September 23: Remembering St. John Coltrane

St. John Coltrane (September 23, 1926-July 17, 1967)

“My goal is to live the truly religious life, and express it in my music. If you live it, when you play there’s no problem because the music is part of the whole thing. To be a musician is really something. It goes very, very deep. My music is the spiritual expression of what I am – my faith, my knowledge, my being.” John Coltrane (September 23, 1926 – July 17, 1967) 

Spend some time this month with Brother John Coltrane. Let the vibrations of his prayer fill your body, mind, and spirit. (Listen or watch “Dear Lord.”) Here are the lyrics to Coltrane’s A Love Supreme:

A love supreme … a love supreme … a love supreme …I will do all I can to be worthy of Thee O Lord. It all has to do with it. Thank you God. Peace. There is none other. God is, It is so beautiful. Thank you God. God is all. Help us to resolve our fears and weaknesses. Thank you God. In You all things are possible. We know. God made us so. Keep your eye on God. God is. He always was. He always will be. No matter what…it is God. He is gracious and merciful. It is most important that I know Thee. Words, sounds, speech, men, memory, thoughts, fears and emotions – time – all related…all made from one…all made in one. Blessed be His name. Thought waves – heat waves – all vibrations – all paths lead to God. Thank you God. His way…it is so lovely…it is gracious. It is merciful – thank you God. His way…it is so lovely…it is gracious. It is merciful – thank you God. One thought can produce millions of vibrations and they all go back to God…everything does. Thank you God. Have no fear…believe…thank you God.

The universe has many wonders. God is all. His way…it is so wonderful. Thoughts – deeds – vibrations, etc. They all go back to God and He cleanses all. He is gracious and merciful…thank you God. Glory to God…God is so alive. God is. God loves. May I be acceptable in Thy sight. We are all one in His grace. The fact that we do exist is acknowledgement of Thee of Lord. Thank you God. God will wash away all our tears…He always has…He always will. Seek Him everyday. In all ways seek God everyday. Let us sing all songs to God To whom all praise is due…praise God. No road is an easy one, but they all go back to God. With all we share God. It is all with God. It is all with Thee. Obey the Lord. Blessed is He. We are from one thing…the will of God…thank you God.

I have seen God – I have seen ungodly – none can be greater – none can compare to God. Thank you God. He will remake us…He always has and He always will. It is true – blessed be His name – thank you God. God breathes through us so completely…so gently we hardly feel it…yet, it is our everything. Thank you God. ELATION – ELEGANCE – EXALTATION – All from God. Thank you God. Amen. —John Coltrane, A Love Supreme

Lyrics from John Coltrane – December, 1964. Cited from the liner notes of A Love Supreme John Coltrane Deluxe Edition. Copyright 2002. The Verve Music Group, USA (314 589 945-2).

Louis Armstrong: ‘What a Wonderful World It Would Be If Only We’d Give it a Chance’

Some of you young folks been saying to me, “Hey Pops, what you mean ‘What a wonderful world’? How about all them wars all over the place? You call them wonderful? And how about hunger and pollution? That aint so wonderful either.”

Well how about listening to old Pops for a minute. Seems to me, it aint the world that’s so bad but what we’re doin’ to it. And all I’m saying is, see, what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance.

Love baby, love. That’s the secret, yeah. If lots more of us loved each other, we’d solve lots more problems. And then this world would be better. That’s wha’ ol’ Pops keeps saying.–Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong

This quote is from the founding father of American Jazz Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong from the spoken word introduction to the 1970 recording of “What A Wonderful World.”

Duke Ellington’s D.C.: ‘What we Could Not Say Openly, We Expressed in Music’

Duke Ellington in front of the Apollo Theatre, New York, 1963. Photograph by Richard Avedon.

Last week I watched the 2000 PBS documentary Duke Ellington’s Washington. It’s a great way to learn the history of D.C. at the turn of the century – especially the Columbia Heights, LeDroit Park, and Shaw neighborhoods around where I live. I highly recommend it for viewing! Here’s a short description of the video:

“Before the Harlem Renaissance, Duke Ellington’s Washington was the social and cultural capital of Black America. From 1900 to 1920, it was this country’s largest African American community. Anchored by Howard University and federal government jobs, this community became a magnet for African American intellectuals and sent a stream of shining talents to the nation for generations. It developed a prosperous black middle class which forged a strong society of churches, newspapers, businesses and civic institutions. Its businesses were black owned and run; its buildings, designed, built and financed by blacks; its entertainment, by and for African Americans. This was a proud and elegant community that flourished despite, or perhaps even because, of Jim Crow, the oppressive segregation that forced blacks to create their own separate destiny.”

The New Yorker (May 17, 2010) also has a great essay by Claudia Roth Pierpont titled Black, Brown, and Beige: Duke Ellington’s music and race in America. Pierpont reviews Harvey G. Cohen’s recently released book “Duke Ellington’s America.” Both the book and Pierpont’s essay are an interesting way to examine race in America through classical American music – jazz. Here’s an excerpt from the essay:

“What we could not say openly, we expressed in music,” Ellington wrote in the British magazine Rhythm, in 1931, trying to explain the Negro musical tradition that had grown up in America, music “forged from the very white heat of our sorrows.” All his life, Ellington gave the impression of having been unscathed by racism, either in his early years—color, he said, was never even mentioned in his parents’ home—or during the long professional decades when it defined almost every move he made: where he could play his music, who could come to listen to it, whether he could stay in a hotel or attend another musician’s show, and where (or whether) he could find something to eat when the show was over. The orchestra made its first Southern tour just after its return from England, in 1933, travelling (thanks to Mills) in supremely insulated style: two private Pullman cars for sleeping and dining, and a separate baggage car for the elaborate wardrobe, scenery, and lights required to present a show more dazzling than any that most of the sleepy little towns where they made their stops had ever seen. Ellington made a special effort to perform for black audiences, even when it meant that the band added a midnight show in a place where it had performed earlier that night exclusively for whites. Reports from both racial groups were that the players outdid themselves; it is difficult to know where they felt they had more to prove.

Segregation was hardly peculiar to the South, of course, any more than it was limited, in New York, to the Cotton Club and its ilk. The down-and-dirty Kentucky Club had been no different: even without thugs at the door, there was an unspoken citywide dictate about where the different races belonged. The only exceptions were the “Black and Tans,” the few Harlem clubs that permitted casual racial mixing, and to which Ellington seems to have been paying tongue-in-cheek tribute with the not-quite-meshing themes of “Black and Tan Fantasy.” This was the first number played, after “The Star-Spangled Banner,” at Ellington’s landmark Carnegie Hall concert, in January, 1943, although the piece sounded very different from his twenties hit: taken at a slower tempo, with extended solos, it was twice its original length—so deliberative it seemed a kind of statement—and showed off the burnished power of Ellington’s forties band.

Read the whole essay here.