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September 12, 2013 / robinswood

Thinking about “A Love Supreme” with Tony Whyton

whyton bookI finally found the time to read Tony Whyton’s book, Beyond ‘A Love Supreme’;  John Coltrane and the Legacy of an Album. I’m glad I made that time… though I’m not sure I know anything new about the record, and I’m not sure I will hear anything different or fresh in this landmark recording as a result of reading this book.

To be sure, I didn’t have anything like the negative reaction voiced by Scott McLennan in his review for the Boston Globe McLeannan dislikes this book with a fervour which would trouble and unsettle me were I Tony Whyton. No, I don’t dislike this book in that way… in fact, I quite like it. I feel like I’ve just had a series of four conversations with the author; four quite distinct, chapter length conversations, in which I’ve been invited to think about Coltrane and the legacy left in this particular recording.

I do appreciate Whyton’s willingness to critique – both openly and by implication- the work of  J.C. Thomas, Ben Ratliff, Bill Cole, Stanley Crouch, Wynton Marsalis, among others. Sometimes it is the thinness of their work that is at stake, and  sometimes it is the all too obvious ideological commitments of some of these writers and critics that Whyton has in view. Either way, Whyton is able to quite forceful reveal the degree to which the emperors have no clothes.

Yet as he does this work of what amounts to a kind of demythologizing, I wonder why he’s not paid any attention to Herman Gray’s essay, “John Coltrane and the Practice of Freedom,” published in John Coltrane & Black America’s Quest for Freedom. Because Whyton draws on (and critiques…) other essays from that collection, he clearly knows this book. Gray’s essay is such an important contribution to the collection that I can’t help but wonder why it didn’t figure here.

I’d have to say that Beyond ‘A Love Supreme’ encouraged me to think about this record (again…), and that is a good thing. It did not, however,  drive me back to hear the record anew. If you want to think about jazz (and may of us do…), read this book. If you want to hear A Love Supreme – or hear it anew – go back to Lewis Porter’s chapter on this record from his landmark study, John Coltrane: His Life and Music. Or (at the risk of blowing my own proverbial horn) take a look at the chapter on A Love Supreme in my own book.


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