Coltrane, Born-Again

“During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music.”

That quote appears in the liner notes to John Coltrane’s 1965 jazz album, A Love Supreme. Many individuals who go through a period of struggle with vices, demons, and self-destructive behavior, often claim that they’ve been “saved” after turning to God. Some of these claims are genuine, others not so much. Many death row inmates claim to be “born-again”, conveniently during their court appeals process.

But the sincerity of John Coltrane’s spiritual awakening cannot be questioned. In fact, it is an integral aspect of the legendary saxophonist’s personal and professional odyssey. His career in the 1950s brought him consistent work as a sideman in groups led by DIzzy Gillespie, Johnny Hodges, and Miles Davis. This period also saw him, like too many jazz musicians of the day, fall into heroin addiction.

John Coltrane photographed by William Claxton at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City:

Miles Davis was himself a recovering drug addict and took very seriously the signs of addiction in his fellow musicians. In 1957 he felt he had no choice but to fire John Coltrane from the group, as his heroin use and alcoholism were affecting his performance and professionalism. It was this “tough love” act on the part of Miles Davis which prompted Coltrane to kick his habit once and for all and take control of his life.

At his home in Philadelphia, John Coltrane locked himself in an upstairs room, demanded no mercy from family members, starved himself, endured the sweats, the shakes, and all the agonizing symptoms of withdrawal, and kicked it cold turkey. Coltrane offered few details about the ordeal, except to say that he experienced God.

John Coltrane with his wife Alice:

Miles Davis re-hired John Coltrane in 1958, and Trane, liberated from his substance abuse, was finally able to become the innovative, groundbreaking musician he was destined to be. Coltrane’s spiritual epiphany, his profound religiosity and devotion to God, informed his music, his relationships, his entire life from then on. It was also the sole inspiration for A Love Supreme.

Although John Coltrane was raised in a Christian household in North Carolina, the exact religious orientation of his liner note writings is unspecified. Rather, they express a general reference to “God” – his grace, his redemptive power, and his love. His “love supreme”.

Coltrane conceived the album at his home in Dix Hills, Long Island in 1964. He called it a “thank you gift to God”. Indeed, an essential element of Coltrane’s divine revelation was a profound feeling of gratitude – his belief that his talent, his gifts, came from God for the purpose of sharing and uplifting others. As a drug addict, he was a squanderer of his talent. As a sober man, he had clarity, the ability to communicate, and the generosity of spirit to share his creativity with the world.

The music is truly revelatory. So naked, so transcendent, so brutally revealing, and Coltrane just pushes the notes out of his sax. At times they screech and wail, frantically run up and down his solos, desperately imploring the listener to understand that he has seen and experienced God. Throughout A Love Supreme, John Coltrane is telling us that his miracle can be everyone’s miracle. He is saying, “LISTEN to me. I have gloriously surrendered. This is my pilgrimage. Life HAS meaning. I’ve been to hell and back and now I am the right place . . . finally”. With the exception of hard core jazz fans, for most people it is a tough album to listen to. Heck, I AM a hard core jazz fan and even I get rattled with it sometimes. But you have to respect a man – any artist really – who lays it out in such a bare, unvarnished way. He is fearless, and the album can be considered “holy” by anyone who values personal, intimate spirituality. It also features the phenomenal McCoy Tyner on piano.

For today’s “Music Monday, from A Love Supreme, this is “Acknowledgement”:

“I’ve always felt that even though a man was not a Christian, he still has to know the truth some way or another. Or if he was a Christian, he could know the truth. The truth itself doesn’t have any name on it to me. And each man has to find this for himself, I think.”

-John Coltrane

7 thoughts on “Coltrane, Born-Again

  1. Fred says:

    So many of our contemporary expressions of spirituality are about as substantial as cotton candy. “A Love Supreme” is pithy and taut – the real thing.

  2. Brian says:


    Great post…and, while my memory on this is a little sketchy, I believe I have you to thank for first introducitng me to John Coltrane all those years ago (yesterday, really)…since then, I have remained a big Coltrane fan and have gone so far as to give my youngest son a copy of “Giant Steps” in the hope that I might be able to pass on an appreciation for such a legendary artist as well as for Jazz in general. Kind of a tough sell to kids in this day and age.

    So, I should also mention, that I have on my ‘bucket list’ to someday sit down with you, put on some Miles or Coltrane, open a bottle of Merlot, and enjoy the moment as a kindred spirit.


    • artmodel says:


      Thank you for your wonderful comments! You’re so sweet. And I’m happy to take the credit for introducing you to Coltrane 🙂

      “Giant Steps” is an amazing album and I’m delighted to hear that you gave it to your son. It’s some of Coltrane’s best work. Jazz is a tough sell to young people today, it’s true. Anything instrumental really. They seem to require words and vocals in their music in order to relate.

      Count me in on your “bucket list”. Sounds excellent!

      Great to hear from you.


  3. violinhunter says:

    That quotation is simple but profound. Abraham Lincoln’s God was undefined. Einstein’s also. Free of dogma.

  4. David James says:

    Thank you for this post. I’m a few years late, but I came upon this while looking for a copy of the photo you used above, Coltrane in the Guggenheim. I’ve been writing about music for years but I rarely take the chance to delve into intellectual or spiritual notions behind the tunes. This was refreshing.

    • artmodel says:

      David James,

      Thank you for taking the time to post a comment. This is one my older posts but a favorite because of the greatness of Coltrane. Yes, the photo of him at the Guggenheim is excellent, isn’t it? I believe there are a few others taken during that same visit.

      Again, appreciate you adding your voice here!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.