John Coltrane, he could get in his spaceship and it could take him anywhere he wanted to go.
Just to say the name John Coltrane, it makes me shake and tremble.
It's like talking about Beethoven, Shakespeare.
You're talking about an artistic genius and a spiritual giant.
Trane had a sound that was heavenly, it was like, oh, my God.
Coltrane's strength of character is in his journey through music.
He sacrificed, and he had the insight and the consciousness to touch that thing that's inside of all of us.
Right now, we're gonna take you down to a favorite little spot of ours here in New York, Café Bohemia.
Down there at the present time is a young man whose name is Miles Davis.
I'm sure you know who he is.
He's a real cool stylist, Miles Davis is.
1957, John Coltrane is part of one of the groundbreaking groups of the day, the Miles Davis Quintet.
Miles Davis is looked upon as the harbinger of everything new.
He is on the cutting edge, everyone is looking at him for the promise of what is to come.
Are you really asking me a question like that?
How good was that band?
Well, I think it was probably one of the-the greatest, uh, jazz bands that was ever formed.
Everybody in the band had their own voice, and John was really, really special in that regard, in that you could hear that he was going somewhere, and I think that Miles heard that he was going somewhere.
Being with Miles Davis was huge for Coltrane, absolutely huge.
It catapulted him from being somebody that only really serious record collectors knew about to being somebody that everybody knew.
John Coltrane's experiences in Miles Davis' quintet was sort of like going up to the high diving board every night, allowing himself to be scared, allowing himself to not know exactly what was gonna be ahead of him.
It's of a high, high caliber to be able to play on a level which is exceptional.
You've got to be touched by the supreme whatever to be able to play like Miles played and like Coltrane played.
At this time, Coltrane is a relative newlywed with the entire Miles Davis band as best men.
Coltrane marries Naima Austin, a woman he'd met in Philadelphia.
Naima has a child, Antonia.
This is a man who gets his first experience at fatherhood with me, you know, so, and I was a handful, OK, I was a handful.
I was remembering one time John had this gig, it was a bad night, snowy, he did the gig.
I needed some shoes.
He walked back from that gig home so he wouldn't spend any of the money so that I could get the shoes the next day.
You know, then you make that sacrifice, you work all night and then you walk home so that I can get a pair of shoes?
John Coltrane is working consistently to support the wife and daughter he adores.
Life is good, but there's a problem.
We are playing in nightclubs where the pimps and hustlers are around, and you, uh, go for the hype, and hey, man, you take some of this and you feel up and good, you feel good, and you go for it and then you're stuck.
Hard drugs is an addiction.
Charlie Parker, a great prophet before Coltrane, Charlie Parker, he was on drugs.
He wanted to get off. He didn't quite make it.
There was the misguided notion that artistic ability was enhanced with hard drugs.
Charlie Parker is the example.
You're gonna turn from somebody that can't play into Charlie Parker by doing this?
It doesn't happen. It's a myth.
Geez, and some of my friends, I mean, they died following that trail.
Before Coltrane was really aware of it, he was using the needle and he was really heavily addicted.
He had become a heroin addict, and it's not generally known that he was also drinking to excess.
The funny thing about him, though, is everybody loved him.
I'd spoke to over 250 people when I did my book, and I couldn't find anybody that said, oh, when he was drunk, he was a terror.
They all said, oh, I didn't even know when he was drunk because he was always so sweet, you know?
He was that kind of person, but he was unreliable.
Miles Davis famously wrote in his autobiography, he would come to the gig in clothes that looked liked he had slept in them, so this was not making a great impression on Miles Davis.
John Coltrane's fired.
He's never been higher in his career, and so the drop down is long and hard, and he realizes that he can go the way of Charlie Parker and just continue in a self-destructive path or really is he gonna find a way to dedicating himself to a clean, spiritual existence that brings together everything that has inspired him from the time he was a child?
And so here's John Coltrane at a pivotal point of his life.
He's gotta make a decision.
I was born in a small town called Hamlet in North Carolina in 1926.
My family moved from there when I was a few months old to High Point.
I was an only child. I was brought up Methodist.
It wasn't too strict, but it was there.
In my early years when I was going to church every Sunday, I was under the influence of my grandfather.
He was the dominating cat in the family.
Both of my grandfathers were ministers.
I grew up in that and I guess just accepted it.
To understand John Coltrane's beginnings is to understand that he comes from the American South, and the racial realities that he grew up with, the idea that the black church was the primary force that held his family together and also it was the source point for his first musical experiences, and the fact that music and the spirituality were there as one at the very beginning, is to really get at the DNA of what John Coltrane is all about.
The Jim Crow South was basically a reference to what the South was like after the Civil War, after Reconstruction, where segregation had been re-imposed.
It was a place ready-made for the blues, ready-made for jazz, ready-made for people using their pain to catapult their art.
The Jim Crow South where Coltrane grew up proceeded from slavery and under slavery, it was against the law for us to read or write.
How will our humanity be expressed, creativity, courageously?
It was against the law for black people to worship God without white supervision, so what do you do?
You steal away at night near the creek, hold hands in a ring shout and lift your voice.
Lift your voice, vocals, create a community, camaraderie and so forth.
Black music was the black response to being terrorized and traumatized.
We're gonna share and spread some soothing sweetness against the backdrop of a dark catastrophe.
That's black music.
John grew up in an extended family.
He was living in the same house with his mother and father, his grandfather and grandmother and aunt and uncle and cousin, and then within a period of two years, his father died, his uncle died, his grandfather died, and eventually, so did his grandmother.
It was a devastating few years for the family.
He's only 12 years old.
Can you imagine what that does for any human being?
How you gonna respond?
And the one thing that happens just at the point in John Coltrane's life is that he started to take up music.
He's gone from playing clarinet to alto saxophone, and it's almost like he hangs onto music like a life preserver.
He finds in music a way of dealing with these harsh, harsh realities that are suddenly thrust upon the Coltrane family.
Their standard of living was all of a sudden totally changed, all the men are gone, and Coltrane's mother just had to leave and go north to find work.
When I finished high school, I moved to be with my mother in Philadelphia.
This was 1943.
I worked for a year in a signal depot.
We had a war, you know.
Then I decided to study music again.
My mother made many sacrifices to enable me to study music, and I was able to take lessons from a private saxophone instructor.
I was 16.
I'd been playing saxophone for two years when one of the kids came home from school.
He said, "There's a new guy that moved into the projects and he plays alto, and he sounds just like Johnny Hodges."
I said, "Really?
"Do you think you can bring him by the house tomorrow?"
He says, "I think so."
About four o'clock, the doorbell rang and there was this country bumpkin looking guy standing on the street, and he stood in the doorway with this horn, just stood there.
I didn't know what to say.
The only thing I could think to say was, "Play something."
And that's what he was waiting for.
Now, John and I became very close, and he joined our little coterie there.
He was quiet.
I had to talk all the time.
He never talked until he put that saxophone in his mouth.
June 5, 1945, first time Coltrane sees Charlie Parker, blows his mind.
What kind of person is he?
This brotha got so much creativity in him, willing to cut against the grain, courageous to the core, and you can just see Coltrane just, his mind was blown.
John and I were screaming, screaming.
It's a wonder we didn't fall over the balcony.
We had never heard anything like that in our lives.
We never heard double time.
The first time I heard Charlie Parker, I knew that was the thing for me.
Charlie Parker did all the things I would like to do, and more.
He really had a, a genius.
Coltrane was in the Navy in 1945 to '46, and stationed at Pearl Harbor.
The very first John Coltrane recordings, quote-unquote, come from 1946 when he's a part of a Navy band and they do this recording in Hawaii and they're playing Bird tunes and, uh, you can hear this very young John Coltrane, uh, playing in, uh, and imitating the style of Charlie Parker, his hero.
When you hear that recording from when he was in the Navy, he doesn't play that well.
It's not possible to even believe it's Coltrane.
Some people blossom very early.
For Coltrane, that was not the case.
I don't think you could listen to that and say great things ahead.
And just that he could go from that way of playing to what he became, man, that's all you need to know about him.
After a year in the Navy, I came back to Philadelphia and then went on the road.
I accepted work with all kinds of groups, even if I didn't agrees with their musical tenets, because I could learn something while I was making a living.
They were, in comparison to baseball, like the minor leagues.
I then went with Dizzy Gillespie from
1949 to 1951.
I wanted to find my own way, but I wasn't ready.
There was so much to learn yet.
For John Coltrane to be playing with someone of Dizzy's stature had to be like waking up to all of your Christmases at one time.
Dizzy was wonderful in every way you can imagine.
His sense of humor was incredible- that's how he got the name "Dizzy"- but he was a genius.
So Dizz was hearing something in Coltrane's playing as being promising, as being filled with possibilities and that this guy needed nurturing.
When we finally got with Dizzy's band, John would be practicing in the hotels, and invariably, somebody would holler, "Hey!
"Tell that guy to stop all that noise up there with that horn!"
And Trane would stop practicing and just finger the horn for an hour, just practicing fingering.
I never seen anybody do that.
He always had that horn.
He'd play it all day long, and when he worked, at work during the intermission, he was in the men's room playing his horn.
I mean this is Spartan practice, you know?
Not everybody was into that.
I wasn't into that, but it was like he was trying to best himself.
Dizzy had a very strict rule about drug use, and that December of 1950, he caught Coltrane and Jimmy Heath shooting up.
We were getting high down in the basement, and Dizzy came down in intermission and he caught us, you know, and he fired us, but Trane begged his way back in and I-I didn't.
"No, please, I won't do it again.
"Let me stay.
I really love playing with you," so forth and so on, and it worked.
Dizzy let him stay, but it only lasted a few more months.
By April of '51, Coltrane was out again.
I stayed in obscurity for a long time because I was happy to play what was expected of me without trying to add anything.
All this time, musically, I was progressing very little in the way I wanted.
I had not reached the point when I could take active steps by myself.
In fact, I don't think I reached that point until after I'd got with Miles.
It was Miles who made me want to be a much better musician.
In 1955, I joined Miles on a regular basis and worked with him until the middle of 1957.
Why he picked me, I don't know.
Maybe he saw something in my playing that he hoped would grow.
I had this desire, which I think we all have, to be as original as I could be, but there were so many musical conclusions I hadn't arrived at that I felt inadequate.
In the spring of 1957, Miles Davis hits a breaking point with John Coltrane in his group.
John Coltrane's drug habit is getting in the way of the music.
For Miles, there's no way of getting past that.
Getting fired by Miles was really the shock of his life, and there was no other gig like a Miles Davis gig that was the top of the field, number one, and number two is that he was kind of counting on this gig for security and stability and building a home and having a married life.
John Coltrane was by no means the only great musician who had drug problems.
It killed Charlie Parker at an early age, and many others were afflicted.
When he looked into the abyss, he decided that he couldn't stay where he was.
He was either gonna go down and die or go up and become even greater.
He quit, what they call "cold turkey," which means he didn't go to an institution, he didn't have any kind of medical support.
During the days, he would just stay home and keep the door closed.
Only one time did it ever become difficult for me, and that was when he was withdrawing and I could hear him.
I could see Mommy taking him to the bathroom because he was always regurgitating.
He was doing the cold turkey.
One night it was really, really bad, and I became really afraid, and I remember praying, saying to myself, "Please, God, don't.
Don't take my father."
And each night he seemed to, um, not be as sick.
And we thank God, you know, that He allowed John Coltrane to get past, you know, the gates of hell.
He just decided to do it, and by the strength of will and faith, he did it.
So he cleaned up, and when he cleaned up, things began to unfold.
During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening, which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life.
At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music.
John Coltrane returns to New York after he gets himself clean, and he's very much like a man on a mission.
After going cold turkey and not using drugs, his energy level went up a notch.
He smiled more.
You know, that gorilla off your back.
Yeah. I think he was really happy.
When I stopped drinking and all that other stuff, it helped me in all kinds of ways.
I was able to play better right then, you know?
I could play better and think better.
Very significantly, that's also the time period that he started playing with Thelonious Monk on an informal basis and then joined his band in July of '57.
If you say Thelonious Monk's name to any musician, say it to Miles, "Thelonious Monk," said, "Oh, Monk, Monk."
Dizzy-"Oh, whoa, whoa, Monk, Monk, Monk."
First, his musicianship was supreme.
Just his knowledge, his ability to play, his harmonic sophistication, the structures of his songs, and it's Coltrane learning from Monk.
Trane would come in the morning, and they would just practice all day.
You know, when you're spending time in Monk's house, and he's going through things, that level of genius taking time to help nurture your genius...
After working with Thelonious Monk, Coltrane is fully on his feet.
He's got the confidence now, and it is in 1957 that he records his first album as a leader.
The cover says, "Coltrane".
You know, it's like once you're known just by your last name, you know you're already getting big, and then it said up in the corner, it said, "The NEW", in capital letters, "tenor saxophone STAR."
And the other thing is that he had an opportunity to do some of his own original music.
His music sounded different.
It was like there was new blood in it.
His playing, there was new blood in his playing.
There was a certain kind of almost recklessness.
He's pushing forward such that he may not even know what he's pushing forward to.
After my late teens, I questioned a lot of what I had found in religion, but I never did anything about it.
I was too busy doing other things.
Recently, I started looking into what people are thinking when I saw there was so many religions and kind of opposed somewhat to the next and so forth.
It screwed up my head.
I just couldn't believe that one guy could be right, because if he's right, somebody else has got to be wrong.
The three of us, we didn't go to church every Sunday, but I knew that my parents believed in God, they had a strong belief in God.
We had bibles, we had the Quran.
My father was looking at different Eastern religion, Buddhism, Shinto.
He never set out specifically to say I'm a Christian or I'm Muslim or I'm Hindu or a Buddhist.
I think he studied all of these religions and understood that there is something higher than that.
There's something that a... that, that all these religions are basically saying that's, you know, universal.
I like to describe it as a little picture, which is our world, and the big picture.
John was about the big picture.
John was very celestial.
Celestial meant spiritual.
He had a deep understanding, a deep feeling for higher worlds than this world.
Coltrane was definitely someone who was inspired by the concept of the infinite and imagining how science and music and math all work together and that there was some kind of universal truth, and so for Coltrane to be inspired by Albert Einstein, who is a deep thinker, not just about space travel and time and energy, but the biggest of the big questions:
Why are we here?
What are we supposed to be doing, and where are we supposed to take ourselves?
Coltrane was absolutely on that same road.
At the end of 1957, Coltrane came back into Miles' band.
The difference, though, the second stint with Miles is that now Coltrane kinda had a sense of who he was.
One of the reasons that being with Miles was so productive for Coltrane is that Miles gave him tons of space.
Miles let him solo at length, and, you know, he really didn't try to edit Coltrane.
He didn't say, you know, "When you're playing with me, you gotta play shorter solos than I do."
Almost invariably, Coltrane played longer solos.
There is a famous story about Miles making a joke to Coltrane and saying, uh, "Why do you play so long?"
And Coltrane saying, "Well, I can't find a good place to stop," and Miles saying, "Well, you could just take the horn out of your mouth."
Miles is a strange guy.
He doesn't talk a lot and he rarely discusses music.
You always have the impression that he's in a bad mood and that he's not interested in or affected by what other people are doing.
It's very hard in a situation like that to know exactly what you should do, and maybe it's because of that that I just started to do what I wanted.
Here we go.
Uh, Trane and I, Trane and I'll play one, you know, together out.
You know what I mean? Can you hear me?
Yeah. Let's go.
Oh, "Kind of Blue" was one of the greatest records ever made.
It's just got a great feel.
You can never grow tired of that album, and it crosses all boundaries.
People who don't understand jazz get it.
"Kind of Blue" is so key to understanding where John Coltrane would go in the 1960s.
That really is sort of the fuse to the Coltrane explosion later.
It's very interesting.
You've got the first session for
"Kind of Blue" in early '59.
A little while later, about a month and a half, you've got the second session.
In between, John Coltrane's doing
It was unprecedented that it was something that forced all of us to call into question what we had been hearing as that which was innovative.
Every tune on
"Giant Steps" was composed by Coltrane, so that album was huge for him because it showed something that I don't think people yet knew, which is that he was as brilliant a composer as he was a saxophonist.
Writing has always been a secondary thing for me, but I find that lately, I'm spending more and more time at it.
I'm trying to tune myself, to look to myself, and to nature and to other sounds in music and interpret things I feel there.
So Miles' band was a great environment for Coltrane to grow, and he grew so much that he grew too big for the band.
I mean he grew out of it.
He couldn't exist in it anymore.
He was actually saying to me he was gonna leave Miles Davis, he said, "I'm gonna leave Miles because
"what I'm playing with that group sounds incorrect, sounds wrong."
It's like he took off a suit of clothes that he wasn't going to wear anymore.
And from the time we started out in my living room, he knew nothing was going to happen.
It just happened when it happened, but when it did happen, I said it should have happened because he was really ready.
He had his stuff together then.
Yes, this should be.
You know, some people play jazz, some people play reggae, some people play blues and, you know, he played life.
You can't describe music with words.
We can say, oh, yeah, this guy was doing a lot of technical stuff, wow, when we analyze it and wow, look at this.
Look at these changes and these harmonics, but it's not about that.
It's about hearing it.
His sound, you know, it makes people cry, like, "Oh, damn, "you know, what, what is this tears?
"Why am I crying?
Wh-what's going on?"
Your body's doing something that your mind don't want to do.
His sound is stunning.
It ranges through the different emotions people have in a way that very few people can do, and as I said, he did it, uh, partly from his own inner spirit, but he also was intellectually brilliant.
That is, he wrote brilliant music, and he could take a standard and play it in a way that made you think you were hearing it for the first time.
Within a year of leaving Miles Davis for good, John Coltrane has an incredible radio hit with this tune that is from "The Sound of Music."
So here's this Broadway, uh, melody, oh, and he just transforms it into this gorgeous thing.
"My Favorite Things" was a record that I actually played for my friends because I felt like they would like it.
The reason that music touches everybody is that was Coltrane's intention, and he put a lot of everybody's music in that music, you know, and then that soprano-saxophone, that kind of nasal sound is really popular all over the world.
Coltrane had worked on that his entire life.
How can I bring people together and how can I bring these cultures and how can I bring this music together?
And what allowed him to bring it together was a spiritual consciousness.
I've gotta keep experimenting.
And I feel that I'm just beginning.
I have a part of what I'm looking for in my grasp, but not all.
I like Eastern music, Africa, Spain, Scotland, India or China.
It's that universal side of music which interests and draws me, and that's where I wanna go.
For Coltrane, I think there was a pattern of doing something that is unexpected when you look at what came before it, so he would do something that would sort of trip himself up so he could figure out what to do next, and that sense of struggle and thinking through the next problem propelled him and made him keep getting better and stronger and more interesting and challenging.
There's an intensity that I've never heard anything like it before him or after him.
I always liken it to like looking at the sun.
Like hearing John Coltrane is like the brightest light you can hear.
I mean his tone is, is so unique.
I mean it's so striking.
I mean no one had that tone on the, on the horn, uh, during that time.
It became the standard.
It's not the car, it's the driver, so his sound, it sounds like it's coming from some deep part of himself, and even though, like, you hear him on different horns, you hear him on different mouthpieces.
You can see him playing different setups, like, but still, it doesn't matter, like it's coming from that soul.
His grandfather was a preacher, and I can hear that, uh-they said there's a wailing sometimes, a wailing.
I can hear Trane's appreciation for what his grandfather's mission was.
The evolution of John Coltrane's band, 'til he develops what we now called 'The Classic Quartet," is typical Coltrane experimentation.
It's him trying out new ideas, new players, new things.
He went through a lot of try-outs with different people and finally, he got the group that he wanted, and he was able to fly like he wanted to do.
I'm very lucky.
I work with very fine musicians.
They are very inventive.
I don't have to tell anybody what to do.
We have a great confidence in one another.
They're with me and always wanting the band to move into new areas.
We don't believe in standing still.
And just to have Elvin, the level of intelligence and seriousness he was on, and Jimmy, the type of heart he had, and McCoy was the young- was a kid.
They are originals.
They set music in another direction, gave us another way to perceive the universe through the music.
People who heard them would, would- their lives were transformed.
When I was 17,
I had heard that Coltrane was coming to Shelly's Manne-Hole in Hollywood, saw them, oh, I don't know, five or six times.
I didn't know that Coltrane would be such an icon, but I sensed that I was witnessing magic.
It would be just like Coltrane would be saying something on his tenor or soprano...
Elvin would answer-
And then it would get all intertwined, and, uh, it was free.
Elvin Jones gave me my hands, which he did.
I copied all his style, and then I found my own.
I think it gave me the courage to maybe-
A drummer's job is to keep the beat, but then if you can be expressive, have a conversation with the singer or the soloist, you can push him, and I witnessed that with Elvin and Coltrane, and I pushed Jim Morrison because of those guys.
The greatest quartet in the history of jazz.
We were like brothers and we were there for a reason, which was to create beautiful music, you know?
I use the word beautiful because I couldn't think of a better word.
But it, uh, we were committed.
We thought that what we were doing, the gift came from the almighty, not that we were walking around, "I'm th-, I'm, you know, I'm this, I'm that."
It's not, it's not ego at all.
It's what you were put here for.
What your, what's your reason for being here?
Birmingham is a symbol of hardcore resistance to integration.
It is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States, and the injustices inflicted upon Negroes are the notorious realities.
Growing up in the South, of course, I know he wanted things to be better, but he didn't talk about it.
I think he put that in his music.
Coltrane did talk politics in his music.
It was only a few months after that horrible bombing of a church and he wrote a piece called "Alabama."
And it shows the creativity and depth of Coltrane, a beautiful elegy screaming with pain, undergirded by love.
I mean it was just, it's-it's-it's a masterful piece, really.
[Martin Luther King, Jr. These children, unoffending, innocent and beautiful, were the victims of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity.
Coltrane himself told McCoy Tyner, his piano player, that he developed the melody out of a speech that Martin Luther King gave.
And today as I stand over the remains of these beautiful darling girls, I paraphrase the words of Shakespeare, goodnight sweet princesses, goodnight those who symbolize a new day, and may the flight of angels take thee to thy eternal rest.
Martin Luther King, Jr., John Coltrane go hand in hand, hand in hand.
Why? Because they're love warriors.
They represent the best, not just of black people, not just for America.
They represent the best of the human spirit.
That song has a soul that lets you know that it was a lot of pain going on there, but it's something that's inspirational about that song.
When you hear "Alabama," you feel all that struggle from those times, the times of the civil rights days, but you also feel the progress.
John Coltrane was ahead of his time.
I don't think that his music is a thermometer, it's a thermostat.
See, a thermometer just reflects the climate, a thermostat shapes the climate.
So when you hear "Alabama," it's not just his deep love of the precious four girls who were killed by cowardly white supremacists in 16th Street Baptist Church, it's not just a refiguration musically of certain speech patterns of Martin Luther King, Jr.
He's looking at black people all the way down the road.
He's already telling us you're gonna need courage, vision, and most importantly, love at the center of it.
As black people, we've been through a lot in this country, and we stay hopeful, and that's what I feel in "Alabama" is the pain we went through, but the hope that we have.
It was at night when all of a sudden the voices got louder and louder and louder, and I'm like, "Uh-oh.
Oh dear. What is going on?"
It's hard to know specifically what was happening in John Coltrane's personal life in the early '60s, but certainly there's indications that he was not that happy with his marriage to Naima.
They didn't know I was sitting around the bend of the stairway, but I could hear everything.
Neither one of my parents were arguers, so when that argument erupted, I knew something was really, really, really bad, and, um, that was the, the day he left... but he came back and he talked to me.
He said, "There are things
"going on I can't explain.
"I love you very much.
"You're my daughter.
I'll always take care of you," and that was it.
My mother, Alice McCloud, at the time, was playing with a vibraphonist named Terry Gibbs, and they were doing a double bill with John Coltrane's Quartet at the original Birdland on
52nd Street in New York City.
They noticed each other, and it was a little bit like, you know, there's a young lady here and, oh, she's a pianist.
John definitely stuck around to hear a little bit of her playing and admired that.
Something in the sound of his tenor caught her ear, and, uh, at one point in between the breaks of the band, my father started to follow my mother around the club with his horn.
So he was serenading her through the club, and I guess at that point, they began to sit and have conversations.
They spoke, they had a lot of things in common when they spoke.
I just remember my mother saying that he's a very, just a very kind, gracious person, a very decent man, and they hit it off very well.
She was interested in the harp, and he bought her a concert-size harp.
Beautiful, it's painted in gold, you know, like a real, like what an orchestra would have.
I think that's true love-
When someone buys you a harp.
They're both gentle people, I think perfectly paired by the universe.
John Coltrane used to leave little notes, little poems expressing his love for Alice around the home.
He would leave for the gig, you know, she would come back to the house and she would find these little messages, and I don't think the romance ever left John and Alice's relationship.
You know, he was married before, and for whatever reason, did not have any children with Naima.
Clearly when he met my mom, they, uh, they didn't waste much time.
In a very short span, three sons were born.
He was an only child, and his father was an only child, as well, so I think maybe there- it was something that he wanted to do in, in his lifetime to father children, and I think it, I think it made him extremely happy.
John Coltrane has set aside some time, and he secludes himself above the garage in his house at Dix Hills, Long Island, to put together what he sees as a suite.
He doesn't know how it's gonna go.
He has some loose melodies, some ideas.
Mrs. Coltrane tells the story about him coming down and grabbing little bits of food now and again, and then disappearing for a whole day.
This is just after John, Jr. is born, so she's got her four year old daughter, and an infant, and a disappeared husband.
And she said he was upstairs.
It was like two weeks he was up there, and she always related these stories to us, you know, in a, in a happy way, that what he was doing was significant and important and she understood that as if he was on a mission and she was there to support it.
A few days later, he comes down the stairs, and as Mrs. Coltrane put it, it was like Moses coming down from the mountain.
And for once, the guy who really thought and re-thought about music seemed very satisfied with where he was with his project and his words to Mrs. Coltrane were, "It's the first time I have everything ready.
"I've completed the project on paper.
"I know exactly what I'm gonna do in the studio."
All praise to God.
This album is a humble offering to him, an attempt to say, thank you, God.
Through our work, even as we do through our hearts and with our tongues, may He help and strengthen all men in every good endeavor.
It's the individual expression of a, um, a musical titan who wants to give a certain message to the world in light of his own relationship to God.
"A Love Supreme" is something I think every great musician aspires to, which is finding that one moment or that one song or that one recording, that one album which really kind of encapsulates everything that they are, what their message is.
The thing about "A Love Supreme", all of Trane's mysticism is in it.
The totality of his consciousness expresses itself most fully on that record.
I don't even think he knew why.
Sometimes in the life of artists or people who search and practice and study and work on stuff, they find things and it's, it's in there, and, and, uh, it was in there.
The second piece on there is the one that touches me.
That's the one that touches me, that melody.
Where does it take you?
It takes me to heaven where I want to be when I leave here.
That's it, isn't it?
And the audacity that someone would absolutely speak to the heavens using a jazz group, it speaks to the singularity of John Coltrane's vision.
I think I've played that album more than I've played any other album in my life.
When somebody's music is that uplifting, it's something angelic about it, it's something that just touches you in your spirit where you're like I know this is coming from another place.
I just thought, "Oh, my God.
"You know, this guy, "his mind and his heart is so-
"they're in a place that everybody ought to reach for."
May we never forget that in the sunshine of our lives, through the storm and after the rain, it is all with God, in all ways and forever.
All praise to God.
I myself don't recognize the word jazz.
I mean we're sold under this name, but to me, the word doesn't exist.
I just feel that I play John Coltrane.
I think the main thing a musician would like to do is give a picture to the listener of the many wonderful things he knows of and senses in the universe.
That's what music is to me.
It's just another way of saying this is a big, beautiful universe we live in that's been given to us, and here's an example of just how magnificent and encompassing it is.
John Coltrane, he was outward bound the way he was playing.
He could get in his spaceship, metaphorically, and it could take him anywhere he wanted to go.
That's the way he was.
One of the most incredible chapters in John Coltrane's life is 1965, 'cause he has achieved a level of success that includes Grammy nominations.
He's been inducted into the
"Downbeat" Hall of Fame, one of the very first living jazz musicians to be afforded that honor.
He has an outstanding best-selling album in
"A Love Supreme."
There's an awareness that is starting to creep into all levels of music fandom, and he starts to dismantle that because he is now gonna try new musical ideas, musical ideas that are not popular, musical ideas that challenge most ears, musical ideas that in effect will take apart his classic quartet.
By the end of 1965, he will lose Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner because of this new path that he's going along, and he will replace them with a very young drummer named Rashied Ali from Philadelphia and his wife Alice Coltrane on piano, and he'll expand the band and bring in a second horn with Pharaoh Sanders.
Here's the thing.
John Coltrane went from bebop to Miles Davis quintet, modern cool, to his own quartet.
He went the whole transition, so he could play standards.
He had the right to go out as far as he wanted.
John Coltrane's sound rearranges molecular structure.
People were like... "What?"
Some said that he was taking jazz in the wrong direction, which was of course, a lie.
He's taking it forward and the reason you're not aware of it, because you've never heard it before.
Coltrane was definitely one of the scientists of the saxophone, someone who was pushing the instrument to its limit, kind of what Jimi Hendrix would later do with the electric guitar.
I don't care what the critics say.
If you like it, you like it.
If you don't, you don't.
He may have been reaching for something else spiritually that they don't understand.
Would you want him to tiptoe, to, to where he's trying to get, you know?
It, you know, John Coltrane is, you know, he's mean.
You know, I don't understand it.
I'm open to it. I try to embrace it.
I try to follow it.
But it's not the kind of, uh, music I would just sit there and listen to all the time.
I got to really gotta zero in, and I still don't fully grasp what's going on.
Later when I saw him play, I would say half the audience left before it was over.
They just didn't know they were witnessing something ahead of its time, something spiritual but cathartic and tumultuous, and I just ate it up.
He could go to Mars.
I'm with him.
I have no fear about my music being too way out.
My goals remain the same, and that is to uplift people as much as I can to inspire them to realize more and more of their capacities for living meaningful lives because there certainly is meaning to life.
I was a first year student in junior high school when it happened.
I saw the flash and gazed at the center of that overpowering light.
The Earth was shaking.
The heat was intense.
Much of Nagasaki vanished.
Perhaps as many as 75,000 people died instantly, and another 75,000 were wounded and exposed to massive radiation and an uncertain future.
I dislike war. Period.
So therefore, as far as I'm concerned, it should stop.
It was July 14th, 1966, when I went to pick up John Coltrane and his musicians at the train station.
Everyone came out except Coltrane.
I looked all over for him and found him in a car of the express train playing the flute.
I was so surprised.
Then he looked at me and grinned.
I asked him a question, "Why were you playing the flute?"
He said that he was searching for the sound of Nagasaki.
I was extremely moved by this.
I asked him if he wanted to go straight to his hotel, and he said no.
He said he wanted to go to the atomic bomb hypocenter.
For me, that place is sacred.
It's the same as a gravesite.
He took a wreath of flowers and put it down in front of the pillar, and then he stood up and he prayed.
He was praying and looking up at the sky.
He just kept staring up above the pillar for a considerable amount of time.
I asked him why, and he replied that he was imagining the sounds, the plane, the bomb, the suffering of the Japanese people.
I think that Coltrane had studied about all of these things, and for that reason, he chose to come to Nagasaki on his Japanese tour.
Coltrane's concert in Nagasaki was something special.
I was the announcer that night.
The second song was "Peace on Earth."
He must have wanted to perform that here in Nagasaki.
The whole concert hall was totally caught up in Coltrane.
It was an amazing atmosphere.
At that time, we were still so struggling from the atomic bombing and many people are still struggling, and, uh, Coltrane was so kind to play for us.
Coltrane composed the song
"Peace on Earth" almost as requiem for victim of the atomic bomb as well as his wish to stop all war.
His passion was peace and love for the universe.
You know, the last time I talked to John on the phone, his, uh, his voice sounded-
it sounded, uh...
There were indications by the end of 1966 and into '67 that Coltrane wasn't doing well.
His sidemen later would report that he was holding his side like he was in pain, and sure enough, he was later diagnosed with liver cancer.
At first when Coltrane died, I think it was just shock.
I mean he was only 40, and he hadn't been ill for a long time.
My mother did speak of John's death in this way, which it was, this just floored me.
Uh, she said it was beautiful.
It was warm, and the breath when went out of him.
He was not in any pain.
She said at the very-this is the, the moment of transition.
She used the word beautiful.
That's what-how she revealed it to me.
All the things flash through my mind that we had done together, and I went into my apartment, shut the door and cried.
That was rough.
That really got me, and you can see it's getting me now.
I was at the funeral.
They wanted me to be a pallbearer, and I, man, but I could not do it.
I looked at him in the casket and the way he was embalmed and all that.
Only thing I recognized was his hands.
He had fingers that went kinda strange, 'cause I've been looking at his hands.
We'd been practicing together, and that's the only thing that reminded me of Trane, you know, so that wasn't him.
He had passed on to the next place.
His spirit was gone.
John was my best friend.
He wasn't like 99 percent of other people.
He existed in the real world.
I mean he had a family, he had kids, but that's not where he was at.
He was not in the real world.
He was someplace else.
So he's, he's cool.
He was cool when he was here and he's cool in the big picture.
Since Trane passed away, his music has transcended, and it's more and more known, people-
That type of artistic achievement stays around.
It's mythic because of the, the sacrifice involved, and it will remain mythic.
If you go to any kind of comprehensive retrospective of Picasso's art, it's breathtaking what he did, how he went from being a very good traditional painter to the blue period, his abstract and then his cubist work.
If you think about what John Coltrane did, moving through his various phases of musical creativity, he basically did everything Picasso did in about 50 years less time, and I just think that if you got any kind of love for music and regard for the craft, you hear three or four notes and say, this man owns this horn, owns this music, and at least when he's playing, is the master of his soul.
His spirit is still very much alive, and he's saying, "I'm gonna use music
"to try to convince you to grasp
"in time a love supreme so that you
"don't remain just a prisoner of time.
"You will be a maker, a creator of a better world."
That is a Coltrane version of what he learned in Sunday school, what he was taught, that the kingdom of God is within you, and everywhere you go, you ought to leave a little heaven behind, and he left some heaven behind.
To be a musician is, it's really something.
It goes very, very deep.
My music is the spiritual expression of what I am.
My faith, my knowledge, my being.
I know that there are bad forces.
I know that there are forces out here that bring suffering to others and misery to the world, but I want to be the opposite force.
I want to be the force which is truly for good.