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Artist Profiles

In the Spirit: Alice Coltrane

By Published: March 16, 2004
"He said this was something that had been in his heart a long time, and then one day all of the music came out at once," she said. "It was such a beautiful offering to the people and to God."

It's an offering that has touched many musicians in their quest to find a voice.

Trumpeter Roy Campbell—who leads the band Shades and Colors of Trane and who has realized the remarkable task of playing Coltrane's "sheets of sound" on his trumpet—said that the discovery of A Love Supreme led him out of the dark days of drug abuse during his college years. A friend loaned him the album and helped to lift him from drugs and depression—a struggle with which Coltrane himself had been involved just two years prior to recording the album.

"When I first heard A Love Supreme and read what he had said [in the album's liner notes], that really changed my life," Campbell said. "During that time, people knew I needed something to bring me back, to bring me into focus.

"It's a call to worship, an invocation," he said. "You feel like you're going to heaven, and when you hear that bass line you feel like you're going to do some heavy activities. And then when that saxophone comes in, you feel like you're leaving all your earthly possessions."

A Love Supreme was recorded in December, 1964, and released the following year—a year during which Coltrane accomplished more than most musicians do in a lifetime. Under an unusual agreement with Impulse!, Coltrane would have free reign over "experimental" works as long as he delivered commercial albums, including marketable standards. As a result, he pushed his 4-album-a- year contract (unthinkable in today's world) to the hilt, releasing two versions of the landmark Ascension, the then-untitled Transition, the beautiful Om and Kulu Se Mama, and the powerhouse Meditations, as well as crowd (or suit) pleasers The John Coltrane Quartet Plays and New Thing at Newport, (which might have been a knock-off had it not been for its sponsoring of young up'n'comer Archie Shepp). The saxophonist, as it happened, had only two more years on earth, and was pushing it for all he was worth.

"Coltrane came out with Ascension, and when I first heard it, it was too much for me," said keyboardist/composer Amina Claudine Myers, who has built much of her work from her coming-of-age in the Baptist church. "I would say 'Oh, it's giving me a headache.' After two more hearings, I loved it. And then I went to see him and the music was so spiritual, it was so uplifting—it was fantastic.

"Coltrane affected me consciously and unconsciously," she said. "He gets to the root of you, he was just so happening— everything that happened in the universe."

While close to 40 years ago, Coltrane's masterpiece might have had a Christian base, to Myers, it's only about faith in something greater, something higher.

"To me, it's all the same—the one god, even though he has many names," she said. "I'm a Christian because I was raised it, but I have many beliefs." As for people who don't feel the spiritual connection to music, who aren't devout in their beliefs in a higher power, Alice Coltrane said that inspiration can still be found within the music.

"Aren't we all at our own evolutionary stage of life?" she asked. "Where we are musically, academically, spiritually—we're all responding according to where we stand. Some people may gather more, may gain more, but we're all progressing. We're all moving in an evolutionary path."

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