Reflections on John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme

John Coltrane photo from photos of the A Love Supreme session, by Chuck Stewart.
John Coltrane photo from photos of the A Love Supreme session, by Chuck Stewart.

As this year’s Friends of John Coltrane Memorial Concert draws near, it is prudent to examine the piece that will be played. “A Love Supreme” is often called one of the greatest jazz albums of all time, and with good reason. The album showcases not only the amazing playing of Coltrane and his quartet, but the deeply spiritual connection Coltrane has with his music.

The album was written and recorded 50 years ago, in 1964. Coltrane was in a dark place in the years leading up to the album, having become dependent on heroin and alcohol to the point where he lost a job playing as part of Miles Davis’ band. In the years that followed, Coltrane would reconnect to a faith he had long been out of touch with. In the liner notes of “A Love Supreme”, Coltrane writes, “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.” Despite the ups and downs of the next seven years, Coltrane continued to play, and rose in popularity to become one of the premier jazz musicians of his time. At his peak, he released “A Love Supreme.”

In the words of Coltrane himself, “The music herein is presented in four parts. The first is entitled ‘Acknowledgement’, the second, “Resolution’, the third, ‘Pursuance’, and the fourth and last part is a musical narration of the theme, “A Love Supreme” which is written in the context; it is entitled ‘Psalm.'” The motifs introduced in “Acknowledgement” act as the foundation for the entire piece, with the first four notes played by bassist Jimmy Garrison being repeated throuhgout the entirety of the piece in a variety of different fashions. These four notes return in ‘Psalm’, a musical recitation of a poem written by Coltrane. The poem is included in the liner notes, and is written as a devotional, ending with a exaltation of overwhelming thanks to God.

“A Love Supreme” perfectly exemplifies both the spirituality and musicianship of John Coltrane. Musicians across all genres and faith will always remember “A Love Supreme” as one of the premier jazz albums of all time.

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