In 1965, US jazz saxophonist and bandleader John Coltrane released A Love Supreme, which was considered his best work and has since lived up to that title. A Love Supreme came in four suites: Acknowledgement, Resolution, Pursuance and Psalm and plays an important role in how we understand and write jazz. Many jazz fans over the years have found gospel, clarity and comfort in the recording.
Coltrane says in the liner notes: “I would like to tell you that no matter what… it is with God. He is gracious and merciful. His way is in love, through which we all are. It is truly — a love supreme.”
Today there’s a new generation of jazz lovers who have found inspiration in the work. Safia Elhillo and Lebohang Masango both wrote poems referring to A Love Supreme.
Questions for John Coltrane, From His Saxophone by Safia Elhillo
Sudanese-American poet, Safia Elhillo, puts into words what it must be like to be the instrument of a genius – in this case, John Coltrane’s sax. Said to have had three lead saxophones (his son Ravi, donated one of them – a 1965 Mark VI tenor – to the National Museum of American History in 2014) Elhillo traces Coltrane’s journey and its highs and lows through ‘the eyes’ of one of his saxophones. Of the period before Coltrane’s big break she writes:
before our Trane trekked all those Miles, all those Monks,
wasn’t it always just us two?
Of Coltrane’s later period that is said to have been marked by substance abuse but inspired the album, Elhillo writes:
when they booed you in France,
who stood unflinching at your lips?
when the heroin swirled radioactive in your blood,
who poured its beams out into sound?
and when the cancer thrust its roots into you and made a fossil of your body,
who remained the only vessel for your breath?
A Love Supreme: A Lesson in Poetry Women and Jazz Men by Lebohang Masango
Scholar and poet Lebohang ‘Nova’ Masango is a jazz lover. So much, in fact, that she contributed to Jazzuary in 2016. An early description of her poem, A Love Supreme, describes it as Acknowledgement and it was inspired by Elhillo’s. In her poem, Masango brings to the fore the questionable ‘jazzman’ lifestyle, in which Coltrane indulged – harking back to Elhillo’s poem again.
Writing about unique talent, Masango says:
Some jazz tunes are just too beautiful to improve too classic to be repeated
Much like Coltrane himself, there will never be another. Maybe loving Coltrane’s music is to be in love; it is to honour firsts and to honour faith.