John Coltrane: A Love Supreme

LoveSupremeThe Songs:

  1. Pt. 1: Acknowledgement
  2. Pt. 2: Resolution
  3. Pt. 3: Pursuance
  4. Pt. 4: Psalm

Personnel:

  • John Coltrane – soprano & tenor saxophone, vocals
  • McCoy Tyner – piano
  • Jimmy Garrison – bass
  • Elvin Jones – drums

Along with Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, John Coltrane’s masterpiece, A Love Supreme, is often cited as one of the most important and influential jazz albums ever made. Recorded in one evening in December 1964, this album captures Coltrane at the height of his career. His quartet consisting of McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums, had been together for four years. Coltrane’s playing was in the middle of a transition from his established hard bop style to the wilder free jazz style had he would play for the remaining three years of his life after this album. Coltrane took a simple 4 note theme (which became the mantra: a love supreme) and fashioned it into a 32 minute suite that encompassed his spiritual longings. Coltrane referred to the album as his “humble offering to God.” As pianist McCoy Tyner stated about the album, “We had been playing some of that music and we didn’t know what it was going to be until we got into the studio. And then it all came together.”

In his book about the album, Ashley Kahn said of it: “It’s an unusually complete vision of one man’s spirituality expressed through his art. Coltrane used the tools he had available and that he knew: a saxophone, a well-practiced quartet — even his own voice — to create music worthy of his creator.”

The album has been extremely influential across a range of musicians and artists. Rolling Stone ranked it #47 on their list of the 500 Greatest Albums, while NPR listed it among the 100 Most Important Musical Works of the 20th Century. Musicians including Phil Lesh from The Grateful Dead and U2’s Bono have both cited its enormous influence or their life and art. It has been recorded many times, including performances from both Wynton and Branford Marsalis, guitarists Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin, an R & B version from Will Downing, a punk version from the alternative rock band Gumball, a rap version by Jose James, and a chamber music version from the Turtle Island String Quartet. (Buy it here.)

The last few lines from the poem of the same name that Coltrane included in the liner notes sum up his musical approach, spiritual sensitivity, and the album itself:

“Thank you God. ELATION – ELEGANCE – EXALTATION – All from God. Thank you God. Amen.”

Suggested Reading:

Ashley Kahn. A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album.

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