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A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album

Joel Roberts By

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A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album
Ashley Kahn (foreword by Elvin Jones)
ISBN: 978-0142003527
Viking/Penguin
2002

Few recordings in jazz have the mystique of A Love Supreme. Nearly 40 years after its release it's still revered by jazz fans as a work of rare artistry, intensity and originality. But perhaps because of its powerful spiritual overtones and the unfortunate idolization, by some, of Coltrane as an almost Christ-like figure, the album has been largely immune to criticism or analysis. It's treated as an untouchable sacred text that we dare not scrutinize.

No longer. In A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album, author Ashley Kahn attempts to demythologize the album by explaining how it was made and how it fits into the context of Coltrane's career, the overall jazz scene, and the larger social movements of the era. Kahn re-creates the 1964 recording session at Rudy van Gelder's Englewood, N.J. studio in depth, turning up interesting tidbits like the fact that the entire session was completed in under four hours and less than an hour of tape was used, and that the band was paid union scale (just over $100 each) for the date, while Coltrane, as leader, made just twice that amount. He also uncovers details about the mysterious second-day session when saxophonist Archie Shepp and bassist Art Davis were brought in to augment the original quartet.

More importantly, Kahn, who previously gave the same treatment to Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, helps us understand just what makes "A Love Supreme" so special. Through conversations with Alice Coltrane (John's widow), surviving quartet members Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner, and a wide range of Coltrane devotees from Sonny Rollins to pop star Bono, Kahn reveals the passion generations of jazz fans have had —and continue to have—for this music. An unabashed Coltrane admirer, Kahn sheds much-needed light on the elusive master's landmark album, making his star shine even brighter.

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