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John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’

A deep, new look at the mythos of one of the greatest albums of all time – John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” We listen back.

John Coltrane, jazz saxophonist shown in this undated photo. (AP)

John Coltrane, jazz saxophonist shown in this undated photo. (AP)

Jazz great John Coltrane did not mince words in the liner notes to his masterwork album “A Love Supreme.”

The brilliant saxophonist and composer had come through drug addiction and lost years and had, he wrote, “by the grace of God,” found “a spiritual awakening.”  “This album,” he wrote, “is a humble offering to Him.  An attempt to say ‘THANK YOU GOD.’”

The music has transported listeners ever since.  Up next On Point:  John Coltrane’s jazz epic “A Love Supreme” and its legacy.

- Tom Ashbrook


Tony Whyton, author of “Beyond A Love Supreme: John Coltrane and the Legacy of an Album.” Professor of jazz and music cultures and the director of the Salford Music Research Centre at the University of Salford. (@tonywhyton)

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times: A Love Still Supreme, but a House in Ruin – “There is a ranch house out in the middle of Long Island, just south of the expressway in Dix Hills, where the saxophonist John Coltrane lived, started a family and composed “A Love Supreme” in the spare bedroom. The album is a hymn of praise and thanksgiving by a man who found peace and God after alcohol and heroin. It is the work that helped make Coltrane a jazz immortal.”

NPR: John Coltrane’s Eternal ‘A Love Supreme’ – “A Love Supreme was recorded one December evening in Rudy Van Gelder’s legendary studio in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Pianist McCoy Tyner remembers the unusual, almost magical atmosphere surrounding the session. ‘Rudy that day dimmed the lights in his studio. I’d never seen him do that and it sort of set an atmosphere. There was just something very, very special about that particular session.’”

Excerpt: ‘Beyond a Love Supreme’ by Tony Whyton

Reprinted from BEYOND A LOVE SUPREME: John Coltrane and the Legacy of an Album by Tony Whyton with permission from Oxford University Press, Inc.  Copyright © Oxford University Press 2013.


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  • Expanded_Consciousness
  • 1Brett1

    Santana and McLaughlin did a guitar version of “Acknowledgement” on their early 1970′s LP, ‘Love Devotion Surrender’, which was my introduction to Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” Both men were profoundly influenced by Coltrane’s recording.

    Pianist McCoy Tyner (probably my favorite jazz piano player) and Elvin Jones (a drummer I learned a lot from) both played on the album and are my two most favorite musicians who played with Coltrane. I saw Jones and Tyner over the years each live several times.

    Coltrane had become very deeply involved with eastern religions and meditation, and this album represented his commitment to spiritualism in his music.

    • brettearle

      What about Bud Powell, Red Garland, and Bill Evans?

      • 1Brett1

        What about them? I like all three…did you have a point? I like a whole array of jazz piano players, all for different reasons.

        • brettearle

          Wasn’t tryin’ to create controversy.

          Just wanted to know where you felt they stacked up, by comparison.

          I know Jazz to some degree–but I’m not an aficionado.

          I’m an LH & R and Mose Allison kinda Jazz enthusiast..

          Do you think that “A Kind of Blue” is better than “A Love Supreme”?

          When Miles and Coltrane changed their music, they sort of lost me.

          • 1Brett1

            Sorry, didn’t mean to sound snippy, I just don’t like to make comparisons as to what/who is better when it comes to music that is of the same caliber. I saw your earlier comment about A Kind of Blue and don’t like such comparisons based on ostensibly linear, hierarchical notions of what/who is “best.” Those kinds of things are so subjective. However, I do respect that you like one better than the other…I like them in separate ways, not as a comparison; so, suffice it to say I like them both a lot but for different reasons.

            I love Miles’ opus and there are some comparisons with Coltrane’s (more on that in a minute). I think Coltrane’s was riskier as an artistic expression. I think the playing on both is wonderful. I like the compositions on both but for different reasons (the structures on A KInd of Blue are more ‘straight ahead’ in a way and a little more comfortably predictable, which isn’t a bad thing, just different).

            Both A Kind of Blue and A Love Supreme were approached similarly by both men, in terms of how they were recorded. Both men composed their pieces, had very specific ideas in mind when they went into the studio, but let the players control the outcomes. Each man had basic charts made up but gave them to each player just as he entered the studio. Each composer told the player what he wanted in a general sense (through vague, metaphorical description) then let it happen. Each piece was recorded in one or two takes. There was a trust in the player by each composer, and each player tried very much to conform to what he thought the composer wanted, still owing to his own playing. All of the best recordings, no matter the genre, have been recorded this way. There is a spontaneity in each recording, I believe due to this approach.

            Miles’ LP didn’t have as much of a defined central theme as Coltrane’s; it’s a bit more abstract, in a sense, which I like better, but Coltrane’s commitment to one idea (or, an array of ordered aspects to one idea) is also impressive. Each of Coltrane’s “songs” were like movements in a symphonic piece around one theme.

            Anyway, thanks for asking for clarification. I thought later how my reply might have sounded a little curt and defensive in tone, and thought I should get back to you…you prompted me to do so, and I thank you for that.

          • brettearle


            Thanks for this….

            I’ll try to make the time, to look at this…

            I just have a hard time keeping up, cuz I’m too busy….

          • 1Brett1

            I started playing drums (based on seeing Buddy Rich on TV) when I was 6 years old and am 58 now. I played rock all through the late ’60s and most of ’70s (but had a soft spot for swing and big band from my childhood). When I was 22 I fell hard for bebop and modern jazz (introduced to me by listening to rock/fusion players like McLaughlin, Santana, Chick Corea, Billy Cobham, John Wetton, even groups like Weather Report and Brand X); essentially, I went from rock to listening to everything from the late ’40s to the ’70s in jazz. I started playing guitar at around that same time too.

            I played jazz drums in so many bands. In the early ’80s I played in post-bop jazz bands (drums) and in blues bands (guitar).

            At some point I just kind of moved the two styles closer and played either drums or guitar in bands that were either blues with a jazz flavor or jazz with a blues flavor. I now play mostly jazz on drums, and I play acoustic folk/blues/gypsy jazz /modern bluegrass/old, old country/western swing/ singer-songwriter stuff on guitar.

            Anyway, I say this because I have such a love for the music from people like Miles, Parker, Coltrane, Mingus, Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, the Heath brothers…too many to mention them all, really; so many fine players, so many innovators.

            There are a lot of great players around today, but I don’t see much in the way of complete innovation. I don’t necessarily fault them, though. There was so much change and growth in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, I’m not sure jazz can be taken in any new direction without people repeating what’s been done already. Maybe that is all that can be done? Maybe the new direction is to celebrate what has already been done?

            When I was younger, I expressed disappointment in people like Wynton Marsalis. I felt that he, for example, is such a great player, yet all he did was dress up in ’40s suits and talk like he was Parker and play like the masters before him without taking the music in any new direction. I don’t feel that way now. One: he had a right to wallow in what came before him as a way to evolve on his own terms and in his own way (we all have done some version of what he did). Two: he has done so many diverse projects, and he has introduced jazz to new generations…so, he has quite a legacy he’s leaving in his own right. So, I now applaud people like Marsalis (I really like his brother Branford’s playing).

            Thanks for indulging me a little. I don’t talk about this stuff much anymore.

          • brettearle

            My first reply, here, is to your first reply about Miles and Coltrane.

            First of all, I have been well aware, for a number of months, that you are a committed musician. [But I believe, also, if I'm not mistaken, that you are also a Mental Health Specialist.]

            I’m a writer without technical background for music.

            I appreciated your summary about how the recordings had come together….

            “Kind of Blue”, for me–as a Jazz fan without technical knowledge–strikes me as being remarkably versatile with a vibrant blend of styles. Somehow, the approaches all seemed to mesh instinctively, with improvisation/ spontaneity.

            [I am reminded of the Sitar interplay in "Monterey Pop"--although that is likely only a very crude analogy]

            I really went for, for example, Coltrane’s improvisations right after almost hearing the exact English spoken word, “So, What?” in Miles’s instrumental, just before it.

            The whole thing to me was sort of like, “Rhapsody in Blue”.

            It’s such a flagship point for me, too, like “A Day in The Life”, “Suite Judy Blue Eyes”, “American Pie”, “Mr. Bo Jangles”, “Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man”, “Send In The Clouds”, or “Suzanne”.

            I go back to it often and never tire of it.

            That’s how I know that there’s genius in it.

            I suspect that one of the essences of Genius is to provide the listener with new angles and perspectives, each time you explore a work.

            Do you not think that there’s some Truth to that?

            It’s Always a natural high…..

            We have a condo overlooking a skyscraper and suspension bridge view, a mile away from the inner city.

            And with the lights out, or dimmed–on the sofa, at night–there’s no ambiance that is surpassed for me, than when we spin “A Kind of Blue”, with a drink.

            To me, it’s the essence of “Mellow”.

            There’s more….

          • 1Brett1

            I love Miles’ record (I say record because I have the LP from years ago). I have not only had many hours of sheer joy listening to that LP but in playing most of the songs on it. It is quintessentially “cool” jazz, as in “cool” vs. “hot.” Miles is to cool jazz as Coltrane is to hot jazz. Each man made his legend in his respective place within each genre. Have you ever heard Miles play Bop? He started there, and did okay, but many bebop players could play circles around him. He was okay but unremarkable. Dizzy could mop the floor with him. He, however, had a lyricism Dizzy could never match, he could establish a mood faster than Dizzy could ever hope to. And, he was a genius at composition and arrangement (he learned a lot about arrangement from Gil Evans).

            My favorite MIles Davis LP is Sketches of Spain.

          • 1Brett1

            I also want to add to below by saying there was depth in Miles’ recording that some at the time of its release didn’t see, thinking it more something watered down or whatever, i.e, lacking passion. How wrong they were, and indeed another mark of his genius that it took some a few years to catch up to his way of thinking (that something could be spare and minimalist and could still kick ass!).

  • jefe68

    What can one say, one great piece of music from one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century, played by one of the greatest jazz groups of all time.

    Branford Marsalis’s group does a wonderful version of A Love Supreme, a great tribute by another great saxophonist.


  • wauch

    This Is The Album! Acknowledgment, Resolution, Pursuance, Psalm four words that never sounded so nice.
    This quarter is a collection of monster virtuosos.
    Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison lays a rock steady foundation.
    McCoy Tyner and Coltrane absolutely float.
    I think that Miles Davis must have put this album on and realized “My protege has finally achieved immortality!”.

  • brettearle

    “A Kind of Blue” is better.

    • TJPhoto40

      This isn’t the point, to compare albums, but you don’t even know the title of your favorite. It’s “Kind of Blue,” pal. Totally different meaning, so apparently you don’t even know the Miles Davis allusion in that title.

      • brettearle

        Oh…..thank you sooooooo, sooooo, sooooo much for apprising me of the facts.

        Thank you….sooooo……soooooo much.

        There isn’t ANY question, whatsoever, that my life has been PERMANENTLY UPLIFTED by your improvements.

        I bask in the radiance, now, of being a better person–because of your remarkably petty corrections.


        Your P….A….L


        • TJPhoto40

          Boy, you’re all riled up now. Not content with being defensive to excess, you go into the reactionary. And with lots of crazy punctuation and all caps, too. That’s impressive.

          I hope music is somewhat soothing for you.

          • brettearle

            Thank you, so much, again.

            You have no idea what this means to me:

            To show up your petty insecurities to the point of your own embarrassment and humiliation is more than anyone can bear, but you.

            Your character defects are glaring to everyone–except, again, but you.

            I remain, as always,

            Your Loyal Acolyte

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003176132796 Joe Makela

    unfortunate legacy = pretentious music, egoist players and wack compositions. (others)
    there are only a few True visionaries.
    to play with sympathetic sidemen
    add spiritualism to the mix and watch out
    dont you feel it?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003176132796 Joe Makela

    he was in a figurative confessional playing…his final lps are something ELSE.
    so personal, so intense

  • Arthur Stockton

    I so love this album. It is so lyrical and so funky. It goes all over the place, from a Dizzy’s ‘Salt Peanuts’ but with spiritual depth beyond the sublime nature of the music, to a Thelonious like off kilter groove. It is a very meditative album.

    Also a quiet shout out to Benji Hughes album A Love Extreme.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003176132796 Joe Makela

    sorry caller bitches brew is 1969 – no scolar
    miles was about miles noone else!
    teo macero was all over these electric miles lps = edits, etc..

  • Arthur Stockton

    Miles “Filles de Kilimanjaro” seems more closely related to Love Supreme to me. Personally i think Filles is a much more interesting album than bitches brew because it is Miles in transition from the earthy albums of the 60s to the spaced out sounds of the 70s

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003176132796 Joe Makela

    church/gospel in the House is repetition.
    Joy in repetition.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003176132796 Joe Makela

    20-30 minute versions of “my favourite thing” are incroyable, long live bootlegs…

  • truegangsteroflove

    I moved to Hawaii in 1983, and while on a layover in San Francisco someone gave me a brochure about a religion based on John Coltrane’s music and life. I still have it somewhere. As I remember it, the religion was focused on the inner life, and was started by his wife.

    I’m not much of a jazz fan, or more accurately not much of a Bebop fan, but when I hear something by John Coltrane I always feel connected to something deeper.

  • Timothy O’Keefe

    I think Tony Whyton makes a very interesting point when he suggests we have to consider the marketing components of music when discussing music history and the impact of particular artists/albums. It’s something I haven’t seen discussed that often within music criticism, but it’s a powerful force that has shaped what gets heard, written about, and considered “important”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003176132796 Joe Makela

    harold the caller is the man!

    • Mari McAvenia

      He’ll be so pleased to know that you feel this way! I’ll make sure he finds out. Thanks.

  • hennorama

    Tom asked about initial reactions to first hearing this album. Putting one’s feelings about music into words is so difficult, but I recall my personal reaction was one simple word – WOW!

  • hennorama

    R.I.P., Marian McPartland. You will be missed.

    • Mari McAvenia

      She is irreplaceable.

  • Mari McAvenia

    My dear friend Harold from Quincy ( an au fait cat from way back ) just called to tell me about this spiritually advanced show. I start chemotherapy tomorrow. A love supreme may never be confidently underestimated. Love heals.

  • John Cedar

    How many times do I have to listen to these songs before my ears no longer hear random notes strewn together in random time intervals? Will I have to grow content with my appreciation for the simpler music while admiring my Thomas Kinkade paintings?

    • TJPhoto40

      If you admire a banal hack like Kinkade, your critical judgements about art and music are bound to be suspect. Time to break loose from sentimentality and superficiality.

  • TJPhoto40

    It’s a very worthwhile subject on important music, but the guest, Tony Whyton, is very frustrating to listen to because of his endless “kind of” and “you know” verbal stumbling.

  • Regular_Listener

    Thanks for another great show, on a topic that very much deserves to be discussed. Like so many people I was blown away by the music of the great John Coltrane, and it still amazes me today. I am not enough of a music scholar to discuss his place in history, but for my money his work has not been surpassed.

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