Spirituality in the Music of John Coltrane
By Jamie Howison
Cascade Books, $28.00, 250 pages
John Coltrane’s spiritual journey was at the heart of his music, especially in his later compositions. In God’s Mind in That Music, Jamie Howison traces that journey by examining a handful of pivotal works, their structure, performance history, critical reception, and theological roots and resonances. “A Love Supreme” is there, of course, but so are “Ascension” and “Attaining,” works that pushed the boundaries of how jazz was understood at that time.
“John Coltrane lived and breathed and still can set us on edge, listening for the grandeur and misery of being human in the presence of God.”
Howison covers an amazing amount of ground, here: Coltrane’s personal history; the roots of jazz in black gospel music, spirituals, and the blues; the complex relations between black music and black American history; and the tension between constraint and freedom – between chord structure and improvisation – that is the very heart of jazz.
Yet he is never superficial. He is extremely well-informed, and has listened long and deeply to the music. Like the voices in a jazz combo, topics surface and resurface, revealing fresh connections each time. His many quotations from other writers, critics and musicians – including some who played with Coltrane – give the reader a balanced, non-dogmatic view of the man and his music. Both aficionados and beginning listeners will find this book engaging and insightful.
By Daniel Hobbs