Archive for July, 2008

"We require something that we can hold on to…"

Posted in Uncategorized on July 2, 2008 by Josslyn Luckett

John Coltrane writes “thank you God” at least 14 times in his poem/praise letter to God inside “A Love Supreme”. I’m finally reading Ashley Kahn’s book, “A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album” and I’m amazed how not only focused and inspired but efficient the recording was. Kahn collects so many moving testimonies here about the date itself as well as the impact of the sound and the words, both written and spoken. I love hearing about the moment Rudy Van Gelder adjusted the microphone to pick up those spoken words in “Acknowledgement”, cause if you notice you almost miss that first “a love”…but you hear “supreme”…Kahn calls it “an unrehearsed move that has never been corrected or erased.” And then I love how Alice interprets her husband’s choice to speak/chant:

“It’s as if he’s saying, ‘It doesn’t matter what we think we play that’s man-made. God, you gave all of us an instrument. We can also offer you praise with the use of the voice that you created in us.'”

Then our chanting Buddhist brother, Wayne Shorter breaks it down like this:

“When he started singing the words ‘a love supreme’ he didn’t solicit the vocal expertise of some well-known record-selling singer. I think he was saying you must rely on yourself for communication. I think he was going back to square one where the voice is the first announcement of your humanity–your humanity is your instrument.”

Alice thinks of (can’t write “thought of” when Alice Coltrane feels so present-tense-alive in the wisdom of these lines) the album like a mantra initiation from a great spiritual guide…she explains that there will be higher tests and higher trials we have to face, so: “We require something that we can hold on to, that serves to build strength up for the next step in our journey. That is A Love Supreme.” Thank you God.

I scooped up this book on Love Supreme because of the supremely moving, strength building sacred concert I saw at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival a few weeks back. This event, called, yes, “Come Sunday: Spirituals and Sacred Jazz Compositions” was put together by James Newton, George Cables and the out of this world vocalist, Ruth Naomi Floyd (please visit both her website¬† and James Newton’s hear Ms. Floyd, particularly her collaborations with Mr. Newton). If Harriet Tubman sang like Mahalia, if Sojourner Truth wailed like Sarah Vaughan…no, really I can’t even begin to describe the force of this singer…I have to call on icons of that magnitude to give you a sense of her power, the way her voice announces her humanity and liberates our own and the souls of our enslaved ancestors. When she sang “Sometimes I feel Like a Motherless Child” she took us somewhere I’ve never traveled inside that piece:

“I’m a long, long way from home….
From Africa, From Heaven, my home…”

Altoist, Bobby Watson listened hard to those lyrics then soloed straight to Africa, or Heaven, or…some place where we sure didn’t feel motherless, we felt strengthened, found, free. James Newton as musical director gathered kindred, deep reaching musicians to support this sacred journey home (folk like Bennie Maupin, Craig Handy, Billy Hart, Darek Oleszkiewicz) and the performances he and Ms. Floyd inspired them to offer, my goodness! This is what I’m talking about…a willingness, an intentional focus to lift these notes, these lyrics from the most holy place inside of them to balm the most broken place in us. We do require something we can hold onto in these times and when music is offered up like that, it truly is a love supreme.

Near the close of the Sunday morning concert, James Newton and Ruth Naomi Floyd brought us back to that “first announcement of our humanity” by reading Coltrane’s liner note love letter…Mr. Newton and most of the audience were moved to tears to speak/hear those words out loud. Go grab your copy of Love Supreme right now and try it, out loud. Thank you John Coltrane, thank you for inspiring all of those musicians and also moving Ashley Kahn to so soulfully gather this luminous material documenting the production and response to this most genius and generous gift from you with God.

“I will do all I can to be worthy of Thee O Lord
It all has to do with it.
Thank you God.
There is none other.
God is. It is so beautiful….”