John Coltrane is the gold standard of pursuit. Coltrane's story focuses a lot on the last decade of his life. His pursuit of music was other-worldly. It was a pursuit that seemed to take the listener out of their current moment and transcend a divide between person and spirit.
My first jazz album was Giant Steps. It was The moment when I first heard my instrument (Tenor Saxophone) in a context outside of middle school band. For all the album opened my eyes and ears to, Giant Steps way beyond what I could comprehend. There was a definite influence because I could tell there was a lot going on in the music and my world was forever opened. But my pursuit had not begun. Giant Steps was not the spark, it was merely proof that there was an entire world of music out there to be explored.
Last week, I wrote on Miles Davis and finding personal voice in music. I had mentioned that for awhile, my jam was the Prestige recordings of the Classic Miles Davis Quintet from the mid-fifties. It should be no surprise then, that this is where I fell in love with John Coltrane. I had heard Giant Steps, and Stellar Regions prior, but those were on a level that I could not even begin to comprehend. Coltrane's playing on the Prestige Recordings resembled bop, it was coming from a place that made more sense to me. But the thing is, I went in. I followed Coltrane. If I liked his playing on the Miles albums, maybe I would dig what he was doing as a leader at this time period. That led me to the Blue Train album, I blew past Giant steps and found My Favorite Things and Coltrane's Sound- Equinox, oh man. His tone pierced through me - it could see my soul - and my soul was jazz. His journey was my journey and I had to see what was coming next.
By the time I got to "A Love Supreme" my ears were open. I had already experienced some 'late-period' Trane and was expecting something more harmonically free like Stellar Regions. But it was the sheer emotional range of the album that struck me. It was clear that the brilliance of Blue Train, and Giant Steps and Coltrane's Sound, and My Favorite things were all paler stars to this one. A Love Supreme was Coltrane's magnum opus. This was his spiritual offering that took music beyond notes and into a world of expression that had not yet occurred to me. I worked as hard as a I could to emulate not just the licks but the passion and energy that poured out of the speaker.
My listening tastes have changed since my "Coltrane years." In my own teaching of the jazz language I find myself digging into players whose language is more discernible to developing musicians. But the legacy of Coltrane's music is in the pursuit. His Pursuit (capitalization intended) for something greater, as well as my pursuit to understand what he was hearing and feeling. On a foundational level the pursuit of Coltrane's music requires a discipline, a commitment, and a focus that moves you closer to excellence. It is a journey we never truly walk away from, and each time I hear his sound, I am reminded of my journey as a musician and thank the master for helping show me the way.