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Listening Guide

The only way to really engage the reflections in this book is to listen to the music, and not as some sort of background soundtrack to your reading. It is actually pretty tough to have Coltrane on in the background, because his music will either grab your attention and distract you from your reading, or, as in the case of a recording like “Ascension,” it will just become downright irritating. Don’t even try.

Even if you are familiar with these pieces, I still recommend giving each one a focused listening prior to reading the corresponding theological reflection. If it is all new to you, all the more reason to approach things in this way. Fortunately, all of my selections are quite easily available, and generally on quite affordable editions of the various albums. Almost everything here is also available for purchase as a download, though that does mean you miss out on the often very useful liner notes. If you don’t want to buy before you even know if this is music that you’re likely to want in your collection, your public library probably owns a decent cross-section of what you’ll need. If you have a friend who is a jazz fan, she or he is guaranteed to own at least a couple of these albums that you could ask to borrow. Though be warned: your friend will inevitably offer strong opinions about the relative merits of the albums you are asking to borrow, suggest to you that my choices are somehow not quite right, and send you on your way with a small armful of other discs you really must listen to. It is just the way we do things.

Many of these pieces appear on various compilation albums, but purist that I am, I have chosen to go with the albums on which they were originally released.  So, here goes…

For Chapter 4 – “My Favorite Things”

My Favorite Things, Atlantic 1961

Live at the Village Vanguard Again! Impulse, 1966

If you can, you should also try to lay your hands on a copy of the “Jazz Icons” DVD John Coltrane Live in ’60, ’61 & ’65. I do deal with the version of “My Favorite Things” from the 1965 Belgium concert, but as bonus you also get a version from a 1961 German television program.

Chapter 5 – “Naima” and “Wise One”

Giant Steps, Atlantic 1960 (for “Naima”)

Crescent, Impulse 1964 (for “Wise One”)

There are alternate versions of “Naima” on the “Jazz Icons” DVD and on Live at the Village Vanguard Again! though for this chapter, you really do need the original.

Chapter 6 – “Alabama”

Live at Birdland, Impulse 1964

“Alabama” is one of two studio tracks included on this “live” album.

Chapter 7 – “A Love Supreme”

A Love Supreme, Impulse 1964

There is a deluxe edition of A Love Supreme available, which includes the only known recorded live version of the entire suite, along with some alternate studio takes of parts one and two, “Acknowledgment” and “Resolution.” Normally I’d say that such an extravagance isn’t really necessary, but you might seriously consider purchasing this one. The alternate studio takes are interesting, but the version recorded live at the Festival Mondial du Jazz Antibes in France is what really counts here. It is fascinating to hear the mixed reaction coming from the audience, which really conveys a sense that many had attended the concert expecting to hear something a little more mainstream.

Chapter 8 – “Ascension”

Ascension, Impulse 1966

Standard CD versions of Ascension now come with two versions of this extended piece. You want to listen to Edition II, which somewhat confusingly will be track one on the disc. I’ll explain all of this in the context of the chapter itself.

Chapter 9 – “The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost”

Meditations, Impulse 1966

A different version of the Meditations suite was released in 1977 as First Meditations. As the album title suggests, it was actually recorded prior to Meditations. I do offer some reflections on the differences between the two versions, though because it doesn’t even include “The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost” it is not necessary to track down this alternate version.

Chapter 10 – “Attaining”

Sun Ship, Impulse 1971

Though these recordings sessions actually predate those for Meditations by several months, the album itself was not released until four years after Coltrane’s death. There have been a number of posthumous releases over the years, drawn both from studio sessions and from live performances. As I discuss in chapter 7, both Sun Ship and Interstellar Space (Impulse 1974) stand out as being thematically and musically coherent albums, which isn’t always the case with the posthumous releases.

*     *     *     *     *

Of the many live albums, I’d highlight One Down, One Up: Coltrane Live at the Half Note (Impulse, 2005) as being a particularly good example of the work of his classic quartet at the height of its power. Rather sadly, a recording of Coltrane’s final concert released on Impulse in 2001 as The Olatunji Concert: The Last Live Recording suffers from very poor sound, and is of little more than archival interest.

And if you’re really new to this, and not sure that you want to start spending a bunch of money on music you’ve never even heard, you could start with either Ken Burn’s Jazz: The Definitive John Coltrane (Universal 2000) or The Very Best of John Coltrane (Universal 2001) Both include “My Favorite Things,” “Naima,” and “Alabama,” along with the “Acknowledgment” section of A Love Supreme. However even if you’re looking to be really frugal, a copy of A Love Supreme complete with liner notes is pretty much an essential…

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