Charlie Peacock - The Coltrane Test
- 2000 28 May
I first heard saxophonist John Coltrane, I mean really heard him, in 1970 on a Miles Davis album titled Someday My Prince Will Come. His playing was compelling and set apart. It was as if Miles, having exhausted all possibility of recruiting talent in this galaxy had traveled to another and returned with Coltrane in tow-on loan from another planet, a planet whose citizens placed a high premium on imagination, creativity and technical excellence. Just the kind of planet I wanted to live on.
Coltrane possessed an ability to make creative choices that others either did not know existed, were afraid to make, or simply could not execute because they had not prepared for such strange and wonderful possibilities. He stretched preconceived boundaries and erased limitations that many thought to be intrinsic to the instrument. In the world of jazz saxophone, Coltrane narrowed the gap between what a musician could imagine and what he could actually create. I heard in Coltrane, a call to greatness.
Late at night, alone in my room, I would light a candle and a little cone of incense, put Coltrane on the stereo and invite him to transport me to new worlds of sound and invention. It was, as people often remarked in those days, a religious experience, and admittedly no small part of my attraction to Coltrane. I read all I could about him in magazines, books and liner notes. One writer explained Coltrane's premature death at the age of forty by postulating that man cannot see God and live. The inference, even to my young mind, was understood and noted. John Coltrane, they said, was a very spiritual man, a deeply religious man.
According to scholar, Emmett G. Price, "Coltrane's search for closeness with God began during the early spring of 1957, when he underwent what he termed a 'spiritual awakening.' During this time, he turned to God for help and rededicated himself to God. In this seven-year period (from'57 to '64), he also merged his religion and his music, fusing them into an inseparable bond. After years of exploration, devoted study, much intellectual conversation, and practice, Coltrane emerged with (the celebrated album) A Love Supreme, which encompassed all his studies and related his concept of spirituality to the world."
To this day, John Coltrane remains one of the giants of music, a true innovator, and yes, a man known for loving God. What can we learn from Coltrane? A lot! Here are some tough questions to ask yourself:
1. Coltrane placed a high premium on imagination, creativity and technical excellence on his instrument. He erased preconceived limitations and advanced the art form. Does this characterize you and your music? Are you becoming so facile as an instrumentalist or vocalist that you are closing the gap between what can be imagined and what can be created?
2. Coltrane played music within a tradition (jazz) but stretched the boundaries of that tradition. He was not content to simply copy the work of others. Are you stretching the boundaries of your tradition and culture? Are you content to copy the work of others never risking to take the music to new places?
3. After Coltrane had already achieved considerable fame, he still found it necessary to ask God for musical help. Regardless of your station in life, do you turn to God day in and day out for the direction your music should take? Do you forsake the roar of the marketplace in order to hear the counsel of God?
4. Coltrane learned to erase the division between his religious life and his musical life-they became inseparable. He studied the Bible as well as his scales, and all for the same purpose of honoring God. Are you devoted to study in the most comprehensive sense, for the grandest purpose of all?
5. Coltrane is known the world over for A Love Supreme, an album "which encompassed all his studies and related his concept of spirituality to the world." Does the music you make accomplish this good goal?
Friends, there is so much to learn about a musical life in Christ. Don't be discouraged if you are not on the same planet as John Coltrane, few musicians are. Still, have eyes to see and ears to hear. And be inspired. Set out in the musical life to truthfully answer to the questions I've listed above and ask God for help along the way. When you are laid to rest may it be said of you that a Love Supreme drove your every thought and deed. May it be said that you were great, not to your own selfish purposes, but to the glory of God. To be spoken of in this way is to be in the company of such stellar musicians as King David, Bach and Coltrane-not bad company if you ask me.
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