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Richard Brent Turner on Islam, Jazz and Black Liberation

Richard Brent Turner on Islam, Jazz and Black Liberation

Courtesy Paula Burch-Celentano


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Richard Brent Turner is Professor in the Department of Religious Studies and the African American Studies Program at the University of Iowa. Since joining the faculty in 2001, Professor Turner has authored several books, including Jazz Religion, The Second Line, and Black New Orleans, New Edition (Indiana University Press, 2016), and Islam in the African-American Experience, Second Edition (Indiana University Press, 2003). The 2020 American Council of Learned Societies Fellow is also author of Soundtrack to a Movement: African American Islam, Jazz, and Black Internationalism (NYU Press, 2021).

In that book, Professor Turner examines how jazz, African American Islam and global Black liberation movements were intertwined during the post-World War II era. It is a wide-ranging chronicle, which begins with an overview of the role and expansion of Islam within Black American communities in the 20th Century, with an emphasis on Malcom X. The second half of the book describes the interactions with and influence of Islamic thought and culture on jazz figures like Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Lee Morgan, Jay Corre, Yusef Lateef and many, many others. The book culminates with an exploration of the impact of Islamic spirituality on the music and philosophies of John Coltrane, especially his landmark album, A Love Supreme (Impulse! 1965).

Richard Brent Turner combines his knowledgeable passion for jazz music with an academic career spent documenting the music, culture and religious experiences of Black America.

All About Jazz: Your book brought new light to areas that I thought I knew a bit about. It's just a wonderful book and I would like to use our conversation to explore some of those areas.

Richard Brent Turner: Thank you. Thank you so much for that. That makes me feel good [laughter]. You know you can kind of get separated from a book, at least I do, after I've written it and I look at it again and I wonder, "Who wrote it? How did I write that [laughter]?"

AAJ: Let me start, if I may, with this notion of the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement developing in parallel or existing in parallel. Two strands of the same struggle. What I did not fully understand until I read your book is the role that jazz, and Islam played in bridging the two movements while also being much closer to the mainstream of both of those movements than I previously understood. Could you talk a little bit about that, about the role that jazz and Islam played alone and together in those movements?

RT: The Civil Rights Movement was a great movement. It started out focusing on the African American struggle for humanity and racial equality in this country, with W.E.B. Du Bois and the Niagara Movement and his book The Souls of Black Folk (A. C. McClurg & Co, 1903). Of course, the Civil Rights Movement is what's responsible for our legislation that helps all Americans to have the right to vote, the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1965. Yet at the same time there's always been an internationalist, global strand of the Civil Rights Movement and W.E.B. Du Bois, as a human rights activist, saw those connections in the early 20th century.

Now many African Americans, most of our parents and grandparents, were migrants from the South. They were not really people who had a deep understanding of black global liberation, the connections to liberation movements in Africa and the Caribbean. Most of them had struggles as just ordinary people, working class people to move out of the American South so they could vote and have a better way of life. Then there's a strand of Afro-Caribbean people in the same era who have struggled to get out of Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados to the Northeast for the same reason—so they could have a better way of life, they could determine their leaders and live all those democratic values.

At the same time, the Black Power Movement was developing in black communities in this country. Until the 1960s, the Black Power Movement was largely invisible to a lot of white Americans. The individual Black Power members, some of them were members of Islamic communities. Some were members of the Nation of Islam. There were members of other, better-known, politically oriented black power groups like the Black Panther Party. When you grew up in a segregated black community—which I did from the time I was 10 years old until I went off to college at 19—you saw the representatives of the Black Power Movement selling their newspapers, their magazines, and sometimes giving these away to you for free in your community.

They wanted to have black people understand their liberation in global terms, in human rights terms. And the jazz musicians seem to be the people to get this link between the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement much more quickly than other black people. This is because the best of them were traveling across the United States; these were musicians who traveled to Europe to do concerts. A lot of the jazz musicians had, like most black people, tried to escape from the American South. People like Duke Ellington settling in New York City. Because it just wasn't safe for black people to live and raise their children in many parts of the American South before the 1960s.

As global people, because of their music, many of them saw the political links between the Civil Rights Movement based primarily in the United States, of course led in such a distinguished way by Martin Luther King, Jr., and then the links to the Black Power Movement. Malcom X became the major spokesperson for the Black Power Movement. One more thing I will say is that when Malcom X passed away, died, was murdered, assassinated in 1965, his autobiography came out later in that same year. His autobiography went on to become one of the most widely read books, believe it or not, in the United States in the 20th century and was read by millions of African American youths including myself who were living in segregated communities. And, of course, his autobiography was about his advance from a segregated black community, whether it was growing up in Michigan, after being born in Omaha, Nebraska, escaping the Ku Klux Klan violence in Michigan. His family was separated. He moved to Boston, which is my hometown, to Roxbury, and then to New York.

He was a juvenile delinquent, kind of the bad black boy that so many of us who grew up in the Harlems, the Roxburys, North Philadelphias saw. We saw that Malcom X in our own communities. His autobiography showed us the inner psychology of the black person who eventually became a black power human rights activist but somebody who had started out at the bottom of society. Really at the bottom of the black community in a sense as an orphan, completely separated from his parents and moving to Boston to live with his half-sister, Ella in 1940 to save his life from being under the watch of the state of Michigan. His father had been murdered by a white supremist his mother had a nervous breakdown and was in a mental hospital she wasn't released until the 1960s.

AAJ: I would like to explore a lot more around Malcom X but before I do and just to finish the strand of some of the context you are providing, I wonder if you could discuss what, if any, the role Marcus Garvey may have played in introducing the internationalist strand into the American Civil Rights Movement or American Civil Rights consciousness?

RT: He played a tremendous role. In terms of his life journey moving from Jamaica to London, to New York City, he was on the one hand a person who was familiar to hundreds of thousands of African Americans who lived in the northeast and communities like Harlem and Roxbury, where the makeup of our communities was a lot of southern migrants from places like North Carolina and Virginia—probably a small number of blacks who were born in the north and then also a lot of immigrants from Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad.

Marcus Garvey led the largest pan African and most successful pan African movement in American history, the Universal Negro Improvement Association, or UNIA. That organization focused on a global understanding of black power which held that black people needed to own everything and trade among themselves globally. They needed to own their means of production. They needed to have their own country. Marcus Garvey, before he was put on trial by the US government, was negotiating to buy a space in West Africa where any person of African descent in the African diaspora who was trying to escape racial persecution could come and live and have citizenship and live in peace.

He had international trading going between blacks in the United States and blacks in the African diaspora with his Black Star ship line. He popularized the idea that black is beautiful, and he did that in the 1920s. Before Malcolm X made Harlem his base. He made Harlem into the focal point for pan African movements, for Civil Rights Movements, for Black Power Movements. Marcus Garvey was extremely powerful, and he was feared by the FBI and the US government. He was stopped with a trial on trumped-up mail fraud charges and, at that time just before he was stopped, his movement had thousands of followers in the United States who were UNIA members. And probably hundreds of thousands of sympathizers throughout the world.

He really was considered to be a threat to the American mainstream, not that he was attacking white people. Not because he was attacking capitalism, but because he was encouraging black people to use their money among themselves and to establish their own country. He envisioned a black country with its own military.

He was put in prison. Ultimately, he was released from prison in Atlanta because the president of the United States and the FBI feared keeping Marcus Garvey in the United States even if he was incarcerated. Eventually, he was let out of prison, and he was banned from returning to the United States. Marcus Garvey died in London, England.

Malcom X was greatly influenced by Marcus Garvey. A lot of black people in the early to mid-20th century, especially people of Caribbean descent were, and of course Malcom X was half Caribbean. His mother was from Grenada. His father was from Georgia. They were very much influenced by Marcus Garvey's ideas about human dignity for blacks, civil rights, pan Africanism and this idea that black is beautiful. That black peoples' skin, their physical features are beautiful. That their culture is beautiful. His major belief was that black people in the African diaspora would never be free until African nations were free of colonialism. He had this global understanding of black liberation, and he had businesses. The Marcus Garvey Movement was known for its small business ventures in American cities that employed black people. There was a black capitalist component to his movement.

AAJ: That is something that struck me as a direct connection to Malcolm and more specifically to the Nation of Islam. That model of empowerment, keeping the money in the community, ownership, entrepreneurialism seems to be a direct lineage from the Garvey Movement.

RT: Yes. A number of the African American Muslim communities like the Moorish American Science Temple which preceded the Nation of Islam, their leaders were appealing to Marcus Garvey to see if they could become the official religion of the Garvey Movement, but Garvey had developed his own official religion called the African Orthodox Church.

AAJ: Was it rooted in Christianity or was it an African belief system?

RT: It was rooted in Christianity, but a number of religious groups were connected to the Garvey Movement. The Ahmadiyya Muslim community had just come to the United States to do missionary work. Their missionaries had been in Europe doing missionary work before 1920.

That movement originated in India in the late 1800s. They had settled in Chicago by 1920, and the missionaries for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community were able to make linkages with the Marcus Garvey Movement and different people who were Garveyites converted to Islam in their Marcus Garvey uniforms! They had a linkage to Marcus Garvey.

Garvey also published a global black newspaper called The Negro World, which was circulated across the United States, across the African diaspora world, in Africa and it was also translated into different languages that black people in the African diaspora spoke.

AAJ: The newspaper was an attempt to create a global dialogue?

RT: And a global political movement, a global religious movement. Marcus Garvey understood that black people were an unusual group of people. They have been separated completely from their land of origin through transatlantic slavery over several decades. Millions of them had perished in transatlantic slavery along the Atlantic Ocean. They were a people, according to Marcus Garvey, without a country, and without a military to protect them.

AAJ: Turning back to Malcolm, I did not realize that he maintained his connection to the jazz world so late into his ministering life. I have not revisited his autobiography in probably a decade or more, and I really thought the jazz scene and the jazz world was part and parcel of the life he left behind. I didn't realize how he ministered within that community, but then of course the biggest revelation in your book overall was just the prevalence of Islam in the jazz world—both Nation of Islam and the Ahmadiyya Movement in the jazz world of the '40s, '50s, and '60s. Could you talk a little bit about Malcolm's relationship with the jazz community and the musicians?

RT: Malcolm X saw jazz as a movement that had some of the most wonderful music in the world at that time. In the 1940s when he stepped into jazz clubs in Boston, there was Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday. All of these people were reaching the height of their creative powers. On the one hand I see Malcolm X as someone who just loved the music. He was a great jazz dancer of the Lindy Hop. That's extremely well known and documented. He also saw jazz as a counter cultural movement. A number of the jazz fans who were African American and Caribbean American and Latin were wearing zoot suits in the 1940s, which featured these exaggerated suit jackets that used a lot of material to make at a time when the American government was trying to limit the amount of materials that people used to make their clothing and other items because of war rationing. The Zoot Suiters were in many different parts of the United States. Some of them were like Malcolm X going to the Savoy ballroom in Harlem, one the greatest jazz clubs in the 1940s and dancing at different jazz clubs in Boston. There were Zoot Suiters in Los Angeles and in other parts of California. There were the Zoot Suit Riots, wherein American service men had come into Los Angeles during a certain period of time and they violently attacked Zoot Suiters who were of Mexican descent, tearing the closing off of their bodies, beating them savagely in the streets

Jazz was seen as a counter cultural youth movement. A movement that represented the aesthetic of the most marginalized youth in the United States. Youth of color, African Americans, and Malcolm X just kind of fit into this whole scheme of the music, the dancing, the fun of going to a jazz club and meeting beautiful women. He got involved in some of the negative elements of club life. Some of this is not just a part of his period in the 1940s, but of young people who are involved in club life in any period of time.

He got involved with drugs. He started dealing marijuana to jazz musicians up and down the East Coast. Eventually he moved from Boston to New York City and fell in love with New York City. He was just a teenager when all of that happened. Jazz is what gave Malcolm X, who was a working-class black kid, meaning. It gave him a sense of doing something that he could excel at as a teenager because really, he was kind of like an orphan. He was living with his half sister Ella in Boston separated from his mother during his teenage years. He was an eighth-grade dropout, so he was not going to school. He was working in manual labor jobs, and he didn't like that.

So going to a club and dancing the Lindy Hop, hobnobbing with musicians like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and meeting beautiful women is one of the things that helped Malcolm X to survive as a teenager during World War II.

When he got out of prison, and he became a minister for the Nation of Islam, I believe Malcolm understood that there was a whole component of young black people that he could appeal to, to convert to the Nation of Islam and they were in the jazz communities.

Elijah Muhammad himself had been in prison in the Midwest with his son because the Nation of Islam saw itself as the beginning of a black nation and refused to serve in the military during World War II. Elijah Muhammad was a conscientious objector, but he was incarcerated for that. When he got out of prison, he saw Malcolm X as somebody who could be a youth leader, a youth recruiter for the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X started recruiting young black people from the places that he had been in Boston and New York on the street corners, in the jazz clubs and he spoke the language of jazz. He understood the attraction of the music to young people.

He understood the counter cultural element of the jazz community for black youth. He played upon all of that, and he began converting large numbers of African American youth all over the country to the Nation of Islam in the 1950s and into the 1960s. I don't believe that Malcolm ever lost his love of the music.

AAJ: Do you we know if Malcolm and Coltrane met?

RT: We don't know if Malcolm and Coltrane met. I would assume, but I don't have any evidence, that they probably met. Coltrane was attending Malcolm X's speeches in Harlem anytime that he could. He was fascinated by Malcolm X and impressed by Malcolm's ideas and by his speeches. So certainly, there's a strong chance that that they did meet.

AAJ: You quote Alice Coltrane where she said something to the effect that she recalled John used to go in to see Malcolm speak and spoke very highly of him.

RT: Yes.

AAJ: Let's delve into the music aspect of this story. So many of the musicians were involved in the Civil Rights Movement or the Black Power Movement or various struggles and spoke out in different ways but I often viewed the strands of Islam, African or Eastern music through the lens of the trend in the '50s "exoticism" was a big thing. Where jazz that veered into lounge music, where it would have a Middle Eastern theme., or a belly dancer on the album cover, or a South Pacific or Hawaiian theme. Those types of elements were frequently played for a kitsch factor. What I did not realize was on the other end of that extreme, there is an artist you brought up, the artist Ahmed Abdul-Malik.

RT: Yes.

AAJ: As an exercise, I looked him up on Spotify. I listened to these records and to my ears, that was the beginning of fusion world music in a very non-kitschy way, a very natural way. As I was doing some more research on him what I found though was some of his tracks were on these compilation records along the lines of, "The exotic jazz music of the Middle East." Again, the novelty factor whereas his records themselves were not like that, were not lightweight in any way. In my narrow conception, I saw the introduction of African rhythms or Eastern instruments more through the lens of a purely musical journey and less as a spiritual one, except for maybe Coltrane because I'm a bit more steeped in his journey.

I regret that now as a lifelong music lover. I had no idea so many of the jazz musicians of that era practiced or were interested in Islam, up to and including your discussion about Charlie Parker and whether or not he actually converted or was just very, very interested in the religion. I had no idea about Lee Morgan. Art Blakey, Max Roach. I knew about McCoy Tyner, but so many of the greats became involved with Islam and it was a big part of their spiritual, musical and artistic development. That was very eye opening to me.

Could you talk to a little bit about a term you use, "identity claims"? What was threatening and what was empowering around this notion of identifying with the African and Asiatic elements of Islam as opposed to having a black African American identity and what power did that bring the individual?

RT: Jazz musicians of the 1950s and '60s were people who were approachable in the African American community, even people like Coltrane. Why? In the '40s and '50s, when they came to major American cities to perform, for the most part, they couldn't stay in the hotels because of racial segregation. People like Duke Ellington and John Coltrane had specific people that they oftentimes stayed with when they performed in Boston, for example. People who owned homes in the black community.

You have to think about the African American communities from the 1940s to the 1960s as these spaces that were multicultural. They were segregated racially, but you had at least in the northeastern African American communities, you had people who were Protestants. They were Catholics. Some people were Jewish, black Jewish groups. Some people were beginning to convert to Islam. And once again you had immigrants from the West Indies and they had an international understanding of colonialism, having migrated from Jamaica and Barbados and places like that.

In the northeast black communities, you also had people from Africa and so there were always these black people who had a global perspective about their blackness and about politics within the local African American communities where the majority of the people were not thinking on that level.

Harlem was a place where that was happening in a big way and still is happening in a big way. The black community in Boston had certain areas where the members of the Nation of Islam would pursue people and try to sell you their newspaper. If they couldn't sell it to you they want to give it away to you. And they would tell you, "You are not a negro. You are not colored. You are a person of African descent. You are black. There's a history that predates slavery and you have got to change the way that you think." The jazz musicians were out in front of all of this.

Once again, because among the most talented of them had global travel perspectives to bring back to the black community. The trendsetters in segregated black communities brought these new global perspectives about blackness. The majority of African Americans weren't thinking about that in the 1940s and the 1950s. They didn't see themselves as black people. They saw themselves as colored people and as negros. That's what was on their birth certificates.

AAJ: Like a branch cut off from its roots.

RT: It is the way that the American government had "branded" black people. "Negro." "Colored." These are the names that were given to people of African descent during enslavement. Negro and colored are not names that enslaved people chose to call themselves. Enslaved people, going back to the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade in the 1500s, did not see Africa as a race. They saw themselves as members of different very ancient ethnic groups or tribal groups with their own languages and their own religions. But transatlantic slavery and the various governments that were involved in that including the United States gave these names to enslaved people, ex-slaves, and their descendants to divide and conquer them.

One of the fascinating things about some of the jazz musicians and the Muslims is that they were trying to break the ice to make black people understand that they were not negroes. The Nation of Islam called black people the "so-called negro" [laughter]. There were these global perspectives in black communities. They may not have been the majority perspectives in the 1940s and '50s, but they were represented by some of the jazz musicians and by some of the Muslims who lived in African American communities.

AAJ: Another thing that was so revelatory because I only ever viewed it through a musical context was the relationship or the impact of Ellington and Coltrane working together. The era in which they collaborated; you know the album came out in the early '60s so there's so much in the air at that time, but the way you talked about Ellington's travels to Africa and to Middle Eastern countries, I had no idea of that element of his consciousness.

RT: Ellington was one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. He was traveling all over the world beginning in the 1920s. He traveled to a number of Muslim majority countries and unfortunately, because this book was finished and went to press just as the COVID-19 pandemic began, I was unable to go back to a number of the archives that I had visited like the Smithsonian and get photographs and illustrations of those trips.

I do not have that photographic evidence in my book, but it exists. At the Smithsonian Library, I uncovered different programs with Ellington's picture where he was performing in Muslim majority countries and all of the program was written in Arabic. Pictures of Duke Ellington performing on the streets in India and Pakistan with street musicians and trying to learn the indigenous instruments that they were playing. He had a famous concert that he did in Senegal in West Africa in which he acknowledged his African identity when he went there to play in that concert.

I did find through research that he employed musicians in his band who had converted to Islam. He acknowledged that. He saw the linkages between the Marcus Garvey Movement and those jazz musicians who had converted to Islam or were converting to Islam in the 1940s and the 1950s. I was very surprised to find those linkages, but of course I'm not trying to make the case in my book that Duke Ellington converted to Islam or thought about converting to Islam. I didn't see any evidence of that, but there was an impact on him, a cultural impact when he performed in all these Muslim majority countries.

This was important for me because I lived in a home in Boston, Massachusetts where my parents were southern migrants from North Carolina during World War II and they owned a big home in Roxbury, the black community. And they only played Duke Ellington [laughter]. I grew up listening to Duke Ellington all the time. I was surrounded by the albums of Duke Ellington, especially by my father. He admired Duke Ellington so much. I didn't really think very much about Duke Ellington as a kid. I just thought about that as what my father played all the time. But I was fascinated to do all of this research on Duke Ellington because I grew up listening to his music in the background in our home.

AAJ: Do we know if Dizzy Gillespie converted or was he just an admirer or sympathetic to the religion?

RT: No, Dizzy Gillespie did not convert to Islam. There is documentation in his autobiography To Be or Not to Bop that he did think about it because he employed a number of jazz musicians who converted to Islam and one of the things he saw is when they traveled down south, they were not forced to enter in the back door of businesses. They were able to eat in restaurants because they told the people that they were not Negros, they were Muslims.

AAJ: Wow.

RT: So, he saw some advantage in escaping the most racist aspects of negro identity when you travel in the American south. He did admire certain things about the Muslim musicians in his band and about their religion. I think he did mention that he had looked at the Koran but instead he converted to the Baha'i faith. I believe that there was a photograph in one of those big glossy magazines in the 1950s, I don't know if it was Look or it was Life magazine that gave the impression that Dizzy had converted to Islam, but he did not.

AAJ: Are you comfortable at all speculating as to maybe where Coltrane was going? I can't imagine a world where Coltrane was going to go electric. I look at McCoy Tyner, he's the closest analog I have. McCoy never went electric. His innovations were more around arrangement and instrumentation. Whereas almost universally, for their peers, all the innovations were around the electronic world of synthesizers, etc. My question is twofold about Coltrane. Where would you like to speculate that he was going musically? And then in his spiritual development, we know where Alice Coltrane sort of wound-up heading.

RT: Yes.

AAJ: You make a case about the influence of Islam in Coltrane's thought at least and in some of his poetry and writings, certainly in A Love Supreme, but I wonder if he was going towards a specific path or was he going more universalist?

RT: You know, I think at the end of his life he was moving more towards universal world music... so called third world music. We do know from an interview with Yusef Lateef, who's a Muslim, [that he] had some insight into where Coltrane was going. He was going to West Africa with Yusef Lateef just before he died, and also they had concerts together. He and Yusef Lateef and some other musicians had a series of concerts scheduled. One of them was going to be at Carnegie Hall just before Coltrane died. He was also performing at Olatunji's Center for African Culture in Harlem. That's where Coltrane did one of his last concerts. We know from Yusef Lateef's interview that Coltrane wanted jazz to be performed in a more dignified setting.

Coltrane actually had been looking at properties in New York City where he could have his own jazz club free from alcohol and drugs. Where even children could come in there because they would serve teas and sandwiches to hear this great music. Where was Coltrane going at the end of his life? I think he was searching for more spiritual inspiration from God. I believe with the album A Love Supreme that perhaps Coltrane had reached the limit of his spiritual explorations of Islam through his music and through his spiritual life. Because, of course, his second wife Alice Coltrane was going in a different direction with Hinduism.

From interviews that Yusef Lateef did and Yusef Lateef knew Coltrane's first wife, Naima who was a Muslim, very well. That's where a lot of Coltrane's Islamic influences initially came from. It's hard to say more about where Coltrane was going because, of course, there's an Islamic connection when you're making all of these big musical and travel plans with Yusef Lateef who is a devout Muslim [laughter] and also a great jazz musician in his own right. It would be hard to say what the impact of traveling to Africa with Yusef Lateef would've had on his music and his life.

He certainly was very fascinated by a variety of world musical forms at the end of his life. He did a concert in Japan towards the end of his life, and he wanted to immediately go to the places where the atomic bombs were dropped so that he could feel the spiritual and the musical vibes that were still reverberating in those spaces and where people had been murdered by the atomic bomb. Certainly, he was exploring Buddhism. It's really hard to pin him down. He died so suddenly and as a young man.

Yusef Lateef said Coltrane had met with his realtor just a few weeks before he died. He wanted to purchase property somewhere closer to New York City.

AAJ: His music had gone to such an extreme. It's very hard to sort of extrapolate as to what his next step would've been other than a turn like going to Africa or bringing rhythm back somehow. Because he had taken the exploration of tone and dissonance so far.

RT: That's right.

AAJ: I can only imagine what would be on the other side of that.

RT: One professional jazz saxophonist that I've talked to about this has said that Coltrane was talking to God. That that's what it was all about. Coltrane was talking to God. That's what all the dissonance was about. Some political activists and jazz musicians of that era believed the dissonance in Coltrane's music reflected the dissonance in black American life that surrounded him, that surrounded African Americans in the late 1960s when Coltrane died.

AAJ: It is possible to overlay both of those interpretations.

RT: We don't know exactly where Coltrane was going with his music, where he was going with his spirituality. I think that from what I've read of Alice Coltrane she doesn't really give us an exact roadmap about that either.

AAJ: I think she was always very respectful about letting the music come out and not bringing her own interpretation to his intention. I've always really appreciated it. It could be confounding when you want more as a fan or scholar, when you want to know more. But I've always appreciated that about her and I think it served the legacy well to not have a heavy interpretation laid upon it.

RT: I think so. They had such a short-lived marriage, and they had four children together in a very short period of time. They were both geniuses in the type of music they were creating. They were very, very busy people in all aspects of their lives for the few number of years they were together. A lot was happening.

AAJ: Do you have a favorite era of Coltrane's music?

RT: There are certain performances of Coltrane's that I absolutely love. I love "Afro Blue." I love "My Favorite Things." I love A Love Supreme, but I only listen to A Love Supreme when I feel like I'm clean. For instance, I did a lecture in Seattle and a Muslim Imam was there. He took me to an African Muslim store, purchased a Koran for me and he told me, "I want you to read this, but you have to wash your hands before you touch it." You know, you have to be clean. A Love Supreme for me is something that I will only listen to when I feel like I'm clean. I've washed my hands. I'm thinking on a high level spiritually. But I just love all of his music. I stopped listening to it for the time being because at one point when I was writing the last chapter of the book I was listening to Coltrane's music all day in my office while I was writing for months at a time [laughter].

His music is just wonderful. And there's so much of it.

What about you? What do you like?

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