Tuesday, May 15, 2012

St. John Coltrane: A Love Supreme

"I think music is an instrument. It can create the initial thought patterns that can change the thinking of the people." ~ John Coltrane
In the middle of the historic Fillmore district of San Francisco is the St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church. When the African Church canonized Coltrane in 1982, Bishop Franzo King transformed the Yardbird Temple from a house worshiping Charlie Parker to one venerating Coltrane. The church was founded in 1971 and was based in the Haight before being forced to relocate to the Fillmore district for lack of funds.
  Coltrane died in 1967 when he was only 40, but he left behind a legacy that continues to transform and inspire. As Pastor Wanika Stephens says, "I think he [Coltrane] goes further to say, 'for me, it's not so much that a man is a Christian, but it's whether or not a man knows the truth. And the truth has no labels on it. Every man has to find that for himself.'"

Coltrane was recruited by Miles Davis in 1955 and they played together in Davis' "First Great Quintet" - along with Paul Chambers on bass, Philly Joe Jones on drums, and Red Garland on piano. By 1957, Coltrane was abusing heroin and alcohol and Davis was forced to kick him out of the band. Coltrane was wise enough to realize his talent was deteriorating. He locked himself in his room in the Philadelphia home he shared with his mother and sister and went cold turkey. The next year he was back with Davis and the classic, Kind of Blue, followed in 1959.

(With Clarence Stephens @ the St. John Coltrane Church)
Coltrane later said he had heard the voice of god in that Philadelphia room and experienced an epiphany that ultimately led to his masterpiece, A Love Supreme. I discovered the album while hosting a radio show at Langara College back in the 80s and it continues to blow my mind. In April, Yuko and I knocked on the door of the St. John Coltrane Church and bassist and curator, Clarence Stephens, invited us in and gave us a tour. It was an inspiring and remarkable experience, one I won't soon forget.

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