Many, perhaps most people listen to music with the hope that it permits them to step outside of the world as it usually is, the demands it places on us and the ugliness that so obviously mars it. People gravitate to music’s bright melodies, infectious rhythms, and perhaps especially to lyrics that, whether Beethoven’s or Beyoncé’s, give us some kind of life-raft or a phrase that clarifies our condition.
You can’t understand jazz without its continual, creative religiosities. But to investigate this association is to encounter the scrambling of format and expectation in terms both musicological and religious. For while it is certainly true that jazz has strong roots in African-American Protestantism, not only do these roots twist in unexpected directions but there are other branches reaching into farther soils as well.
John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, which the famed saxophonist performed live only once, has the distinction of being one of jazz’s most widely celebrated yet imperfectly understood recordings. At its half-century, the devotional piece is seen as the culmination of Coltrane’s “dark night of the soul,” the sound of his heroic overcoming, and his personal entreaty to the divine.