"A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album"Ashley Kahn
Review by Rege Gaines
A Love Supreme/The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album, researched and written by Ashley Kahn, immediately makes clear his beliefs of jazz not as a world unto itself but as part of the larger canvas of world music. Yet it is jazz, not said canvas, which has brought Mr. Kahn to the attention of the world. He has, in many so called jazz expert's minds, become an integral voice due largely to his musings on Miles and Coltrane's most popular works. Having rushed to cop a copy of his Blue, I was disappointed in how little I learned about a piece of art I loved so much. More than anything, it seemed a self righteous slap on the back highlighting who Mr. Kahn knew as opposed to what I, as reader, a lover of jazz, did not know. This caused an enormous amount of suspicion when hearing mention of Mr. Kahn's new writings on Love Supreme. There was even more trepidation when asked to give my thoughts on the text. How do I review, critique, dare judge writing focused on music, which causes me to give thanks when I rise every morning?
Blue and Love Supreme are similar, in fact, almost identical in structure, content and form. It was quite apparent in Mr. Kahn's text that Coltrane could never have created Love Supreme without his much discussed and debated relationship, be it musically or personally, with Miles. Immediately taken to task, I believe Love Supreme was meant to happen, was going to happen, despite the ills of the world, perhaps because of the ills of the world. Not once in the entire text did I sense Mr. Kahn felt this album was somehow ordained. Mr. Kahn bases most of his literary bravado on the notion that most people who come to this text are not jazz lovers. That Love Supreme is the door by which rockers, hip-hoppers, country lovers, classical buffs have entered. But what of those who know jazz as a world unto itself? How it is, perhaps, the only creative bone in this country's collected but broken body. What of those who search for consciousness and understanding through sound? Who realize words are inconsequential when attempting to describe what jazz means or why it makes one feel? Searching the text for information which would enlighten and enrich, I was reminded how little time was spent dissecting John Coltrane's remarkable accomplishment. How what I read should be about searching John Coltrane's sound. It was then I came upon what was surely the text's crowning moment:
Chapter 4/December 10, 1964:
A Second Try, A Year of Triumph.
Engrossed, barely able to stop reading, here was insight into this amazing music. Few knew of a second session or of the tracks created on that lost day. Quotes concerning the classic quartet's expansion to a sextet - featuring second saxophonist Archie Shepp and second bassist Art Davis - dart about in a swirling dervish dance throughout the forty-three page chapter. Shepp's words share his sense of awe in such a deep and complete manner that I was made to feel his fear, know a new kind of unworthiness. As reader, I was touched with information I knew nothing of; information I needed to help bridge the gap between my soul and mind. Then there were photographs, the manner of dress; to see an invoice, the players' names, their paltry wage - a mere $101.66 for a two hour session, including overtime - was mind boggling. Art Davis' explanation of why he was paid more than the others, that he received the same amount as Coltrane, lends insight into Davis' refusal to lay down like a dog at the behest of labels and producers who would profit off this art. To learn more of who Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrison and McCoy Tyner were, through experiences shared in forms other than musical sounds, allows a fresh approach to hearing Love Supreme. Seeing Elvin's words and wondering if it was at all possible, decades later, for him to have no recollection of Archie Shepp's or Davis' presence, was, in an extremely humanistic sense, quite revealing. That, even in this most hallowed of musical experiences, people tend to be what most people are: worlds unto themselves.
A Love Supreme/The Making of John Coltrane's Signature Album can perhaps be summed up when one glances at the book's stunning cover. The famous shot of John Coltrane, its black & white brilliance matched perfectly in hushed pewter gray, the title, Love Supreme, splashed boldly, on angle, across the book's top half. Yet, on first look, my eyes went directly to the neon orange etchings in the top right hand corner where the author's name sat bigger than Trane's. These are but a few of the many reasons why Mr. Kahn's interpretation of Love Supreme fails for me. Simply put, it cannot match the memories of the album's sound placed on the record player in our home by my mother on a chilly March morning in 1965. Nor can it ever capture her poignant, truthful tones when she said, "Those men who shot Malcolm; had they heard this music, it never would have happened."