where his instrument is a part of his body.
Coltrane’s enthusiasm for faith and life contained in A Love Supreme inspired a power movement in the jazz world and altered language of the saxophone. The sermon Coltrane reads in “Psalm” proved the instrument could be human and poetic. Sonically, Coltrane’s playing feels intense and fired up, as if he were in church asking for his audience to praise with him. Its lack of dependence of scale or concrete melody proves Coltrane knew his instrument inside out, so much that he discovered a new means to express any emotion with it. Saxophone players and enthusiasts admire him for that freedom, and it’s refreshing to know Washington and Stetson are contributing to the conversation today.