A Love Supreme

 

miles autobiographyMiles Davis’ 1990 autobiography, written with Quincy Troupe, is hardly the book one turns to for inspiration in troubled times, but we were struck by some of the similarities between his account of John Coltrane’s death, and the recent passing of Prince here in Minnesota. When drawing excerpts from Miles: The Autobiography, one must edit snark with ellipses (he cannot even describe the death of a friend without sniping), but will also find a moving description of the unifying influence of a musical icon.

For those of you reading along at home, we found this passage in chapter thirteen, which began, “Things were changing in this country, and they seemed to be changing real fast…

 

In July, Coltrane died and fucked up everyone. Coltrane’s death shocked everyone, took everyone by surprise. I knew he hadn’t looked too good and had gained a lot of weight the last time I saw him, not too long before he died. I also knew he hadn’t been playing much in public. But I didn’t know that he was sick — or even sick at all. I think only a few people really knew that he was sick, if they really knew. I don’t know if Harold Lovett — who was our lawyer at the time — even knew. Trane kept everything close to his vest and I wasn’t really seeing too much of him because he had been busy with his own thing, and I had with mine. Plus I had been sick, too, and I think the last time I saw him I talked about what a drag it was to be sick. But he didn’t say nothing about himself not feeling too well. Trane was real secretive like that and he only went to the hospital I think one day before he died on July 17, 1967. He had cirrhosis of the liver and it was hurting him so bad he couldn’t take it no more.

Trane’s music and what he was playing during those last two or three years of his life represented, for many blacks, the fire and passion and rage and anger and rebellion and love that they felt, especially among the young black intellectuals and revolutionaries of that time. He was expressing through music what H. Rap Brown and Stokeley Carmichael and the Black Panthers and Huey Newton were saying with their words, what the Last Poets and Amiri Baraka were saying in poetry…

It was this way for many intellectuals and revolutionary whites and Asians as well. Even his change to a more spiritual music in the music on A Love Supreme — which was like a prayer — reached adn influenced those people who were into peace, hippies and people like that. I heard he played a lot of love-ins, which were becoming the rage all over California for a lot of whites. So he was reaching different groups of people, too. His music was embraced by a lot of different kind of people, and that was beautiful and I was proud of him…

…Around that time, everything was in flux again in this country — everything. Music, politics, race relations, everything. Nobody seemed to know where things were going; everybody seemed confused — even a lot of the artists and musicians who all of a sudden seemed to have more freedom that we ever had to do our own thing. Trane’s death seemed to put a lot of confusion in a lot of people. Even Duke Ellington seemed to be going in a spiritual direction, as Trane had done in A Love Supreme, when Duke wrote a score called “In the Beginning God” in 1965 and then played it in churches all over the United States and Europe.

love supreme

Incidentally, Impulse Records, now owned by Universal, released the complete A Love Supreme sessions earlier this year, adding tracks not found on the earlier Classic Quartet box set. We can’t resist saying something about this, because the alternate sextet take of Coltrane’s masterpiece, which adds Archie Shepp on second tenor and Art Davis on second bass, has been a subject of fascination to Coltrane fans since his death. It was known he considered performing A Love Supreme with a sextet, but the recordings were unheard until this year. His son Ravi Coltrane pulled them from the archives. The practice runs of “Acknowledgement” with the additional musicians are of great interest to Coltrane fans, but probably not worth the expense of buying the album for a second, third of fourth time.

We can only hope that in the coming years the unissued archival recordings Prince has stored at Paisley Park are handled with more reverence than were Coltrane’s.

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