Sunday, January 14, 2007

Alice Coltrane - a jazz supreme

Alice Coltrane, the jazz performer and composer who was inextricably linked with the music of her late husband, legendary saxophonist John Coltrane, has died in Los Angeles. She was 69. Here, in tribute, is an article I ran in August last year.

It's a Sunday afternoon in the Fillmore section of San Francisco, and at the Church of St John Coltrane the service is in full swing. The church's founder, His Eminence Archbishop Franzo King, a tall, stick-thin 60-year-old dressed in a white cassock with a green scarf and a fuchsia pink skullcap, is dancing in front of an 8ft-high Byzantine-style icon that depicts John Coltrane holding a saxophone with flames emerging from it, a gold halo around his head.

The archbishop's son, Rev Franzo King Jr, on tenor saxophone, is playing a version of Lonnie's Lament, from Coltrane's album Crescent, that eventually merges into Spiritual. A choir led by Archbishop King's wife Marina is singing the Lord's Prayer over the music, while a four-piece band (with his daughter Wanika on bass) accompanies them. Thirty or so congregants are crowded into the tiny room, the air thick with the smell of incense. Some are dancing and clapping and saying Hallelujah! while others are sitting with eyes closed in silent meditation. In a corner, the 11-year-old Franzo King III blows on his own horn.

The centrepiece of the "Coltrane liturgy" is his 1964 album, A Love Supreme, what the church calls his "testimony". As the band goes into Acknowledgement, the first part of A Love Supreme, the choir sings the words to Psalm 23. When they reach the part where, on the album, Coltrane chants the words "A Love Supreme" over and over like a mantra, Archbishop King walks among the congregation with a microphone. "Let's have some love!" he yells. "
Don't just take it! Give!"

From Ministry of sound in the Guardian. And now hear A Love Supreme Part 1 complete (7' 43") and watch the video online.

John Coltrane saw his album-length suite A Love Supreme as his gift to God. The album was recorded by John Coltrane's quartet on December 9, 1964 at the Van Gelder studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. The album is a four-part suite, broken up into tracks called "Acknowledgement" (which contains the famous mantra that gave the suite its name), "Resolution," "Pursuance," and "Psalm." It is intended to be a spiritual album, broadly representative of a personal struggle for purity. The final track, "Psalm," uniquely corresponds to the wording of a devotional poem Coltrane included in the liner notes. A Love Supreme is usually listed among the greatest jazz albums of all time. It was ranked eighty-second in a 2005 survey held by British television's Channel 4 to determine the 100 greatest albums of all time. The elements of harmonic freedom heard on this album indicated the changes to come in Coltrane's music.


* For more on the African Orthodox Church of St John Coltrane, 351 Divisadero St. San Francisco, CA follow this link.

Image credit Fly.co.uk. Notes on A Love Supreme based on Wikipedia. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Love of the blues

1 comment:

Sergio Zenisek said...

While the fame of her husband will no doubt always surpass her own, Alice Coltrane should not only be remembered as the husband of an legendary jazz musician but also as a unique and important musician in her own right. She was one of the only succesful harpists in the history of jazz and those who are skeptical (perhaps rightly) of this combination of genre & instrument should listen to her song "Journey in Satchidananda"...