Skip to content
September 16, 2015 / robinswood

Remembering Alabama



In a article posted on, Mark Almond recalls the 1963  bombing Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church; the event that inspired Coltrane’s extraordinary jazz lament, “Alabama.” I highly recommend you read article and then make time to watch this rare live version of the Coltrane piece.


December 18, 2014 / robinswood

A Jazz Piano Christmas | the 2014 edition

jazz piano christmas

On of my favourite traditions of this season is to set aside time to listen to the most recent edition of NPR’s Jazz Piano Christmas. This year’s concert was held at Washington’s Kennedy Center on Wednesday December 17, and featured a great line-up: jazz-legend Harold Mabern, newcomer Kris Davis, and seasoned veterans Lynne Arriale and Cyrus Chestnut.

I’d highly recommend taking an hour out from one of these busy days to pour yourself something to sip on and then settle back to enjoy some fine, fine music for the season. To access the video of this year’s concert, simply click here.

And if you happen to find yourself wanting more, I’d also recommend the 2011 version, which featured Alfredo Rodriguez, Barry Harris, Eddie Palmieri, and Jason Moran. That one also includes an archival performance by Dr. Billy Taylor, who died in January of that year. To give it a listen, click here.




December 14, 2014 / robinswood

50 Years of “A Love Supreme”



In a recent post on the NPR website, Arun Rath launched into his piece celebrating the 50th anniversary of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme by observing that “For people across musical boundaries and cultures — for Carlos Santana, Bono, Joni Mitchell, Steve Reich, Bootsy Collins, Gil Scott-Heron — hearing A Love Supreme was a revelation.” “A Love Supreme, Rath continued, “is Coltrane’s ultimate spiritual testament: The “love supreme” he describes is God’s love. When I first heard it, I didn’t get it.”

As soon as I read those words, I had to smile. I’m the same way… for while A Love Supreme has become for me a revelatory album, when I first tried to listen to it I really didn’t get it either.

Rath’s post is a good one, whether or not you “get” what Coltrane was driving at in his record. Included in the post are two of the more significant pieces of Coltrane video: a live performance of “Alabama,” as well as a twelve minute excerpt from the only live performance of A Love Supreme Coltrane ever offered. You can also listen to a stream of Rath’s original five minute radio piece. Highly recommended.

Simply click here to access “50 Years of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme”

November 11, 2014 / robinswood

Coltrane’s “Offering” | newly released music

Watch this video… and celebrate the release of some new music – later career music – by John Coltrane. And then if you want a bit more help getting into the music, see Richard Brody’s piece from The New Yorker by clicking here.

October 31, 2014 / robinswood

A “must watch” video for people who care about music

This is a really remarkable story of the way in which music can move, change, and enliven people. Kudos to Jason Moran for his vision and artistry, and to Howard Reich and Zbigniew Bzdak of the Chicago Tribune for chronicling the story. For more on this project and to read the original Tribune stories, simply click here.


Kenwood’s Journey from Chicago Tribune on Vimeo.

October 2, 2014 / robinswood

“How does the soul remove?”

I was recently alerted to the existence of Andrew W. Brand’s song-poem “The How does the Soul Remove?”, and thought I should share it here on my book blog. There is, of course, a venerable tradition of poetry inspired by the life and music of John Coltrane, the most significant coming from poets of the Black Arts era. Notable examples include “Did John’s Music Kill Him?” by A. B. Spellman,” “How Long Has Trane Been Gone” by Jayne Cortez, and  “Dear John, Dear Coltrane” by Michael Harper.

I particularly appreciate Brand’s references to the “rotting tooth in the gum” (Coltrane had serious dental issues, due to an all but insatiable appetite for candy and sweet potato pie), and “body weakly, body asleep”. In using such images, he effectively acknowledge the man’s humanness and flaws. So often Coltrane gets uncritically turned into something of a flawless plaster saint, and part of what I learned as I wrote my God’s Mind in That Music was that he managed to offer material of incredible insight and power in spite of his own failings.

Part of the experience of Brand’s song-poem is clearly in the music. Led by former Powder Blues Band sax player Wayne Kozak, the quintet evokes Coltrane’s more experimental and free work from the final years of his life.

Andrew W. Brand is a Canadian song-poet who currently resides in Seoul, South Korea. In 1995 he was writer-in-residence at the legendary Shakespeare and Company on Paris’ Left Bank, known for the beat generation poets such as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Andrew’s influences range from T.S. Eliot to Paul Celan. He can be contacted through email at


(Dedicated to the memory of Josh Derksen) 


How does the soul remove, Johntrane?

How does the soul remove in letters to you?

Like a stubborn rotting tooth in the gum, Johntrane

You went; you climbed the stairs, the room Trane

How does the soul remove a rotting tooth, John, sunken deep, John?

I want to help Johntrane,

I have it, jab it deep, and wait and then wait for the visit without afterglow

A strange tooth Trane, jabbed deeper and death and death and death

How does the soul remove it?




How, how, how does the soul remove?

How, how, how does the soul remove?


Do you wake up one day and find yourself famous forever and a day?

Come down from the upstairs, the upper closed door

Skid row, death row, Lover’s tomb Johntrane


(Instrumental bridge)


A burst of heaven and the awakening is through, Johntrane, Johntrane!

The body weakly, the body asleep

The spirit is going to and fro, talking with God and the devil, Mr. Trane

Arranging new visitations, arranging new visions


How, how, how, how, how does the soul remove?

How, how, how, how, how does the soul remove?


The body is slow John, along the stairs,

the body glows, John in the death of sleep

the wind, too ekes out poisons ,goes slow too, Johntrane, Johntrane

How, how, how, how, how does the soul remove?

How, how, how, how, how does the soul remove?


Where does the music come, how does it come,

and how does the soul remove?

For the sound, the fury, the shout of the awakening!

From the sleep that took the years and took years, this sleep, John


How, how, how, how, how, how does the soul remove?


The saxophone is not hollow now, Trane

it is not the silent of sleep

the saxophone is filled now with the fullness of time


Whatever dream you dream, dreamer

however small, however big

it will be a thousand floral reds,

blues, blues

a million yellows

It will be the color of hallucination

without intoxication


This is how the soul removes!

This is how the soul removes!

This is how the soul removes;

by way of the blues

(© Andrew W. Brand. Posted with permission)

July 25, 2014 / robinswood

From the Collegeville Institute blog




The Collegeville Institute has recently posted a piece that stands as something of a summary of why I find the music of John Coltrane so compelling. The Institute is one of the many creative initiatives of St John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, and over the years has become something of my “go to” place for writing and retreats. Well over half of the first draft of my book was written during a sabbatical month in Collegeville in February 2011, and in fact my very first Coltrane-related writing was written for a 2008 summer writing workshop at the Institute.

Thanks to the Institute for all it has done to support and encourage my vocation as a writing priest!