A Love Supreme


When I was a kid, I played saxophone.  I started when I was in the fifth grade, which was the first year we had the opportunity to join the Spencer Elementary School band.  Truth be told, I had never really paid much attention in music class before that…it was only graded S or U and occasionally an O if you answered a few questions right, and pretty much the highlight was singing “Big Rock Candy Mountain” in the second grade.  But playing saxophone in the band really opened up my eyes to a whole new world of musical experiences and got me interested in music, and probably most importantly, forced me to learn how to read music.  My mom rented me an alto saxophone from the music store next to the old Carlisle’s building in Ashtabula, and we went went over to the town park right across the street and I used the lesson book to learn how to put the thing together.  I also learned how to play G, A, and B that day.

So playing saxophone kinda became a big thing in my life all through my schooling.  My elementary band teacher was fun and ironically, he warned us all not to become music teachers (sorry, Mr. Parker, I didn’t follow your advice!).  By the time I got to junior high, I was pretty decent and spent both years as the first chair player.  Then in high school, I joined the marching band, even though it wasn’t the cool thing to do, and I auditioned for and was accepted into the top wind ensemble, the Symphonic Band.  By my junior year I was first chair in the Symphonic Band and second chair All-County.  I was taking lessons and getting superior ratings at Solo and Ensemble Competion…and yet despite all that success I had one major frustration…I couldn’t play jazz.

See, jazz is a completely different world than the traditional style that you are taught in school.  Saxophone really has no place in an orchestra (it was invented too late), but in a traditional wind band, it sort of becomes a cross between a clarinet and a french horn, so for the most part, you learn traditional technique.  Jazz however, requires something different.  It requires an incredible ear and the ability to improvise.  I requires the ability to anticipate chord changes and to spell chords almost instantly.  Yeah, I know that I said some of this stuff in the entry about Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue”, but my point is that jazz is a very intricate and complex style of music, and it takes an incredible musician to excel in it.  And despite the fact that I did play for a couple of years in my high school jazz band, I knew I just never had the touch.

But listening to Coltrane, yeah, he had it.  His quartet is good, but he is the one carrying the load.  Practically the whole 32 minute suite is an extended Coltrane solo, with just short interludes for the string bass, piano, and drums to have their moments.  Apparently in a moment of divine inspiration, Coltrane wrote this entire piece as a statement to his devotion to his religion, and the suite is composed as almost a four part jazz mass with each movement named after a stage in his spiritual journey.  Despite its connection to religion, this suite remains firmly rooted in the jazz genre and never even ventures near the more traditional church musics of gospel, spirituals, or hymnody.  Coltrane himself oscillates between intense wailing and a softer, more reflective side.  In the last movement, “Psalm”, he even tries to play on his instrument the words to a poem he wrote about his faith.  Kinda cool.  I picked this album up at the Half-Price Books near me on Bethel Road for $5.99 (minus my educator’s discount) and I have to admit that along with Charlie Parker, John Coltrane is one of the best saxophone players I have ever heard.  And it’s certainly better than that Kenny G “Duotones” CD mi madre bought me when I got my first CD player back in high school…

Other lists: Like the Miles Davis album, this record does not appear on any other Rolling Stone lists that I am aware of.  This is probably because the writers and editors at Rolling Stone are much better equipped to write about rock, R&B,  and pop music than jazz.

My favorite track: “Part 4 – Psalm”

Honorable mention: “Part 3 – Pursuance”

Quote: “A love supreme…a love supreme…a love supreme…”