Updated: Nov 30, 2020
Who would I be if I did not discuss the myth of John Coltrane? I don’t think I would be a real fan of jazz or black music, I can say that much. To be honest, in discussions regarding black consciousness, I stay away from mentioning Coltrane. His surname alone has become a staple among elitists and the white jazz aficionados. John Coltrane may be among the top of jazz legends. Think about a jazz Mt Rushmore, and he is sure to be on the top of any music fans list. He was a God among men to many. Projects like “My Favorite Things,” “Giant Steps,” and my personal favorite, “A Love Supreme,” are but only a few of his greatest works while alive. A Love Supreme is my sabbath music, which I use spiritually to regain center and focus when I feel overwhelmed with life stresses. I always feel like it's my first time hearing the record, even though I unconsciously hum the songs note for note. It is a powerful feeling, and I enjoy the feeling that Coltrane put into all his playing.
So, what is there to say about one of the most notable black musicians that has not already been told by some yuppie jazz fan at NPR? Nothing, it's likely that you know his story (or at least parts of it) if you're reading this. His life should be of much significance to the black artist and black people, and I’m afraid a particular class of folk lays most claim to a man that belongs to all black folk. I don’t want to lose focus on my point here. I am not here to tease and poke at people who admire the man’s legacy as much as I do, but I just want to set him in the proper context. A saxophone god regarded by all who know of him as a myth and more-than-man-caliber artist. But what made him this way? What gave him this strength? Well, I would think it had something to do with the goddess that he called his lover and second wife, Alice Coltrane. Alice is held in similar regard as her husband, John, but more cult-like if that makes any sense. Think of John as Michael Jackson and Alice more like a Prince level artist. In namesake comparisons alone, not based on talents and skills, here. Like I mentioned, Alice was a star in her own right, but when thinking about the power couple’s legacy, I think she draws honest comparisons to the Goddess Isis. Isis, the wife to the god Osiris, goes on a quest to find and restore Osiris back to life after he is murdered and dismembered by the god, Set.
Alice becomes a bandleader after John’s untimely departure. Some of my favorite records from Alice include, Ptah the El Daoud and Universal Consciousness. It was not her goal or mission to surpass or usurp John’s legacy but to see that it remained true to form. John was a complex, spiritual being, and all too often, he is reduced by many of his fans (casual and diehards) as a genius, mortal man who didn’t stir the pot (like his colleagues like Miles did all too often). John was spiritual, not religious. He was said to have been fond of the Nation of Islam. He was also believed to be fond of the non-violent movement, as well (a time where you could be more than one ideology, weird…). The history books want to rewrite the story of Coltrane. Have us believe that he was a loyalist to the country who wished to oppress him and others like him. They want us to view Coltrane like we view Bird (no disrespect here). Charlie Parker is a saxophone God, also. But this is like comparing Jack Johnson to Muhammad Ali, both great boxers, both black men of their time, but one is larger than life because he stood for something more than boxing. Again, no dig at the legend Byrd, but Coltrane stood for something larger than music.
It’s my belief that this love made him this way. Black love is indeed the most powerful and revolutionary act one can partake in! I think that this real power couple is exhibit A. Black love made John realize that in his moment in time, he possessed the opportunity to stand for something more than his musicianship. We hear all too much of Coltrane’s past. His battles with drugs and other imperfections and how this made him so introspective. Very rarely do we give credit to where credit is due, his wife, his family, his understanding of the importance of the black unit, and just how strong that can make a person. Neither of them was perfect beings. They struggled to be as good to each other as they were to the world, they gifted so much through their art. They set a standard which we cannot afford to overlook, black folk.