View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. Music
22 December 2017

John Harris on A Love Supreme by John Coltrane: “This was heady, elemental stuff”

From the Long Players series: writers on their most cherished albums.

By John Harris

It must have been early 1987. BBC2 had just broadcast a documentary about Jack Kerouac, which I had taped on to a VHS. By the following week, I had got hold of On the Road and joyously sped through it. But before that, I repeatedly played the part of the film dedicated to Kerouac’s musical tastes, and his elegy to Charlie Parker: “Charlie Parker looked like Buddha… And his expression on his face/Was as calm, beautiful and profound/As the image of the Buddha/Represented in the East, the lidded eyes/The expression that says: ‘All is well.’”

With my sixth-form friend Neil, I decided that now was the time to go beyond indie-rock and hip hop and sample the higher pleasures of jazz. This involved two places: a cut-price vinyl outlet in the backstreets of Manchester where I got two Parker records for £3 a piece; and the library in my hometown of Cheshire, where one album now screamed out to be borrowed. Probably via the NME, I already had some vague notion of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme – released in January 1965, and arguably the composer and sax player’s greatest achievement – as a totem of cool, but now it felt obligatory. It was 25p for two weeks, plus a quid on a TDK C90 tape: a no-brainer, as we didn’t say back then.

Then came another epiphany. This was the most transcendent music I had ever heard. Coltrane’s sleeve notes, which refer to a “spiritual awakening” he experienced in 1957 (“This album is a humble offering to Him…”) must have helped put me in the right mood, but what I divined in the music came to mind with no prompts. This opening mixture of the album’s central four-note motif and McCoy Tyner’s questing piano chords seemed to evoke the night, and rain; the sax part that awakened the track titled “Resolution” after 20 seconds sounded like a sudden dawn; in between, the passage in which Coltrane intoned the title as a mantra was full of a power I couldn’t even begin to articulate. This was heady, elemental stuff.

At Neil’s house, where we spent whole Saturdays immersed in music and eating Lancashire cheese toasties, it worked the same magic; at night, when I would play it on the Binatone cassette player next to my bed, it entranced me even more.

It still does. I feel it as keenly at 47 as I did when I was 17. When the world seems to be reducible to trivia, nastiness and a lack of hope, A Love Supreme gets as close to attesting to a higher power as any record ever has, and seems to offer an eternal assurance: that, on some elevated plane accessible only when the right music plays, all is well. 

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Read the rest of the series here

Content from our partners
Future proofing the NHS
Where do we get the money to fix the world's biggest problems? – with ONE
Labour's health reforms can put patients first

This article appears in the 08 Dec 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU