John Coltrane Use of Mystical Religious Practices in His Music

Jazz icon John Coltrane was born on September 23. He would have been 93 this year. Gotta love those digits! More seriously, here’s a deep dive article looking at how Coltrane integrated mystic religious practice into his composing and performance at the height of his career – risking the critics’ wrath and fans’ support. Here’s an excerpt:

“Protestant religious testimony (and attendant worship modes), as adapted and practiced by slaves during secret plantation services in the dead of night, allowed participants to express their feelings openly and fully and, through communion with others, to maintain their belief in God, even when they had suffered beatings or their family members were sold away.

“This practice, which has continued to serve subsequent generations, is both spiritually edifying to the individual and formative of community. Those who testify receive immediate shouts of encouragement from the congregation, and so, often find themselves revealing thoughts they had suppressed. In this way, testimony is simultaneously an act of self-revelation and self-discovery that in turn encourages others. It is a collective act of love, an antidote to the mistreatment experienced at the hands of the larger society. Coltrane revealed that he understood the utility of this deceptively simple practice when he said that he wanted his own improvisations to make listeners “happy,” and for his music to “be a force for good.”

“Holiness worshipers (and by extension their enslaved ancestors) invoke a God not only of love, but also of justice, capable of overturning the social order. Often, the congregation limns the presence of a powerful God through a sometimes-frightening cacophony of shouted and guttural praise, accompanied by handclaps, heels striking the floor, and the playing of percussive musical instruments. Church members, who refer to themselves as Saints, may become one with this God through a lengthy spiritual process of conversion, purification, and spirit-possession (“Saved, Sanctified, and Holy Ghost filled”). Consequently, during services, the Holy Ghost may descend to reveal truths through anyone at any time.”

Read the whole magilla:

Frater Lux Ad Mundi

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