A Love Supreme

15 10 2008


There were three pivotal moments in John Coltrane’s short life.  The first occurred sometime during his high school years when he decided to begin playing the alto and tenor sax.  Today, over 40 years after his death, Coltrane is still considered the greatest jazz sax player of all time.


The second turning point of Coltrane’s life occurred in 1948 when he tried heroine for the first time and soon became hooked.  Within the jazz community virtually every young player who began playing in the late 1940’s and 1950s felt a great deal of pressure to experiment with the drug.  It was widely believed that Charlie Parker, who was Coltrane’s mentor,  had become a better player because of his self professed heroine use and, therefore, musicians believed their playing would improve as well.  In addition to Coltrane, Miles Davis and Chet Baker became addicts to heroine because of their false belief that it improved their playing.


Needless to say, heroine did not fulfill its false promise to make Coltrane a better musician.  His playing, when he showed up, was erratic.  He would appear at the last minute for gigs unshaven, un-bathed and in smelly, wrinkled and worn clothes.  He achieved a reputation of falling asleep on stage.  Miles Davis fired him and Dizzy Gillespie complained bitterly about his unreliable performances but apparently refrained from firing Coltrane only because of their deep friendship and Gillespie’s respect for Coltrane’s talent when he wasn’t wasted on heroine.


The third key event in Coltrane’s life occurred in 1957.  John Coltrane had grown up within a Christian family and within the church.  Both his grandfathers were pastors and he attended a small AME church service every Sunday in High Point North Carolina.  During his teen years he practiced every Tuesday evening with the church band and his pastor.  So, when he hit rock bottom in 1957, Coltrane looked up and returned to the faith of his childhood through professing his trust in Jesus Christ.  Supported by his wife Naima, and friends, Coltrane locked himself away for days and kicked heroine. 


Coltrane would write latter “During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening that was to lead me to a richer, fuller, and more productive life.  At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music.”  John Coltrane believed that “you can improve as a player by improving as a person,” and he believed that a transformation such as that only came through humble reliance upon God’s grace.  After his 1957 encounter with God’s grace, Coltrane would often speak of his playing as a prayer.  “That’s what music is to me,” he told his wife.  He would write of how his playing was an offering of thanksgiving to God.  Many of his albums and compositions after 1957 were clearly influenced by his Christian faith, most notably his classic A Love Supreme.       



2 responses

31 10 2008
Sherie Evans

Wow, I love this post. You are still my favorite pastor, brother, all of the above, and oh wait, fantastic singer and writer. Love you

2 11 2008

Thanks Sherie! I miss you. YOu guys need to come up for a visit and let everyone at my church hear what a great singer you are.

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